Chapter 1

Chapter 1


1.1        On 7 November 2011 the Senate referred the shortage of engineering and related employment skills to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee for inquiry and report by 30 June 2012.[1]

1.2        The committee was asked to examine the nexus between the demand for infrastructure delivery and the shortage of appropriate engineering and related employment skills in Australia, with particular reference to:

Structure of the report

1.3        This report is divided into five chapters:

Conduct of the inquiry

1.4        The committee advertised its inquiry on its website and in The Australian newspaper, calling for submissions by 3 February 2012.[2]

1.5        The committee also directly contacted a number of interested organisations and individuals to notify them of the inquiry and to invite submissions. A total of 82 submissions were received, as listed in Appendix 1.

1.6        The committee held public hearings in Perth on 27 March 2012, Brisbane on 28 March 2012 and in Canberra on 7 May 2012.

Other inquiries

1.7        The committee is cognisant of the attention that the engineering skills shortage has garnered and is aware of a number of relevant studies in recent times.

1.8        Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, released the Health of Australian Science report in May 2012. The report particularly focused on the important contribution that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) make to the 'future health, security, safety and prosperity as a nation, and as a planet'.[3] The findings of the Chief Scientist are discussed in this report where relevant.

1.9        Skills Australia is an independent statutory body that provides advice to the government on Australia's current, emerging and future workforce skills needs and workforce development needs.[4] Skills Australia made a number of recommendations to address engineering skills shortages in its 2010 report Australian Workforce Futures.[5] More recently, Skills Australia hosted a seminar on engineering pathways in December 2011. The key themes and observations that emerged from that seminar are discussed in chapters 2 and 3 of this report.[6] Skills Australia was replaced by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency on 1 July 2012. The new agency is an expansion of the role and functions of Skills Australia.

1.10      The National Resource Sector Employment Taskforce was established in 2009 to consider how best to meet the skills requirements of more than 75 major resources projects in the pipeline over the next 5 years. The taskforce reported to government on 7 July 2010 with 31 recommendations to address skills shortages in the resources sector.[7] The government accepted all 31 recommendations in March 2011. The key areas identified for workforce development were to:

1.11      The Australian National Engineering Taskforce (ANET) was set up specifically to assess the engineering skills shortage and develop a national strategy to develop Australia's engineering workforce.[8] ANET was established by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists, and Managers, The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Engineers Australia, the Australian Council of Engineering Deans and Consult Australia. Together these partners represent professional industrial, commercial and academic interests in the engineering sector. In October 2010 ANET released a report titled Scoping our future: addressing Australia's engineering skills shortage.[9] The report highlights the challenges that skills shortages present to a range of industries. In response to this inquiry ANET titled its submission: Realising an innovation economy: a practical roadmap to ease the Australian engineering skills shortage. The recommendations made by ANET are discussed in chapter 4.

1.12      The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation commissioned academics Emeritus Professor David Beanland and Professor Roger Hadgraft to research engineering education.[10] In their report, the release of which is forthcoming, the authors identified a number of weaknesses in the current approach and called for significant changes to engineering education. These findings and recommendations are considered in chapter 3.

1.13      The Business Council of Australia (BCA) released a report into Australia's capital investment on 7 June 2012.[11] The BCA draws attention to the $921 billion pipeline of investment in resources, energy and economic infrastructure, warning that Australia risks not being able to efficiently deliver these projects because it is becoming a 'high-cost' and therefore 'high-risk' place to invest. Further, the BCA reported that Australia's low labour productivity has reduced its competitiveness. In relation to skills shortages, the BCA concludes that Australia must train or attract 'high quality project planners and managers' in order to 'overcome major skills shortages'.[12]

1.14      The Australian Local Government Association released the 2012-2013 State of the Regions Report on 17 June 2012. The authors observed that many parts of Australia are not benefiting from the mining boom and recommend that the government establish dedicated funds to support local infrastructure projects.[13]


1.15      The committee thanks all those who contributed to this inquiry by making submissions, providing additional information or appearing before it to give evidence.

Note on references

1.16      References in this report to the Hansard for the public hearings are to the proof Hansard. Please note that page numbers may vary between the proof and official transcripts.

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