Engineer shortage: Three things you can do!

Chris Champion
Chief Executive Officer
Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia
Sydney, Australia

Note: The following article appeared in the June/July 2005 issue of the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) journal Public Works Engineering. It is reprinted here with permission.

It's official! In Australia, civil engineers have been declared an endangered species. Or in officialese "the occupation of civil engineer has been assessed as being in national skill shortage" ( An undersupply of professional engineers is threatening the ability of Local Government and public works to deliver infrastructure and services that the community expects and demands.

It appears that the problem is only going to get worse before it gets better. It is estimated that the retirement of the Baby Boomers will result in losses approaching 50 percent of people working in engineering over the next 10 years. At the same time in 2004, some 1,700 first-year Australian university engineering places were not filled.

The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) is implementing a national strategy to tackle the issue.

IPWEA research shows that whilst there is some demand by students applying for engineering courses, there are insufficient applicants at a suitably high level to be offered enrollment by many universities. High achieving students are looking elsewhere other than engineering.

IPWEA suggests there are three things that Local Government can do in the short term to assist, namely:

  1. Offer new engineering cadetships in their organisation.
  2. Actively provide work experience for local schools.
  3. Ensure young engineers are given the opportunity to attend state and national conferences.

There is now wide recognition that the public sector has not kept up with training and development of new staff. The focus on the bottom line has often been at the expense of cadetships, vacation employment and work experience. It may have produced short-term gain but at the expense of long-term pain.

Local Government appears to be on a merry-go-round, poaching staff from each other without adequately dealing with the root issue of supply. This might work for the wealthier, often City Councils in the short term but it is at the expense of the smaller Councils, particularly in rural areas. Immigration has tended to reduce the gap over the past decade, but it is only part of the answer. There must be a concerted effort to increase supply.

A key point which has also emerged is that Local Government must also consider strategies to retain older engineers in the workforce. This could require flexible work arrangements such as working on a part-time basis. Older, experienced employees are crucial for their knowledge and the mentoring role they can provide to younger recruits.

The problem is not limited to employees of Local Government
At a presentation to the Local Government Association of Tasmania at their recent conference in Hobart, IPWEA's Executive Officer Ross Moody also raised the issue of the lack of young people standing for elected member roles. Moody suggested that the association initiate their own strategy to attract young people to stand for Council—as well as address the shortage of professionals coming into Local Government. "Without a strategy for elected members the average age of Councillors will continue to increase," Moody said. "Not only will this present an increasing culture gap between elected members and generation X and Y employees, it will likely reduce the appeal for young people to seek election."

IPWEA will be working with other peak industry and engineering associations to make engineering attractive to school leavers, and public works attractive to graduates, but the Institute also believes that Local Government must dramatically change its image in the eyes of the community. One issue that has come out of IPWEA's research is the concern of those working in the industry about the poor perception of Local Government in the community. It is not considered an "employer of choice" for young people.

The positive aspect is that while Local Government might not appear as exciting as other employment areas, the reality is it provides a wide variety of activities and strong satisfaction working closely with the community. It also offers portability of employment within Australia and internationally. These aspects can be appealing to younger generations. The Institute is seeking to work with other peak bodies in Local Government on the wider industry issues. A new part-time project officer with specific responsibility for this issue has recently been appointed by IPWEA.

IPWEA has developed web pages at to collate information and other resources on the issue. Further information can also be obtained on the IPWEA strategy from Ross Moody by e-mail at

Czech and Slovak Republics' Summer 2006 Public Works Conferences

Public works professionals from all parts of the United States and Canada as well as from other countries throughout the world are invited to attend the Public Works Conferences in the Czech and Slovak Republics in June 2006. Come and see the latest types of equipment used in Europe and how the Czechs and Slovaks are handling public works problems.

Our European partner associations of public works will once again hold their conferences back to back, making it more convenient for APWA members to participate in both conferences. In addition to their conferences they have planned some exciting and interesting excursion events.

The Czech conference is scheduled for June 6-8 and the Slovak conference is scheduled for June 9-10. Our members may enjoy additional good times if they participate in some of the additional colorful activities planned.

Both conferences feature meetings, educational sessions, debates and discussions. This year's large focus is on solid waste recycling. Some topics include bio-waste and electronic waste; additional subjects included are disaster emergency management and maintenance of parks and open space.

The conference in the Czech Republic is being held in Hradec Kralove, a town with a rich history, unique architecture and a picturesque landscape. It is located about 65 miles east of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

In 1225 Hradec became a free royal town. It grew rapidly, new trades sprang up, and the size of its population and its importance soon made Hradec the wealthiest and largest Czech town after Prague. At the beginning of the 14th century it became the dower town of the Czech Queens and later the word Kralove (Kings) was added to its name. In the first half of the same century a new landmark arose in the town, the Gothic brick-built cathedral, a sign of royal flavor. In 1337 John of Luxemburg conferred on Hradec Kralove all the privileges of a royal town.

  A power plant in Hradec Kralove

In the first third of the 19th century Hradec Kralove became the center of patriotic activity among the Czechs in the northeast of Bohemia and, for a time, the most important center of Czech writing and literature. The city reached its pinnacle of modern architecture during the 1920s and 1930s. More information can be found at

Following the conference, the Czech Association has organized a sightseeing program including a visit to Prague. We will provide additional information for the Slovak Conference once locations are finalized. It is proposed to be in the northwestern part of Slovakia in the vicinity of Trencin.

John Lisenko of APWA's Northern California Chapter is one of the recipients of the 2006 Jennings Randolph Fellowship, and will be attending the Czech and Slovak Conferences and giving a presentation. The local contact for the Czech event is Dr. George Neuzil ( and Ing. Oliver Celko of Slovakia. Dr. Neuzil attended our APWA Congress in Minneapolis in 2005 where he gave a presentation, and he also helped organize last year's conferences in the two countries. APWA was represented at the 2005 Czech and Slovak Conferences by APWA Past President Dwayne Kalynchuk. His article on the events appeared in the June 2005 issue of the APWA Reporter.

So don't delay! Plan your extended European holiday before or after you attend these two public works events. Anyone interested in these events should contact members of the APWA/SPWA/CZPWA Task Force, Helena Allison at, or Geoff Greenough at for more details.

Submitted by Helena Allison who can be reached at (916) 924-7000 or


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