Good thing, bad thing…who knows

engineering-recruitment

australia, recruitment, skill shortage list, skilled migrants, skills crisis, unemployment, workforce shortage,

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There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours told him, “to have a horse to pull the cart for you.” “Good thing, bad thing, who knows,” the farmer replied.

One day he didn’t latch the gate properly and the horse ran away. “Oh no! That is terrible news!” his neighbours cried. “Such bad luck!” “Good thing, bad thing, who knows,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing with it six wild horses. “How fantastic! You are so lucky,” his neighbours told him. “Good thing, bad thing, who knows,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking in one of the wild horses when it threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. “Oh no!” the neighbours cried. “Such bad luck, all over again!” “Good thing, bad thing, who knows,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the army. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Good thing, bad thing, who knows,” the farmer replied.

Can good things come from Australia’s talent crisis?

You are probably wondering why I am sharing this old Taoist parable, but I think this story proves that a situation can be viewed in many different ways, and to some degree, we are in control of how we perceive it. How many of us have had something not turn out the way we wanted, only to find out later that something way better was in store?

At the moment, Australia is experiencing the second most severe skill crisis in the developed world and many businesses are struggling to find employees. The Jobs and Skills Summit dominated media headlines for a good couple of weeks, highlighting how serious the situation has become.

Australia’s construction and engineering industry has been hit particularly hard by skilled staff shortages. One has to wonder how we are going to deliver the phenomenal pipeline of infrastructure projects worth billions of $ when we don’t have enough people to do it. And while the international borders have opened, we are now facing fierce competition for global talent from countries such as the USA, Canada, the UK and Germany. 

While all of the above might seem like really bad news, there is an upside!

If I have learnt one thing in the last ten years of running ConsultANZ, it is that every crisis brings with it opportunities. The crisis acts as a forcing mechanism and requires a change in the way we think and act.

A look back in history also proves that challenging times lead to innovation and increased motivation, and often result in benefits for humanity (even if not noticed immediately).

In every crisis, there are winners and losers, and the current post-pandemic employment market, while a disaster for some, is the manna from heaven for others.     

So who are the potential Winners of Australia’s talent crisis?

  • Australians who want to train and upskill 

The newly elected Australian Government has committed to delivering $850 million for 465,000 fee-free TAFE places and TAFE infrastructure. This will provide opportunities for school leavers, workers wanting to retrain or upskill and unpaid carers — predominantly women — to enter the workforce. On top of this, an extra 45,000 TAFE places will be created for industries suffering acute shortages and a $50 million TAFE Technology Fund. There will also be a strong focus on providing more opportunities for apprentices and trainees.

  • Skilled Migrants, International Students, Working Holiday Makers

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted just how important migrant workers are to the Australian economy. Our country is built on immigration with more than half of all 25.5 million Australians being first- or second-generation immigrants. Many industries (including construction) rely heavily on migrant workers. And while increasing immigration might not be a sustainable long-term solution to Australia’s problems, right now it is the best quick fix. And the government is well aware of that, currently tackling a backlog of visa applications with nearly 140 new staff redirected from travel exemptions to visa processing roles. Since the beginning of June 2022, 745,000 visa applications have been finalised, including over 645,000 from offshore. Hopefully, this means more skilled migrants are on their way to Australia!

For the first time in a decade, an increase in the permanent migration program numbers has also been announced, bringing a huge boost to the number of visas available:

  • 195,000 places in total (additional 35,000 places)
  • 34,000 regional places (additional 9,000 places)
  • 31,000 state and territory places (additional 20,000 places)

International students might also be able to lend businesses a helping hand with the latest announcement that Australia will increase the duration of post-study work rights for selected degrees in areas of verified skill shortages. Hopefully, we will see more Engineering students stay in the country. Currently, 84% of international students leave Australia with their skills and potential as soon as they finish their degree.

Another positive development is the further temporary relaxation of working hours for student visa holders until June 2023. In our business, we currently employ international students and I have been very impressed with how well they have settled in, their hard work, commitment and results! 

Finally, for 2022-23 only, there will be a 30% cap increase to the number of places available to working holiday makers from countries with which Australia has a capped Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa arrangement. This one-off cap increase commenced on 1 July 2022. Currently, Working Holiday Makers may continue to work for the same employer or organisation for longer than six months without requesting permission. This arrangement will be in place until 31 December 2022, when it will be reviewed by the Government.

We have also noticed that the employment market for overseas-qualified Engineers has greatly improved over the last two years. Employers who pre-COVID wouldn’t consider a CV of an overseas-qualified Engineer who had a full-working visa but no Australian experience, have been forced to re-think their approach to hiring. Pre-COVID, we received hundreds of messages from Engineering Candidates who after arriving Down Under couldn’t secure a job in their profession, but the tide has turned. While more needs to be done to support newly arrived Skilled Migrants, this is a great development and I hope many Employers in our industry have become more open-minded and are embracing cultural diversity. At ConsultANZ, we have always promoted a diverse workforce as the future of Australia so we are glad that skills that are already available are not being wasted. 

Women 

While many reports are showing that the pandemic has not exactly been beneficial to progressing equality for women (try working from home, homeschooling young kids AND running the household and you will understand why), at ConsultANZ we have recorded:

  • an increase in Clients wanting to hire specifically female Candidates for senior and very senior roles
  • more female Candidates reaching the final interview stages with our Clients
  • more senior and very senior roles going to female Candidates

This positive development can be observed worldwide with some of the biggest names in the construction industry choosing women to lead them into the future. In New Zealand, Aurecon appointed Tracey Ryan as the Managing Director for its NZ operations while Civil Contractors New Zealand elected the first female president (Bailey Gair) in its 78-year history.

Dutch consulting engineer Arcadis appointed Kayleigh Owen as global service director for cost and commercial management (CCM) and Cowi selected Claire Cobden as the chief financial officer for North America. Martina Steffen was appointed to the executive board of German construction firm Hochtief as director of labour and California-headquartered construction management software vendor Procore Technologies chose Sandra Benson to be the head of the industry transformation. 

These are just a few examples of women taking on leadership roles, and while the progress is still slow, it is happening. We are pleased to announce we have also recently placed a female Candidate in a General Manager role with one of the biggest infrastructure companies in Australia and New Zealand. 

Internally, the ConsultANZ team has also evolved and 85% of our staff are now women. 

Civil Engineers, Construction Professionals, Surveyors 

Engineering job vacancies are at a ten-year high. In 2021, the number of engineering jobs advertised increased by 50% in Australia! The demand for Engineers will continue as new billion-dollar projects are powering ahead. The situation for Surveyors is no different. Even surveying professionals with little experience can easily secure a well-paying job with big companies on interesting projects. It is safe to say we are in a Candidate-driven market and this is great news for those who are looking to progress in their career (or get a pay rise!).

We all know very well that the construction industry suffers from boom and bust cycles (which I have written about in the past ) and I have no doubt that the current explosion of opportunities will come to an end in the near future. While I am not trying to convince Engineers to ditch their current jobs, I do believe that the employment market we are in is unique and should be taken advantage of. As Construction Managers and Civil Engineering Professionals take the two top spots of the most in-demand professions in Australia, it’s worth exploring options. 

And finally…Recruiters

I think pre-COVID-19 the advantages of using Recruiters were not very clear to many Employers. In a Client-driven market, most jobs could be filled by posting a vacancy on SEEK or Adzuna or some other job platform. But in Australia we are not in a Client-driven market anymore – the well of Candidates has run dry and those who are still trying to find employees on job boards are wasting their time and money. 

These days, headhunting is how you identify and secure the talent for your business. One doesn’t wait for suitable Candidates to apply – one goes on a headhunt using a variety of channels, software and marketing that most Employers are not familiar with. One trawls the market to uncover passive candidates who are not necessarily looking for a role but might be open to the right opportunity. And this takes a lot of time and effort…and a lot of rejection too. 

I had a look at our Job Adder placement stats the other day and the majority of Candidates we placed in the last 12 months were headhunted. Those who were not approached by our recruitment team applied through the internal ConsultANZ job board or reached out to us after seeing our LinkedIn posts. For many of our placements, we had to look offshore which required working in different time zones and liaising with immigration agents to help our Candidates explore their visa options.   

It is now, in this challenging market, that we clearly see that 10 years of recruiting exclusively for the Civil Engineering and Construction Industries is paying off. Over the years, at ConsultANZ we have developed systems and processes that allow us to identify and approach suitable candidates quickly. It also helps that our Recruitment Marketing is outstanding with 111,000 followers on LinkedIn, 44,000 people subscribed to our LinkedIn and Mailchimp newsletters and 14,000 monthly visitors to our website. 

I am hoping that the current skills shortages will show Australian Employers that in post-COVID times hard-working, innovative and resilient recruiters can play a critical role in helping them build better businesses. 

Conclusion

As Winston Churchill once said while he was working to form the United Nations after WWII: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” In Australia, we have a huge opportunity to turn the current skills crisis into a positive and long-lasting change. I hope we don’t waste it.

If you would like to discuss how ConsultANZ can help you fill your civil engineering roles, construction and surveying roles, get in touch with me on LinkedIn

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