QUT researchers say good leadership is required to solve the civil engineer shortage so early-career engineers will be more likely to stay in the field.
Major infrastructure projects across Australia, including those for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, face a critical shortage of civil engineers but QUT researchers say early-career civil engineers would be more likely to stay in the field if given roles with autonomy, responsibility, and workplace flexibility.
Sonia Reis, lead researcher on a new paper – Predicting Career Optimism of Civil Engineers published in the Journal of Management in Engineering, says a lack of civil engineers, along with a shortage in other construction professionals, is having a negative impact on the Australian economy, increasing infrastructure costs and delaying major projects.
“It’s a worldwide problem and Australia, until recently, was able to rely upon migrant engineers to fill labour market shortages but recent global challenges – namely the COVID 19 Pandemic – have increased the difficulty in attracting this cohort,” said Ms Reis, a registered practicing engineer and PhD candidate at QUT.
“With Australia’s economic growth and the safety of our infrastructure at stake, this study has investigated and modelled the factors impacting the career optimism of civil engineers, concluding with insights and leadership strategies to improve their satisfaction, tenure, and productivity.
“An effective leader can adjust their leadership style empowering individuals of all cognitive and physical abilities, genders, backgrounds, and experience levels.”
Career optimism is a personal attribute that allows an individual to view positive experiences as widespread, negative experiences as transient, understand the positive impact of their career development, and set realistic goals.
The QUT study found women in the profession felt a strong organisational belonging and loyalty but also acknowledged the high impact of parenting commitments on their career. Women who remain in engineering may have higher levels of workplace support, access to influential relationships in the workplace, good relationships with co-workers and their manager, and a feeling of inclusion.
The researchers also noted that the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency identified that mature-aged male workers were subjected to higher levels of workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment than younger or female colleagues.
“An individual’s early career experiences have major influences on their long-term career decisions, impacting their well-being, career development, and continuance in their professional role, with different elements impacting the various career stages,” Associate Professor Bunker said.
“Our research found a significant predictor of increased career optimism for all civil engineers, particularly female and non-binary engineers, are the professional engineering skills related to collaboration, teamwork, and communication.”
The national survey conducted by the research team was completed by 338 practising civil engineers with a range of professional experience from one to 60 years. It revealed the factors impacting the career of a civil engineer vary by gender and experience.
“Overall, our research highlights how the career of a civil engineer is influenced by five critical influential factors – their abilities and skills, influences, and occupational values, support provided by their working environment, and the adjustment between themselves and their workplace,” said Ms Reis.
“We also identified an early-career civil engineer’s occupational need for responsibility that had not previously been revealed, and recommend they be provided with autonomy and responsibility in their professional roles.
“Early-career civil engineers of all genders should be encouraged to adapt to organisational changes, offered training to do so, and be supported when returning from a career break.”
The researchers also argue the case for wider diversity to be embraced in engineering.
“Typically, the industry has focused on gender diversity, but other demographic groups are also marginalised within the industry. One in six Australians have a disability yet engineering diversity strategies do not include the cognitive and physical diversity associated with these individuals,” says Associate Professor Bunker.
Read the full paper here.
Diverse Queensland Workforce program
The Diverse Queensland Workforce program will deliver $8.5 million in funding, until the 30th of June 2025, to assist up to 2500 migrants, refugees and international students into employment. This program was implemented as part of the Future Skills Fund and is being expanded as part of Good people. Good jobs: Queensland Workforce Strategy 2022–2032.
The program targets work ready migrants or refugees (including temporary visa holders with necessary work permits), and international students ages 18 years and over who are unemployed or underemployed. Unfortunately, school students are not eligible.
The selection of participants is at the discretion of the funded organisation, and the program is delivered at no cost to participants.
Projects are delivered in specific locations across the state. Click here to see the full list.
Image source: Copyright Queensland University of Technology
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a tool that integrates geographical data to create maps for civil engineering & construction projects.
Structural engineering involves designing and constructing safe and efficient structures to withstand various forces and loads.