How to overcome lack of local experience in Australia

You have arrived

Congratulations! You have arrived in Australia on a work visa and you are ready to put your engineering skills to the test. If you haven’t found an employer yet, the fun is about to begin.

Although the demand for engineers in Australia is huge, we often hear from migrant engineers that finding the very first job can be difficult.

Sounds familiar?

Securing your first professional job in Australia can be difficult

According to a recent report by APRI (Australian Population Research Institute), recently arrived migrants often struggle to find a professional job in Australia.

The most common obstacles are: 

  1. lack of local experience
  2. average communication skills in English
  3. lack of ”cultural awareness” (not understanding unwritten rules of the Australian workplace culture). 

However, do not despair! We will try to give you a few tips and suggestions on how you can increase your chances of landing you very first engineering job if you are a migrant engineer:

Tips to improve your chances of getting a professional job in Australia

Connect with organizations that can help you

There are some great organizations which can help you with your job hunt. 

Many of them have been created by migrants who struggled to get a job in their profession, but eventually succeeded and now want to share their knowledge with other migrants.

In bigger cities such as Melbourne and Sydney, there are also government run organizations which help newly arrived migrants.

CareerSeekers

CareerSeekers is a non-profit organisation supporting Australia’s humanitarian entrants into professional careers.

The program provides in-depth preparation and support to both refugees and people seeking asylum who are either currently studying at university or looking to restart their professional career in Australia.

The program supports two distinct groups of asylum seekers and refugees:

Mid-career Professionals – those with tertiary qualifications and professional work experience from their country of origin, who strive to re-establish their careers in Australia. These participants undertake paid internships lasting twelve weeks that provide local experience, a local reference and help them establish a network within their chosen profession.

University students – full-time university students who undertake paid internships during university breaks in an effort to link their studies with practical work experience. The CareerSeekers university program aligns to existing corporate internship programs.

To be eligible for the program, all participants must demonstrate English skills at a level that allows them to operate in a professional environment and have work rights.

All internships are paid and last a minimum of 12 weeks. Interns gain local professional experience and begin to develop networks in their industries in Australia.

Source: careerseekers.org.au 

SkillME – Employment support for migrants and refugees

In Sydney, we recommend you contact SkillMe  – an initiative for migrants to have their overseas skills and qualifications recognised in Australia. The project works with individuals and makes a comprehensive assessment of a client’s experience, their aspirations and career goals, and develops a realistic plan to track their progress.

In the past three years, SkillME has helped more than a thousand people and continues to support migrants and refugees towards recognition of overseas skills and qualifications. SkillME also focuses on employer engagement and has successfully established partnerships with Google, LinkedIn, Engineers Without Borders NSW and Multiplex.

SkillME is open to Permanent Residents, Australian citizens and refugees who have limited or zero local work experience.

Find out more here: Metro Assist

Engineering Education Australia  

Engineering Education Australia offers a course called Professional Year in Engineering which involves a 12-week internship placement.

Program structure:

  • Practical training (32 weeks): Learn effective resume writing and interview techniques; Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Occupational Health, Safety & Environmental (OHS&E) processes, and legislative requirements for working in Australia via our face-to-face workshops and online resources. Choose from flexible study options including one full day or two nights (half day) per week.
  •  Internship placement (12 weeks full time): Build a network of peers and professionals and apply your practical training in the workplace. Throughout your placement, you’ll be assigned a mentor to support you along the way.

Upon successful completion, you’ll be eligible to apply for 5 migration points that can be used for all points test visas. You’ll also gain an understanding of the Australian Occupational Health and Safety requirements and become a professional member of Engineers Australia.

The EEA Professional Year in Engineering is available to holders of various visa types. Please visit our Frequently Asked Questions section below or contact a migration agent or the Department of Home Affairs to check your eligibility for this program.

This program is full fee-paying. CRICOS, HECS and fee-help is not eligible for the program.

Learn more 

John Holland Pathway Program

The Pathways program includes

  • 6-month work placement at one of Australia’s leading infrastructure and property companies
  • Certificate IV in WHS will provide a learning opportunity for candidates who have never worked in the industry, a refresher to those that have been out of the industry for an extended period and those that completed their education outside Australia will be able to gain an Australian recognised industry qualification
  • Pre-employment training before commencement on site which covers industry, Australian cultural and leadership training
  • Opportunity to be part of a program that provides professional support through mentoring
  • Opportunity to build confidence and capability over 6-month program with a possibility of permanent employment on completion of program.

In addition to the six-month paid placement, the program includes a Certificate IV in work health and safety, mentorship, and pre-employment training to help build awareness of Australian workplace culture.

Source: John Holland and Engineers Australia

Learn more

AMES Australia

AMES Australia has helped new and recently arrived refugees and migrants to settle in to Victoria for the last 60 years.

“AMES Australia provides a comprehensive range of settlement services for refugees and migrants. These include on-arrival settlement support, English language and literacy training, vocational education and training, and employment services. These services are primarily delivered through the following federal and state contracts: Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP), Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS), Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) Program, Skills First, Jobactive.”

Go to AMES Australia website

Overseas Qualified Professionals Program (OQP) Victoria

OQP is available as both a full-time (14 hours per week over three days) and a part-time (7 hours per week, one day and one evening) course. The program covers:

  • CV (resume) development
  • Analysis of position description and key selection criteria (KSC)
  • Interview skills development
  • Job interview and workplace communication skills practice
  • Workshops on the local labour market and Australian workplace practices
  • Introduction to Australian management concepts and industrial relations

Other services include:

  • Professional mentoring
  • Assessment of your work readiness
  • Identification of barriers to employment
  • Individual employment pathway plan
  • Support for industry-placement in metropolitan or regional Victoria

To find out more about OQP, click here.

City East Community College Mentor Program

“An initiative of the City East College, the City East Mentor Program is meeting an unmet need by supporting the integration of professionally skilled migrants and refugees into employment, enabling them to have career continuity.

This project addresses the ‘brain waste’ of far too many highly skilled and qualified people in our society who are doing casual work to pay the bills but not working to their full potential in their profession.

The Mentor Program promotes social inclusion, creates employment pathways and eases the transition of professionally skilled migrants and refugees into life and work in Australia.” (Source: City East Community College)

“For those who are in Sydney I strongly suggest to check out the Mentor Program at City East College. This is a fantastic opportunity in which highly successful individuals with years of experience in Australia volunteering their time to mentor and guide the new comers who are struggling to find a job in their field of expertise. This is a FREE program. Great people for a great cause.” Amir Hesami, Procurement Professional

Connections Australia App

Connections is an app developed to empower migrants in Australia to set up valuable connections – an idea conceived by Rinku Razdan, an Australian migrant herself.

“It’s an organization which is formed by the migrants for the migrants and it’s Australia’s if not the world’s first digital platform. It’s a one stop multilingual digital platform that uses data and API to instantly connect any new arrival in a city or a country to key services you need to settle like settlement information your community events services around you and jobs.”

The app is aimed at helping those starting a new chapter in their lives to feel less alone and provide them with the tools to create fulfilling, rich lives in a strange new place.

Download Connections Australia App now

ROA – Regional Opportunities Australia

Regional Opportunities Australia (ROA) is a not-for-profit organisation that helps migrants and refugees move from cities to welcoming regional communities and connects them to employment and business opportunities.

Services are free of charge for clients and employers.

“One of the main functions we’ll perform is helping to ‘culturally prepare’ regional communities and migrants and refugees on what’s expected of them in lieu of norms and culture. We don’t want to just send people into these communities or parachute them in; we want to make sure both parties are knowledgeable about each other’s cultures and welcoming towards each other.”

Network with other migrant engineers

Networking will allow you to meet other migrant engineers who work in the same field of expertise as you.

Ask them questions about the companies they work for and projects they have been involved in.

“It is mainly through networking events with engineers/people who are originally from overseas and have a network in Australia already.

People who have been in Australia for a while and understand your situation more because they were in the same situation before.

It is even easier when they come from the same country. I think it is mainly about solidarity and I feel that people with the same origins living in a foreign country become close quite fast and want to help one another.

Of course it also works with Australian people, and I strongly encourage foreigners to go to Aussie social events, although it might be a bit more challenging for someone new to the country.”

Céline Chakhtoura, Site Engineer

You might be surprised to find that some of them now help others to land a job for free.

There are some wonderful not-for-profit organizations on social media that provide information on such topics as emigrating to Australia, getting your qualifications recognized and finding work.

Latin Engineers Australia has almost 7 000 members who regularly share tips on all the above topics. They also hold free workshops in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide and have a mentoring program.

To find out more about Latin Engineers Australia click here.

Kazi Victoria

Founded by Tina Kuek this non-profit organisation in Melbourne is committed to reducing underemployment, helping people within the migrant and refugee community navigate the Australian job market. You get get help with resume writing, interview preparation and connect to mentors. They also regularly hold networking events.

Connet with Vinesh Balan on LinkedIn. Vinesh is passionate about guiding job seekers and knows how daunting the job hunt can be when you first arrive in Australia. He organizes regular meetups where job hunters share their job hunt stories and get free advice on understanding the Australian job market.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

We recently asked our network if they could share some tips with on on overcoming lack of local experience in Australia.

Here’s what they said:

“1. Understand the roles descriptions within the industry (From graduate engineer to project director) and the relative maturity between the roles. The maturity required will vary (depending on project/company size, a Senior project engineer for a huge project might have the seniority required for a small project PM)

2. Take 1 or 2 steps down in your career – You don’t get to start in a industry which is new to you at the same level you were back in your country. New country – New industry! That’s just the way it is!!! And don’t worry about that… You’ll get back on track quickly!!!!

3. Narrow down the range of your hard skills. Focus on your what you are really experienced in. Don’t try to convince anyone you’re good at everything. Australian industry doesn’t work like that. Once you’re in, you’ll get the chance to show and use your holistic understanding of projects (if that’s the case).

4. Look for the opportunities amongst those (companies, consultants, recruiters) that can genuinely make an unbiased assessment.(100% unbiased – It’s harder than it looks).

5. When you get your chance… It’s just the beginning! Make sure you are around supportive people (You’ll need support…More than you can imagine.)

Eduardo Poley, Project Manager

Do not say to potential Employers or Recruiters that you can work for free.

As explained by Bernardo Coelho, Engineering Solutions Manager:

 I can’t stress enough with the students and migrants I talk to how important is to do your research and find a company that you really care about and want to work to, before engaging with them. “Who is willing to do anything, usually can’t get nothing done.” If you are a professional, if you have an expertise, you should show “the” company your value, not offer yourself to work for free.”

(…) And we have to think as the other side: if I own a company and someone is asking to work for free just to get experience, in my opinion, he don’t really care about the company or the job, he’s just desperate. What value he will actually add in the long term? He will probably look for something else, that he really wants to do, after getting the “local experience”.

Queensland – Gain more professional recognition – RPEQ and NER.

RPEQ – Registered Professional Engineer Queensland

Queensland is currently the only Australian state that requires Engineers to register, however compulsory registration is coming to Victoria.

If you are a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng), you automatically qualify for a letter of assessment from Engineers Australia.

If you are registered on the National Engineering Register (NER) in the occupational category of Professional Engineer, you also qualify for a letter of assessment.

You will need your letter of assessment when making an application to become an RPEQ with the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland.

Source: Egineers Australia

What Engineers say:

The following points helped a lot when I seek my job:

1) Technically independent. Finish all my tech-related immigration paper work by myself, during which I learned professional terminologies and reviewed my whole career experience. All of these contributed the to my CV as well as interview.

2) RPEQ matters. This is necessary for 190 visa applicants of my profession to get nomination from BSMQ. What’s more, this is significant within Queensland rail industry.

3) Language is the key. Looking back at all the interviews I had, technical skill is just a small part. Most of the conversation is just like chatting about my experience, ideas about new career, why moved to Au, hobbies and future plans. Honestly my English is just so-so, but point 1 showed its value in these circumstances.

Bruno Zhang, Signalling Design Engineer

NER – National Engineering Register

The National Engineering Register (NER) is a comprehensive directory of Australian engineers who have met the high standards of professionalism expected within the industry.

Registrants on the NER will need to confirm the following eligibility criteria:

  • a recognised qualification
  • relevant professional practice
  • currency of Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
  • Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)
  • a commitment to ethical practice.

To find out more information on the NER eligibility criteria, refer to the NER Application Guidelines.

(source: Engineers Australia).

beautiful civil engineer famale

SkillMax and English for Employment (EFE) 

If English is not your first langauge, you might want to consider enrolling into a SkillMax course with TAFE.

“Skillmax assists skilled migrants with overseas qualifications to seek employment in their area of professional expertise. The programme is is free to eligible participants, and is designed to provide participants with a greater understanding of the current labour market, as well as the skills to acquire strategies to access employment opportunities in Australia.

Skillmax is an intensive fast-track course, consisting of 15 hours of classroom tuition per week, delivered over five weeks. English for Employment is a slower-paced course delivered over ten weeks, for 15 hours per week classroom tuition. Courses will be offered at a number of TAFE campuses across Sydney starting from February to June 2019. Please contact us to discuss your preferred location.

Both courses also include an additional four hour workshop, and students are also expected to complete 12 hours of self-directed learning activities each week.

Aiming to prepare skilled overseas professionals to seamlessly enter the Australian workforce, the course content covers essential areas such as:

  • Australian workplace culture and labour-market conditions;
  • career planning, skills analysis and goal setting;
  • job seeking skills and self-promote techniques;
  • application letter and résumé writing advice, for private and public sector positions; and
  • interviewing and networking techniques.

Source: https://www.tafensw.edu.au/student-services/skillmax

Access further information here.

Do further study

You might need to do some further study once you arrive in Australia to fill up any skills/education gaps.

Both TAFE and Engineers Australia offer a variety of civil engineering courses.

If you are a designer, you might need to learn the software which is commonly used in Australia such as 12D. Good knowledge of these programs will greatly enhance your chances of landing a job.

Work on your CV and you LinkedIn profile

It’s very important that your CV meets Australian standards. 

A major Australian jobs site Adzuna analysed tens of thousands of job applications and published an example of the perfect CV. Here’s how it should look.

Invest your time into yur LinkedIn profile and presence. Read our blog on writing a great LinkedIn profile here.

For professional help with resumes, interview coaching, LinkedIn profiles, direct communication with employers and more, contact Terry O’Reilly from OBP.

DO NOT apply to hundreds of jobs

A successful job hunt is not equivalent to applying to every single job you see posted on a job board.

Rather, a successful job hunt is about having a strategy.

Start with indentyfing the companies you would like to work for. Follow them on social media. Indetify the key people in each company. Learn as much as you can about the areas the company operates in and its current and past projects.

Expand and leverage your network. Attend networking events, conferences, and workshops to connect with people in your industry.

If you lack local experience, apply to companies directly.

“One of the things that truly helped my to build my network and get in touch with company directors or hiring managers was LinkedIn. I reckon you get better chances talking directly to them. Look for smaller businesses is another strategy, as you have more interaction with team members, superiors and they’re more open to absorb a new talent that wants to grow with the company.” Kercia Souza, Graduate Architect

Make Recruiters your friends, not your enemies!

If you are applying for a job through a recruitment agency, follow up on your application. Recruiters get hundreds of CVs every week so it’s good to remind them about your availability.

At the same time, do not harass a Recruiter. If the Recruiter has acknowledged that they have received your CV and you have had a follow-up chat, you need to wait. If you haven’t heard back, you should read between the lines (that means you are not considered for the job).

When approaching a Recruter on LinkedIn, send a personalized message. In the message briefly introduce yourself (your name, your current location, qualifications, how many years experience you have and the role you are interested in; if you have moved from overseas include information about the type of working visa you have). Attach a current CV in Word format.

Do not send blank emails or blank messages with attachments to Recruiters. If a job advert has a link where you can apply, follow the link. Recruitment agencies use CRMs to easily manage Applicant details as they get thousands of applications.

Whenever possible, meet Recruiters face-to-face. This will help you stand out from the crowd and prove your English skills. 

Prepare yourself thoroughly for the interview to increase your chances of landing a job.

At the job interview

Prepare yourself thoroughly for the interview. Learn as much as you can about your potential employer: history, key people, past and present projects, future growth plans. Follow the company on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with company news and announcements.

Practice talking about your previous work experience: what were the projects you were involved in, your responsibilities, what you learnt and how these skills could be useful to the potential employer.

Dress to impress. Although Australians are quite relaxed when it comes to dressing for work, always wear smart clothes to the interview.

Arrive early. Make sure you have plenty of time to find parking.

And don’t forget to bring a copy of your resume!

When talking with the interviewer:

– introduce yourself and give a firm handshake

– maintain eye contact throughout the interview

– listen carefully to the questions being asked

– mimic the interviewer’s body language

– don’t just wait for the questions – you have to take some responsibility for making the interview a memorable conversation for the interviewer.

– be positive and smile

Once you have gained some local experience you will find that applying for jobs through recruitment agencies will become much easier.

Good luck!

Written by Anna Laver – Talent Acquisition and Marketing at ConsultANZ Recruitment – We recruit Civil Engineers, Surveyors and Construction Professionals for projects in Australia and New Zealand.

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