The extraction of minerals has been the driving force behind Australia’s economy throughout the nation’s history, and it’s the state of Western Australia that contributes 58% of Australia’s mineral and energy exports.
One could say that Western Australia is a hub of mining activity, and mining in turn contributes to construction and manufacturing. All of these industries require engineers, and whether they’re supervising the construction and operation of mines or the infrastructure necessary to support them, there will be no shortage of demand for their skills.
But there may be a shortage of skills to meet that demand. This is the issue Western Australia currently faces.
Building for the Future
Western Australia’s mining industry will need 100,000 trained workers in the next decade, according to premier Colin Barnett, and engineers are foremost amongst them.
Plans for addressing the skill shortage include the encouragement of skilled migration. As a result the Western Australian mining industry has become heavily reliant on imported skills. In 2006, it was estimated that almost half of its workforce was born overseas.
Foreign students who intend to study engineering are encouraged to do so in Western Australia. Engineering Australia claims that the number of students from overseas countries participating in engineering-related courses increased by over 500% between 2001 and 2009. Of course, the issue is then convincing the majority of those students to stay and ply their trade in Western Australia, instead of taking their much-needed skills elsewhere.
While importing skills is invaluable, government and industry representatives agree that it can only serve as a temporary measure. In the long-term, it will not be enough to provide an adequate supply of skills, especially as Australia’s mining industry looks to take advantage of the demand for minerals from burgeoning economies in Asia.
Investing in education and encouraging students to pursue engineering careers will be the foundation for the future of Australia’s mining industry. Efforts to do increase interest in the industry need to begin in high schools, where enthusiasm for related subjects must be fostered.
Greater efforts also need to be made to encourage demographics that traditionally don’t pursue career paths in engineering; for example, women, who provide a largely untapped workforce for Australia’s engineering sector.
A Hub of Engineering Activity
Figures published by Victoria’s Monash University predict that over the next four years one third of all job growth in Western Australia will be in the mining and construction industries.
Not only does Western Australia hold the promise of job opportunities for those planning to study engineering, it’s also widely regarded as the best place to do so.
There’re the commonly cited benefits of studying in a regional state, which include bonus points towards any future attempts to apply for permanent Australian citizenship, a friendlier atmosphere when compared to that of more populated areas like Sydney, and a lower cost of living.
But, aside from that, there’s the massive amount of mining and construction activity underway in the state, and the opportunity it provides for engineering students to witness the inner workings of these industries first-hand. This provides them with invaluable experience that will place them in a stronger position when they eventually begin their careers.
According to the Good Universities Guide, Western Australia engineering graduates are most likely to attain the highest starting salaries following graduation, with the average salary for Western Australian graduates being $67,784. This exceeds the average of $59,988 for New South Wales, $59,642 for Queensland and $55,212 for Victoria, as well as the national average starting salary of $60,705.
Whether their chosen specialization is civil engineering, chemical engineering, petroleum engineering or some other form of engineering, Western Australia’s wealth in resources ensures that mining and all related industries will have need of their skills for many years to come.
Matthew Flax writes for Now Learning, an education portal that promotes tertiary education opportunities in Western Australia, as well as all other territories. Study options include TAFE courses and university degrees.
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