Engineers imported from overseas as Australians struggle to find jobs
Summary: When Kenan Toker enrolled to study electrical engineering specialising in power generation, he thought he would be training for a job in a growth industry full of opportunities.....
But after graduating with his engineering degree earlier this year, Mr Toker, 24, from the Sydney suburb of Mosman, struggled to find a job.
"When I started studying I thought of it as the up-and-coming area," he said. "A lot of electrical power infrastructure around Sydney needs to be replaced over the next 10 or 15 years. That was a big part of me choosing that field.
"But there seem to be very few opportunities available."
Since graduating, Mr Toker says he has been among thousands of applicants for a handful of jobs with utility companies. After searching for work in his chosen field, he recently found a job working on software design and coding.
"I did software in my degree, but it was not something I saw myself doing a number of years ago," he said.
Department of Employment figures show there have been no skill shortages in engineering since 2012-13, yet engineers are still listed on its skilled occupations list which is used to identify skills shortages that overseas workers can fill.
"If the labour market reality is there is no shortage of skilled engineers it is logical that you would take them off the skilled occupations list," Professionals Australia chief executive Chris Walton said.
"Engineering job vacancies are at an all-time low, yet, in 2015/16, record numbers of skilled engineers migrated to Australia.
"That's not fair to Australian graduate engineers who study for four years at significant expense and then struggle to find a job."
Engineers Australia, which represents more than 100,000 engineers in Australia, supports keeping engineers on the skilled occupations list.
Its 2015-16 Consolidated Financial Report shows it earned $8.8 million last financial year from the migration skills assessments it conducts for the federal Department of Immigration.
"We hope that role, which now represents 18 per cent of their revenue, isn't affecting their advocacy on behalf of the profession," Mr Walton said.
"It is certainly making it difficult for us to get a common sense decision of getting engineers off the skilled occupations list when Engineers Australia is arguing they stay on.
"There is undoubtedly a conflict here and we say the government should recognise that conflict when it is listening to advice."
"Engineering has a highly cyclical employment market, and long-term migration is a method of moderating this boom/bust cycle," chief executive Stephen Durkin said.
"As Engineers Australia provides this service at cost, we don't face any of the vested interests that a union might in any move to artificially constrain the labour market," he said.
"In the face of static and very slowly growing domestic engineering graduations over recent decades, maintaining a long-term pipeline of skilled migrants is critical if Australia wants a sustainable domestic engineering workforce.
"As official data clearly show, the engineering employment market is again on the rise. If the kind of short-term thinking that Professionals Australia is advocating occurs then we'll return to the days of acute skills shortages, cost blowouts and undeliverable infrastructure projects."
Mr Durkin said Professionals Australia, as a union, had an interest in forcing a skills shortage to reduce supply, drive up costs and artificially inflate wages.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said he had ordered a review of the Consolidated Sponsored Occupational List and it was "currently being looked at".
The government said it wanted to strengthen Australia's skilled migration program to ensure "overseas workers supplement rather than provide a substitute for Australian workers".
Mr Dutton said the review would ensure that "Australian workers have priority".