Removing Engineers from the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) may not be the industry’s best move


August last year, the Association of Professional Engineers Australia (APEA) implored in a letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for the removal of the engineering profession from the skilled occupation list (SOL). In November, 52 occupations were flagged to be removed from the 2017/18 occupation list.

APEA’s Letter to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP)

SBS: These 52 jobs may be removed from the Skilled Occupation List

Engineers in various specialisations made up a majority of the list. It is said that there is no longer a shortage in Engineers in Australia, with locals and migrants alike being unable to find an engineering job.

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Focus on the short term and it is that simple – a shortage of engineering job vacancies compounded with migrants taking locals’ jobs. Professor Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at the University of New South Wales, has a broader perspective.

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“Every year for the past 12 years, an average of 18,000 engineering positions needed to be filled, but only 7600 students graduate with bachelor-level engineering degrees from universities, according to figures collated by Engineers Australia and based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the departments of Education and Training and Immigration and Border Control.

That means that, on average, at least 10,000 positions need to be filled by migrants annually, some of which may arrive with temporary 457 work visas to alleviate chronic job shortages (in 2015, there were 5703 engineers holding such visas).”


If the facts are right, why the difficulty in engineers finding jobs? Perhaps it is a right fit thing. Perhaps the experience required in those vacancies just don’t match up with those in search of a job. Perhaps its a locality thing. Perhaps local companies are hesitant to employ migrant workers.


“‘This is a form of market failure’, Professor Collins said. It hurts migrants’ occupational mobility and makes the Australian economy less productive and innovative, and yet it is immigrants who often get blamed for economic problems.”


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It’s easy to pin the blame of the lack of jobs in the engineering industry, and indeed many other industries, on migrants, but perhapswe need a bigger picture. Whether it is in attracting fresh talent or retaining Australian educated engineers, the industry, according to Mr. Hoffman, desperately needs a continued inflow of Engineers to meet demand and stay competitive (against the rest of the world). We believe this goes for many industries. People from different walks of life will bring new ideas and new networks. Simply closing the door will not be an answer, not at least if you are looking at long term goals.

For international students studying Engineering in Australia, there is actually little chance of engineers being removed. Such a move may have a significant impact upon the universities who depend upon the number of overseas student enrolments into these faculties. If the DIBP wants to pander to the doomsayers that argue we have too many engineers in this country, then consider that SkillSelect already has a pro-rated system in place to allow for a reduction in the quota’s of certain occupations, without having to take on measures such as the removal of engineers from the SOL, which may adversely affect our economy.

In this financial year, the quota for electrical engineers is at 1254 and is hardly going to make such a significant impact in employment. Thus far only 655 places out of the 1254 have been offered with only 4 months remaining until the clock resets for programme 2016/17, so there is really nothing to crow about. We hope that the DIBP recognises this and opts for a more rational approach.