The 2020 Australia’s STEM Workforce report takes a closer look at the engineering labour force, which makes up the largest piece of the STEM-employment pie.
According to the report, 80 per cent of the VET-trained STEM labour force and 38 per cent of university-qualified STEM workers are engineers.
This year’s report includes a new section called ‘a closer look at engineering’, which takes a deep dive into the demographics of the engineering workforce.
Justine Romanis, Engineers Australia National Manager, Professional Diversity and STEM told create that this highlights the importance of engineering within the labour force.
“The 2016 report revealed the size and scope of the engineering workforce, they wanted to understand it better in this report,” she said.
Engineering qualifications on the rise
The 2020 report uses data from the 2006, 2011 and 2016 censuses to explore changes to the workforce.
Between 2011 and 2016 the number of university qualified engineers in the workforce grew by 28 per cent (60,030 people), compared to a 25 per cent rise in the number of university-qualified workers across the entire STEM workforce.
This corresponds with the growing trend in engineering university enrolments identified in the Engineers Australia Australia’s Next Generation of Engineers report, which showed that the number of university course completions by domestic students has risen in six states between 2001 and 2018.
The number of VET-qualified engineers also increased, rising by 3 per cent (24,040 people) between 2011 and 2016, compared to a 4 per cent increase for the total VET-qualified STEM workforce.
The report also found that 57 per cent of engineers were born overseas, compared to 28 per cent in the entire STEM labour force and 26 per cent in the general Australian population.
“There is a lot of talent that we bring into the country,” said Romanis, adding that it was also important to attract domestic students to engineering, especially given the uncertainty introduced by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Still work to do to increase diversity
The report also showed that engineering has unique challenges when it comes to gender diversity.
For VET-qualified STEM workers, engineers had the lowest female representation (5 per cent), compared to 56 per cent female representation in those with science qualifications. For university-qualified workers, engineering had only 16 per cent representation compared to 50 per cent for science.
“Engineering has different issues with female representation to science,” Romanis said.
The report also found a discrepancy in the number of male and female engineers in full time employment. For university-qualified engineers, 67 per cent of employed women worked full time compared to 83 per cent of men. For VET-qualified engineers, the percentage of male engineers in full time employment was also 83 per cent, and 54 per cent for women. Female engineers also had a higher rate of unemployment than their male counterparts across the board.
The good news is that while the number of women in the VET-qualified engineering workforce has remained stagnant, there has been a slight increase in the proportion of university-qualified engineering workforce, which has risen from 13 to 15 per cent.
Engineers Australia analysis shows that the bulk of new female graduates are overseas students, while domestic female student commencements and completions have increased at a slower rate.
“It’s more important than ever to make sure we are attracting women in Australia to engineering,” Romanis said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic means that Australia will be competing with other countries for engineering talent as the world works to recover from the economic impacts.
The report also revealed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are under-represented in the STEM workforce. Only 0.5 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have a STEM qualification, compared to 5.2 per cent of non-First Nations people in Australia.
“This report makes clear that we must continue to strive to increase the representation of diverse groups in the STEM workforce,” said Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who launched the report earlier this month.
A seat at the table
The report highlights the need for engineers to play a key role in decisions that affect the nation’s future, Romanis said.
“The takeout for us is to make sure that engineering has a seat at the table,” she explained.
Romanis added that Engineers Australia was working to further raise awareness of the crucial role engineers play in the STEM workforce and our everyday lives.
This includes promoting the availability of engineering education from early childhood through to primary and secondary school, and sharing stories of engineers and their achievements in the media.
“We’re trying to put the ‘E’ back in STEM. Engineers use science, engineering and maths to solve real-world problems,” she said.