Engineer ConfusedGeelong has been the subject of a declining manufacturing sector for some years now and the recent closure of Alcoa and its ripple effect is now being felt across the region. Behind the scenes of new industry growth, capital expansion, plant improvements or day-to-day maintenance is the Engineering sector. These companies provide qualified engineers to assist in the design, engineering, construction or project management of such work.

The sad fact is local engineering companies are copping a battering! Many of Geelong’s Engineering firms seek to go beyond their geographic borders to gain opportunities however many are still left wanting.

Kempe which relied heavily on Western Australia and the Middle East has now sold its Middle East business and the local engineers are left with little or nothing. Hatch saw 30 local engineers supporting the Alcoa operation depart last year. ICD which held as many as 70 engineers for the Vitol/Viva Refinery has recently lost its bid for contract renewal to an international player with the majority of the engineering positions not filled locally. The Barwon Water Alliance with John Holland Group and GHD has concluded. AGB has all but closed its engineering business focusing instead on its training arm. Downer Engineering has gone and boutique practices are continuing to struggle.

As Director of local recruitment and outplacement firm Harvest Human Resources I receive calls daily from these engineers hoping we may have a recruitment brief that matches their skills. Alternatively they are tapping into our careers advisory service to determine what’s next.

When the local economy is challenged and there are no roles available for your certain discipline (a quick scan of job-boards for jobs in the region will show you current availability) you have a choice. If you are keen to stay in Geelong then you can choose to be an unemployed Engineer and wait…and wait…for the market to turn. Alternatively, change your discipline. You may say…that’s fine Maree but I’ve always been an engineer, for 10, 15, 20 years or more! Change is difficult however this is where you weigh up.. “Do I want location over an engineering career?” To assist you consider what you could do, if you weren’t doing engineering I present five common career pathways for local engineers who want to stay local.

1. Education

One of the high growth industries in Geelong is education. The most common areas Engineers can retrain is to teach at the secondary (maths, science), vocational or tertiary level. To teach Certificate and Diploma levels in Engineering, you require a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Offered by most of Geelong’s Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s) the course can take between two weeks and six months to complete. A Graduate Diploma in Teaching and a Teacher’s registration could see you teaching in the High Schools within a year. If you are a Masters or PhD qualified engineering then tutoring or lecturing is an opportunity for you.

 2. Move to ‘popular’ engineering categories

Engineers that are connected to the declining manufacturing sector will struggle as this sector no longer presents the opportunity it once did. Geelong’s manufacturing sector is transitioning from traditional to highly advanced. The engineering sectors that continue to grow are IT&T, automation and, with continued infrastructure development, civil. Electronic and mechatronic engineering is a stable sector as these roles assist industries become more automated. Geelong’s IT&T sector is growing so a certificate or diploma aligned with website development, software programming or telecommunications will see you highly employable. Most of the local shires house civil engineers and as Geelong continues to grow and develop the opportunities for civil engineers, town planners, surveyors, quantity surveyors and valuers will continue to be available. Some of these disciplines are relatively accessible while others may require a degree of retraining.

3. Risk, Safety or Environmental Management or Compliance

Engineers are renowned for their attention to detail and risk aversion. Often engineers are assessing risk in design, construction, project or process, inspecting theirs or their colleagues work as well as using sophisticated programs to simulate projects and possible outcomes.  Thus moving from engineering to the fast growing risk, safety or environmental field is not a quantum leap for most engineers. At the entry level is an OHS inspector – you would have come across these in the WorkSafe advertisements and usually a certificate in OHS will get you started. Further qualifications could see you becoming the OHS Officer or Manager for a company or providing risk, safety or environmental consulting which can be as broad as developing OHS or Environmental policies and manuals to high level risk consulting.

4. Hone Your Project Management Expertise

Engineers who have progressed to Project Managers in their careers can look to move industry sectors. In addition to your skill base of engineering, you now bring the ability to manage a project, project stakeholders and project teams to achieve deliverables in time and on budget. There are a number of industries that seek Project Managers to manage the client relationships (internal or external) and ensure delivery of an outcome. These include public sector, education, health, utilities, finance, software and IT infrastructure. Many of these organisations embark on initiatives (projects) with finite deliverables within finite timeframes. A proven Project Manager is often welcomed by any industry, despite initial qualifications.

5. Out of the Box Opportunities

What I love to see is when an Engineer goes forth beyond their traditional boundaries. I recently saw an Engineer buy a trailer company and he is now selling trailers, one is considering nursing (a booming sector), another is now in industrial sales and the bold are heading into their own businesses determined to forge a niche for themselves be it allied with their discipline or something completely different.

Maree HerathThe final choice I offer engineers who want to stay in Engineering is be prepared to be mobile. If you love engineering and want to remain in your chosen profession then it’s up to you to seek out the opportunities. In Australia, Darwin is the most buoyant economy for engineers. There are two major gas projects alone and the opportunity to play a part is there. Also Gladstone (with the Boyne Smelter or Coal Seam Gas projects) still brings opportunity. Meanwhile the North West will yield opportunities if you are in construction or maintenance, asset management or reliability engineering. Aside from this…the next choice is to go abroad. Many of Australia’s traditional sectors are moving or have moved overseas, to South Korea, China, Africa, India, South America and the Middle East. So if you can be mobile and are prepared to head off-shore, there may be a rewarding engineering career waiting for you!

Blog written by Maree Herath, 20 year technical recruiter and careers adviser to Technical specialists. Harvest Human Resources provides Geelong Careers Services filled with local content for individuals and corporates undergoing transition.

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