Industry must help engineers graduate by offering students work experience now, to help avert the predicted shortage of engineers in the next few years, says Engineering Australia’s WA Division General Manager Susan Kreemer Pickford.
She says if enough opportunities aren’t found to fulfil the compulsory student practicum, they won’t be able to graduate and will either drop, find other opportunities or leave WA.
“We didn’t need to have a downturn to make this a problem, we should all be doing this any way, but the downturn has exacerbated the problem that we won’t have enough engineers graduating,” Kreemer Pickford says.
“We may not need them now, but we are going to need them in five years’ time. So you will be turning around and saying ‘where are these graduates with five years’ experience’, but five years ago you didn’t employ them or you help them graduate.”
The organisation has teamed up with CCI to host the Engineering Student Practicum Forum on August 7 to attract more industry participation.
Students are required to complete more than 400 hours or three months full-time equivalent before they can graduate, although it can be completed in a number of ways with different employers.
“The major players have very well-structured vac work programs and graduate placements and that is typically where the students will look, however, to fill the places we require we need all of industry to get engaged,” she says.
“We are trying to help local governments, smaller companies and organisations that don’t have fully fledged HR departments who might think ‘oh it’s too hard for me to find places or employ a vac student, what’s my duty of care, am I insured’,” she says.
Benefits for business and students
WA steel manufacturer and supplier Metroll General Manager Brett O’Mara says the company started bringing in engineering students and graduates to work on all types of projects from IT, to safety and mechanical in 2016.
He says providing students with quality projects for their practicums has proved a win-win for the company and the 30 students who have been through the program.
O’Mara said the program started with just one student but was so beneficial – particularly during the difficult times during the downturn – that it took on more students with up to five on site at the company’s Cloverdale headquarters last year at any one time.
“It’s nice to have fresh young minds around the business challenging what we do,” he says.
“When we have gone into this it was very much on the understanding that it was a win-win for both. We don’t want to abuse the position we are in, so we must give them meaningful projects to work on, so they can genuinely take away experience.
“On the flipside, the feedback from the students who have gone through our business is very good.”
Metroll runs various programs and tailers it to the individual. For example, one student used data from software create a staff dashboard while, while another completed a risk register and isolation of machines to ensure they were working.
“There’s a couple that spent most of the required hours here who follow up with an email to see the outcome of projects they started,” O’Mara says.
“Five or six of them of them have passed back feedback that they have been preferred candidates for employment because they have already worked in the industry on meaningful projects.
“We’ve had some come in and do the bare minimum and some have stayed to finish a project while they have been seeking full-time employment.”