$80,000 to sign up

$80,000 to sign up

By Lauren Ahwan

Engineering graduates are being lured with $80,000 pay packets as companies struggle to find enough staff.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA) reports Santos is among the companies paying top dollar to recruit and retain workers amid a chronic, nationwide engineering shortage.

Santos will not reveal how much it pays its engineering graduates because of commercial reasons, but states it is not experiencing any shortage of engineers.

Association state director Sue Fenwick says members have informed her Santos is offering $80,000 a year to engineering graduates – well above the average graduate salary of $58,000.

"It’s extraordinary," she says.

"They (Santos) are going out (to universities) very early in the year and going to the fourth (final) year students with (offers of) $80,000.

"This (engineering shortage) really is a crisis on the horizon. We know there are positions, in government in particular, that they haven’t been able to fill for a number of years and… it’s only going to get worse."

Ms Fenwick above-average salaries offered by larger companies further compound the problem for smaller engineering firms, which are not able to offer the same rewards.

"If they can’t compete financially, how else are they going to (attract engineers)?" she asks.

The number of graduating engineers in Australia is significantly less than is needed to meet the present level of construction and other engineering projects.

A report last year found two thirds of engineering consultancy firms across the country were forced to delay projects because of staff shortages.

Adelaide-based engineers Tonkin Consulting managing director Ken Schalk says the crisis is impacting on his company’s ability to bid for contracts.

"Things just take longer (to complete) and we have to say no to a few things," he says.

"Obviously we don’t like to say no to clients . . . but we have to think quite seriously about what we can do."

Mr Schalk says Tonkin Consulting is looking for five engineers to add to its 120-strong workforce.

"(Engineering) has never been really popular (as a career choice)," he says.

"It’s one of those things that unless it’s an area you are interested in, it’s not one that’s really promoted a lot."

Engineering Australia believes the shortage of engineers has the potential to be catastrophic.

"There is a very real risk that the investment of billions of dollars in national infrastructure projects and in the resources sector will be compromised," chief executive officer Peter Taylor says.

He believes the declining number of people studying engineering is partly caused by a lack of understanding about what the profession involves.

At Santos, however, senior human resources adviser Tracey Zilm says project delays are unheard of.

"We’re not experiencing a shortage (of workers)," she says.

"We run popular and industry-recognised vacation and graduate programs for students that attract talented young professionals to our business.

"By taking a long-term approach in the form of a graduate program, we can ensure that our stocks of engineers and geoscience professionals are continually topped up with new talent."

Ms Zilm says Santos recruits about 20 graduates each year but expects to employ almost 30 next year.

She describes pay for Santos graduates as "competitive".

“It’s not just about pay," she says.

“Oil and gas is a worldwide industry that remunerates well and offers exciting and challenging positions across the globe."

Recent engineering graduates and Santos employees Tegan Digby, who is a drilling engineer, and Khalee Field, a mechanical engineer, say working conditions attracted them to the company and that the pay is a bonus.

Ms Digby says the training, variety and type of work lured her to the company.

“Additionally, there is plenty of opportunity to travel," she says.

“As for pay, yes, it is great that my hard work is rewarded well."

Article from The Advertiser, May, 2010. Source: APESMA.

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