This industry is in dire need of workers - yet migrants aren't getting a look-in

It's an industry in serious need of workers as Australia rebounds from the pandemic, yet almost half of migrants qualified in engineering can't find jobs.

Yaning Ting at work in Sydney.

Yaning Ting at work in Sydney. Source: Supplied

Yaning Ting used to design commercial air conditioners in China. But these days, he’s delivering materials for an air conditioning company.

For two years, Mr Ting has struggled to find a job as an engineer after moving to Australia in 2019, despite having a wealth of experience in the industry.

The high-qualified migrant spent over a decade honing his skills as an engineer in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning sector, including ten years as a project manager. But after a wave of rejections for jobs at his skill level from Australian employers, Mr Ting says he is disappointed.

Yaning Ting at work in Sydney.
Yaning Ting is among the cohort of migrant engineers unsuccessfully applying for engineering jobs. Source: Supplied

“I lost confidence,” the Sydney resident told SBS News.

“Because I really have a lot of professional experience in my field. But when I send out my resume, they don’t care about that, and I don’t know why.”

"Most of the time (in his current job) I do the deliveries for the AC jobs. So that's definitely not what I want." 

Mr Ting’s experience is far too common and confirmed by a new report by Engineers Australia that found almost half of all migrant engineers looking for a job are unemployed.

This comes at a time when there’s a critical shortage of engineers in Australia and billions of dollars of upcoming infrastructure projects on the line, as the economy rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Job vacancies in the industry have risen by 97 per cent in a year, with 70,000 jobs available.

But 47 per cent of qualified migrant engineers surveyed in the report are unemployed and can’t get their foot in the door.

Skilled engineers are driving taxis and delivering takeaway, Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans said.

“It's disappointing, but it's also an opportunity because I think for a lot of employers, they're not aware of this talent pool that is available to them,” she told SBS News.

Ms Evans said the critical factor cited by most employers is the need for local experience and knowledge.

That’s why pathways to internships and work experience are essential. Engineers Australia is working on a pilot program to connect migrant engineers with employers.

“Because (migrant engineers) are not able to benefit from those local networks and not able to demonstrate that their experience overseas has got that equivalent impact here in Australia, they're not able to get the sort of engineering roles that they'd really like to be working,” she said.

Recruiters who were interviewed in the report, which also surveyed more than 800 migrant engineers and employers, said several Australian companies held not only unconscious, but also conscious biases towards hiring migrant engineers.

The report also found many migrant engineers give up and end up in non-engineering roles in industries such as construction and professional services.

That’s something that Mr Ting is currently contemplating.

He’s planning to finish TAFE and obtain qualifications to become a tradie in the airconditioning industry.

“That’s my last choice, if nobody hires me as an engineer,” he said.

Mr Ting said he wished it wasn’t like this.

“The companies and employers in Australia, I really wish they would give us a chance.”

3 min read
Published 2 December 2021 at 7:02pm
By Rashida Yosufzai
Source: SBS