Engineering skills underpin the functioning of our societies and economies. As we face the global challenges presented by a changing climate, food and water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and globalisation, these skills will only become more important.
In Australia, we have a high demand for qualified engineers but we train relatively few compared with similar industrialised nations.
As a consequence, about half of Australia’s engineers come from other countries. While skilled migration is an important and largely positive element of our economy, relying on skilled workers from overseas could leave us vulnerable to factors outside our control.
Extending the talent pool
One part of the engineering pipeline problem is the lack of diversity in those who engage with the subject.
Industry values diversity because it boosts innovation and improves financial performance. Despite numerous outreach and engagement programs and initiatives, however, only a small fraction of undergraduate engineering students are women.
In vocational training, the number is less than one in ten; at universities it’s around one in six.
This enormous disparity means women are missing out on designing the future. It also means that engineering challenges are being tackled from a narrow set of perspectives.
A search for new ideas
In 2019 the deans of engineering at Monash University, the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales created the Engineering for Australia Taskforce. The goal of the taskforce is to find ways to boost the numbers of women applying for university engineering programs.
The taskforce has two major concerns. First, engineering enrolments do not reflect the diversity of the Australian population, particularly gender diversity. Second, engineering has a low visibility in schools and society in general.