Recap of The Engineers Lunch with Jonathan Russell

The Engineers Lunch

Recap of The Engineers Lunch with Jonathan Russell

NB: This event was held on March 13th, 2020, before COVID-19 measures were enacted.

Sixty of the region’s leading minds joined Monica Clare Recruitment for the first engineering event: The Engineers Lunch. Held at the FogHorn Brewhouse, attendees paired craft beer with industry news.

The event, held in partnership with Engineers Australia, boasted their National Manager of Advocacy, Jonathan Russell, as the headline. Russell painted an optimistic future for the industry after a period of significant historic fluctuation.

Here are the key bits:


Recent flux in the engineering industry


Engineers have ridden out some tough times in the recent past, including the mining boom collapse and GFC. These downturns created a massive drop in infrastructure investment, responsible for supplying a chain of work to engineers. Allied industries and the consulting sector were also hit hard.

Russell says that we are now in an upturn, at least compared with 2016. In context of the larger picture (i.e. pre-2008), it’s likely this is the market correcting to a steady state instead of a boom. The supply demand is ticking up, however it’s too early to determine if this will sustain. Indications suggest the industry is in a good spot.


Engineering graduates and the feedback loop


Market changes affect the intake of engineering students each year. There is, however, an observable lag between what happens in the market and students selecting a course to study after school. This creates uneven levels of supply and demand. Russell calls this knock-on effect the ‘feedback loop’.

As of 2020, there has been a slow-down of engineering graduates. In fact, while the demand for graduates is there, university vacancies in engineering courses are often left open. Evidence, Russell says, of this effect in action.

So, how do we break this feedback loop?

“As a business, diversify what you’re involved in. As a country, diversify what you’re producing. As a government, provide long-term certainty in the industry”, says Russell. Long pipelines of work are what’s needed to completely steady this effect. If the long-term plan changes dramatically, say every election cycle, agreed plans will not be fulfilled, causing uncertainty.


Supporting the National Engineering Register (NER)


New legislation could see the creation of a National Engineering Register (NER). Engineers Australia is a big proponent of this bill as a “mechanism where this is a minimum safe standard for engineers in the community.”

So, what practical implications does this have?

It will mean engineers will have to demonstrate competence at ongoing intervals in their career. It also lengthens the number of demonstrated years of experienced required, demands a commitment to a set number of professional development hours each year, and an oath to a code of ethics.


Newcastle is a strong engineering centre


NSW are the dominant suppliers of engineers. 25 per cent of all engineers are from NSW, with 7 per cent located in the Hunter, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle regions.

“The Newcastle region historically focused on the mining sector, and this could be a weakness to market fluctuations” says Russell. “If the mining or heavy industry markets take a hit, this could affect supply and demand chains in the local region.”

For Newcastle to continue strength-to-strength, heavy investment in diversification is required.


Outlook for engineers


“There are huge challenges for the nation, but engineers are essential for this change” says Russell.

Infrastructure is experiencing strong growth and the nation is moving towards addressing climate change, which means building resilience and reducing emissions will create new pipelines of work.

“Positive outlook from an employment perspective but challenging from a national point of view” says Russell.


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