Engineering job vacancies have been rising steadily through 2017-18 – driven by the infrastructure boom on the east coast, with more job vacancies in WA also now starting to emerge as iron ore exports bounce back and investment increases in other commodities.
Mechatronic engineers work in advanced manufacturing environments such as aerospace, biotechnology, robotics and agritechnology. With hybrid skills in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, mechatronic engineers are in high demand for the jobs of the future.
Curtin University vice-chancellor Deborah Terry told The Australian Financial Review that the new Curtin University degree is being developed in partnership with the resources industry, and should be available to undergraduates from next year.
“The view is that we need this new double degree to ensure that our graduates are well equipped for the mining industry – for the present and the future, which is being transformed by technology,” Terry said.
“Mechatronic engineers, who understand how to design and use electronic systems including the automated drilling, haulage and rail systems now used by BHP, were also critical in advanced manufacturing.”
According to Brent Jackson, executive general manager of Engineers Australia, while mining engineers were an established occupation, modern mines were equally likely to employ structural, civil, electrical and chemical engineers.
“There is likely to be a higher demand for that non-traditional area of perhaps electrical engineers and people who deal with transport automation and high-tech areas,” Jackson told The Australian Financial Review.
“If you are talking about vehicle automation, which is a large part of modern mining operations, you are going to be competing directly for the same skill set that they require in the eastern cities to deliver these major transport infrastructure projects, so costs will go up – there is very little doubt about that.”
The number of students studying engineering in WA has been falling – with Curtin University’s engineering student numbers dropping by around 100 in 2017, compared with a year earlier to 1600, and fewer students opting to study mining and metallurgy.
“But while Engineers Australia is encouraging schools and Universities to promote engineering programs, higher numbers of graduates isn’t the only solution to ensuring Australia had enough professional engineers,” Jackson added.
“We need to level out infrastructure demand in this country and moderate it over time.
“Governments, as significant customers and a supplier of infrastructure services, need to ensure that they are not rushing to deliver the same sort of projects in the same place at the same time.”