Attracting young engineers remains an ongoing challenge for local government. These two Western Australian councils are shining examples of attracting and supporting graduate engineers – and they’re reaping the benefits.
by Carla Grossetti
The Infrastructure Undergraduate Engineer Program at City of Wanneroo in Perth, Western Australia, is all about developing “the young leaders of tomorrow” says the council’s Director of Infrastructure, Dennis Blair.
Blair says the ground-breaking program has been so successful since its inception in 2007 that the local government authority this year approved its fifth cadet engineer position. The catalyst for the cadetship program, he says, was to address the 2006–08 shortfall in attracting young engineers to the sector.
“What precipitated the program was the fact that many young engineering students were being lured into the mining industry at the expense of the local government sector,” says Blair.
“A lot of councils put graduates on for a few years, but the City of Wanneroo's program differs in that it tries to get students who have engineering knowledge under their belt. For a young student, the chance to work in a civil engineering environment often prompts them to pursue a career in the sector,” he says.
Blair believes the scheme’s success has been largely due to the fact it’s a win-win situation for both the cadet and the council. He adds the experience has been extremely positive for the council’s workplace culture, which he says has become even more dynamic and collaborative.
“To be able to offer engineering students an opportunity to be mentored in a role that will be beneficial to their prospects is so much better for them than going off to work part-time as a waiter or bartender,” Blair says.
Value for all
“These young people are bringing so much to the table and the council is benefiting from all these technically sound new ideas. We have high standards and all of the cadets have been successful in meeting core competencies. They also challenge the status quo because they are in an environment where ideas are welcome and accepted,” adds Blair.
Cameron Healy was one of the first student engineers to get involved in the program while studying for his Advance Diploma in Engineering at Central TAFE. Healy completed his diploma in 2010 and is now studying for his Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Civil, at Edith Cowan University.
Healy agrees one of the many rewarding aspects of working as a student engineer in the public works sector is the fact that all of the completed practical units serve as a portfolio for future work.
The 24-year-old was recently offered the role of Maintenance Engineer at the City of Wanneroo, WA’s fastest-growing local government authority.
“The cadet program provided me with paid work so I could apply the information I learned at TAFE on the job,” says Healy.
“The cadetship program has made me feel committed to civil engineering as a career, and I feel loyal to the council, too. I love the technical aspect of building infrastructure, but I also love the fact the City offers me a broad variety of jobs to do while being mentored,” he says.
By the time Healy graduates in 2018 he will have eight years experience under his belt. He says while the cadetship program has been a huge incentive for him “to hit the ground running”, he believes it has also been positive for senior councillors to hear some fresh perspectives.
Tackling an engineer shortage
The City of Swan graduate program was also designed to address the engineering crisis being felt around Australia, says City of Swan CEO Mike Foley.
When the number of professional engineers in the city dropped to five, Foley says he knew it was critical for the council to tackle the shortage head-on. He says while its aim was to attract more engineers to the sector, it was also important to help grow the skills, confidence and competence of young engineers.
“Skilled graduates can make a real contribution from day one. One of the things that attracts graduates to the City is the variety of work on offer,” Foley says.
Polina Chernova worked part-time as a student engineer at the City of Swan while completing her studies. By the time she graduated in July 2010, Chernova had exposure to many different disciplines – from road and drainage construction, to building fleet and waste services.
The 28-year-old is now employed as a project manager at the council, where she says she is getting a feel for where she fits.
“Applying the knowledge I’ve learned at university has been very rewarding. It’s a very encouraging environment. One of the biggest pluses is learning the softer skills that the university degree doesn’t teach – like how to communicate, negotiate and deal with contractors. That has been very beneficial to me,” she says. #SkillShortagesHR #WA #ManagementPractice