7 March 2012 – A Consult Australia study into workforce diversity in the engineering industry has highlighted marked skills shortages in the professions including the built and natural environment, with distinct gender bias.

  • CA has called for more flexible working arrangements a reality.
  • Broaden the language of workplace diversity to ensure that issues other than gender are included.
  • Provide managers and workers with new skills to work effectively in changing workplaces.
  • Setting targets and collecting meaningful data to measure the pace of change to help identify those initiatives that deliver the greatest benefits.

The study Diverse Approaches says the impact of these shortages is not confined to major construction projects or just the resources sector but will resonate throughout the economy.

Compounding this problem is the fact that many professions consulting in the built and natural environment do not appear to be representative of the broader population, particularly on the basis of gender.

CA plans to use the report to develop advice specific to firms consulting in the built and natural environment.

The survey of more than 15,000 employees identified differences in pay, turnover and age at different levels of seniority.  Key findings were:

  • The professional skills of women and part time workers may be undervalued in some workplaces
  • Workforce participation for key diversity groups remains low (such as  people with a disability and Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders)
  • Discrimination and harassment continue to be experienced in some workplaces
  • Work-life balance can be hard to achieve due to business cultures that require long hours to meet client demands
  • Some careers have traditionally been widely perceived to be more well suited to individuals with either masculine or feminine traits
  • Homogenous workplaces can lead to unconscious biases in recruiting and promotion that lock out employees from other backgrounds
  • University applications for in-demand professions such as engineering are dropping.

It also found that only 11 per cent of board members in the engineering companies are women.

Thirty per cent of junior professional staff are women (where the average age of surveyed women is 28), and this ratio drops to 11 per cent at the principal level (where the average age is 44).

Female graduates earn two per cent more than men but nine per cent less at the senior level, before rising again to be within one per cent of male colleagues at the principal level.

A Consult Australia skills survey representing about 44,000 employees continues to monitor these shortages on an annual basis. The 2011 survey identified that two-thirds of all respondents believe that there is an ongoing skills shortage within the engineering industry.

The study says there is a need to:

  • Make flexible working arrangements a reality.
  • Broaden the language of workplace diversity to ensure that issues other than gender are included.
  • Provide managers and workers with new skills to work effectively in changing workplaces.
  • Setting targets and collecting meaningful data to measure the pace of change to help identify those initiatives that deliver the greatest benefits.

Consult Australia chief executive officer, Megan Motto said that while the industry collectively concedes gender diversity is a major problem, this is the first time it has conducted a self-examination into its effectiveness in addressing the issue.

“Many engineering practices are committed to addressing the gender diversity issue and have been proactive in developing and implementing their own programs and campaigns but there hasn’t been a cohesive approach across industry or buy-in from all players,” said Ms Motto.

Diverse Approaches will provide a solid foundation for the development of practical, effective strategies to overcome one of the industry’s key challenges.”

Consult Australia represents 270 firms, including Australia’s 20 largest engineering employers (such as AECOM, Arup, URS, Aurecon and SMEC), all of whom participated in the study.

In the short-term, Diverse Approaches will provide engineering firms with a resource for benchmarking and comparing their workforce diversity activity and allow them to explore key initiatives widely used and endorsed within other industries.

The study identifies visible leadership, setting and measuring targets and attracting and retaining talent as three critical steps towards achieving gender diversity within traditionally male dominated fields.

The study also highlights a common focus across industries on achieving leadership buy-in, up-skilling staff, meeting the needs of employees and finding the best people.

The same panel who conducted the benchmarking study will now begin developing specific recommendations and actions for industry to provide prescriptive, practical steps to encourage the attraction and retention of female talent in the longer term.

Diverse Approaches delivers a valuable gap analysis for future approaches and provides a launching pad for inter-industry discussion of what constitutes best practice,” Ms Motto said.

“The onus will be on CEOs and firm leaders to adopt these recommendations and champion commitment to improving gender diversity within the workforce.”

The report says strong leadership from the top of an organisation is the primary and essential ingredient for success. This includes allocating resources to the issue and leading by example.

It was also evident that some tailoring of responses to suit the needs of different professions and industries was essential.

Some firms would have an ageing workforce, whilst others were more concerned with the needs of a younger workforce, work-life balance and family commitments.

Smaller firms will need to respond to key person risks, and the engineering profession will likely require a different response to the architectural profession where the challenges vary, it says.

The study asks:

  • Is your CEO a high-profile supporter of diversity programs?
  • Have you set targets and are you measuring progress to meet them?
  • Do your line managers feel able to meet the needs of an increasingly changing workforce and flexible workplace?
  • How can relationships with clients be strengthened by changes to working practices?
  • Are you sponsoring women and others underrepresented in your firm?
https://www.consultaustralia.com.au/Libraries/Diversity/Diverse_Approaches.sflb.ashx