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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee - 07/05/2012 - Infrastructure delivery and engineering skills shortages

BEITZ, Ms Sue, Head of Secretariat, Skills Australia

JAGGERS, Mr Andrew, Executive Director of the Nation Building, Infrastructure and Investment Division, Department of Infrastructure and Transport

LUCKHURST, Mr Adam, General Manager, Industry Skills and Productivity Branch, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education

SHREEVE, Mr Robin, Chief Executive Officer, Skills Australia

WHITE, Ms Linda, General Manager, Industry Workforce Branch, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education

WILLIAMS, Mr Neil, General Mnager, Infrastructure Policy, Nation Building Division

[16:01]

CHAIR: As you assemble I will remind witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of the states shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of polices or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

The committee has received a submission from Skills Australia—thank you—and from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport and has received correspondence from the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. We have time on our side so I now invite those of you who wish to, to make an opening statement; then I will invite members of the committee to go to questions.

Mr Shreeve : I wish to thank the committee for inviting Skills Australia to attend this hearing. As the committee may be aware, the role of Skills Australia is to provide independent, expert advice to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research on Australia's current, emerging and future skill needs and workforce development issues. Skills Australia provides advice on the demand for and supply of skills across the economy and undertakes specific research for the resources sector, the defence industry and the tertiary education system. To achieve these objectives Skills Australia has developed advice on the national workforce development strategy, published in 2010 as Australian workforce futures. A new and updated strategy will be published late in 2012. Skills Australia's submission to the Senate inquiry is informed by our stakeholder consultations and research. The inquiry comes at an opportune time as DEEWR Research indicates that the engineering occupation has been in shortage for over a decade and the engineering skills supply has been a consistent concern for industry. Analysis by DEEWR, Deloitte Access Economics and other commentators on skilled demand and supply suggests strong employment growth in occupations relating to planning, construction, development and operation in the period ahead in which engineering related occupations play a major role, including electronic, electrical, mechanical and aerospace engineers. Our research suggests that there are competing demands for engineering skills in the Australian economy. For instance, there is significant demand for engineering skills in the rapidly expanding resources sector, the defence materiel supply industries and other infrastructure projects.

A key question is whether Australia has the capacity to meet the needs of various sectors seeing that a large number of engineers will be approaching retirement age over the next five to 15 years. According to the Australian National Engineering Taskforce, this could be as much as four per cent of the total engineering labour force annually. Skills Australia's own estimates for engineering professionals suggests that there will be at least a five per cent replacement demand over the five-year period from 2011 to 2016.

We note that the overall supply of nearly-qualified graduate engineers from both domestic and international students has increased in the last decade. However, DEEWR estimates suggest that the workforce demands for management and professional engineering is expected to increase by 37,000 people between 2011 and 2016. Our estimate of 7,400 new engineering management professional jobs annually over the next five years is quite close to the recent number of domestic engineering graduate and post-graduate completions. Domestic engineering graduates being 6,252 and post-graduate completions being 2,269 in 2010.

In addition, international engineering graduates, of which there are 2,930, and post-graduate completions provide significant supply to the supply of engineers in 2010. However, not all international engineering students enter the labour market in Australia. Therefore, any shortfall in engineering supply from domestic and international graduates could be augmented through migration policies aimed at encouraging international students, including migrants who have completed their degree in Australia, to enter the labour market here.

The apparent skills supply is somewhat misleading. A small but significant share of new graduates embark on further study after graduating and others are not available to work. Other graduates often decide not to continue with a career in engineering. Anecdotal evidence, for example, indicates that engineering graduates are often targeted by the financial insurance sectors, which value their analytical education as a foundation for these careers. We understand that employers are experiencing some difficulty in recruiting in most professional engineering specialisation. Our stakeholders inform us that they receive substantial response to their applications but many of these applicants are unsuitable for their purposes. The experience gap is a critical issue. Employers commonly seek experienced engineers and often consider applicants unsuitable for positions simply because they lack experience as well as the specialist technical skill sets. We need to look at innovative ways to give graduates more work experience and increase their employability.

Employers also need to make effective use of skills from vocational education and training. In VET, between 2005 and 2010, engineering related technology total commencements increased by 21 per cent, while total completions increased by 44 per cent. However, the higher advanced diploma levels in VET completions actually decreased by 12 per cent. Improving completion rates in VET at these higher levels could help industry demand for paraprofessionals and allow more students to progress to higher level engineering qualifications.

In December 2011, Skills Australia hosted a seminar on engineering pathways in association with the Australian Council of Engineering Deans to initiate a national dialogue between key stakeholders to discuss ways to address skills issues in engineering occupations and the role of engineering VET diplomas and advanced diplomas as potential pathways to higher education. Stakeholders suggested that there is a need to attract more people into engineering studies and to consider ways to make engineering more attractive to prospective students in both VET and higher education. The finding from this seminar confirms evidence from this search. For example, the low take up of science, engineering, technology and mathematics subjects at primary and secondary school resulted in lower numbers at the tertiary level. Many engineers work in unrelated occupations where it is unlikely they will practise engineering, for example, in the finance and insurance sectors. There are articulation issues between VET and higher education. There is a need to increase the supply of engineers and also increase the focus of workforce planning and retention. The health of Australian science review currently undertaken by the Chief Scientist will be a comprehensive assessment of Australia's present science capabilities and will be a useful tool in aiding our understanding of what is required. There is also a need to encourage the participation of women in the engineering workforce where they are currently under represented. According to the latest 2012 ABS data, women represent only 7.1 per cent of the engineering professionals workforce. Engineering has traditionally been seen as a male dominated profession and this trend still holds true today.

There is also a need for more effective skills formations with stronger partnerships with education and training providers and industry. For example, the Minerals Council of Australia is initiating national associate degrees in mining and geosciences in conjunction with four tertiary institutions to lessen the impact of skills shortages in the sector. This program is targeted at paraprofessionals who do not necessarily require a three-or four-year bachelor degree and to help member companies to up skill existing employees.

Skills Australia considers that strong partnerships with education and training providers and industry focussed on workplace learning, structured development programs for graduate engineers and industry based graduate/post graduate experience qualifications are important mechanisms to address many of the issues facing the skills needed for this occupation. Thank you for providing us the opportunity to participate in the inquiry and we look forward to the committee recommendations.

Mr Luckhurst : Linda White and I both work in the skills area of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. On behalf of the department, we welcome the opportunity to participate today. I just wanted to point out that through the most recent machinery of government changes the role of the department has changed and has brought together the supply side of tertiary education provision with the demand side of industry and labour market policy. In particular, it brings in the higher education and vocational education and training areas into the department. This new combination gives our department a unique perspective on labour market issues across the economy. We can provide some information on how our VET and higher education programs are helping to grow Australia's engineering and related skills base, particularly in light of the recent government reforms arising from the Building Australia's Future Workforce Package. We can also talk about the establishment of the National Workforce Development Fund and the establishment of the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency. We obviously have well established engagement with engineering related sectors through our work not only with the Industry Skills Council and Skills Australia but also with areas of the agency including Enterprise Connect and our manufacturing and innovation divisions.

Our feedback from the relevant sector supports the position of many of the witnesses and submissions that you have before the inquiry. There is a skill shortage in engineering and related trades which will become an even more pressing priority over coming years. We are doing a lot of work in this area and I think that is starting to produce results. We would be happy to elaborate on any issues through the course of the hearing today.

CHAIR: You mentioned VET and higher education. Can you give us some indication of activity underway in terms of people with VET skills being able to move into those areas with higher professional engineering qualifications. What are we doing in that area at a state and/or federal level?

Ms White : In terms of numbers of articulating students?

CHAIR: I am interested in numbers but I am particularly interested in just the pathways. There have been obstacles in the past and I am wondering do they still exist.

Ms White : I am not sure that we have articulation numbers. We certainly have numbers of VET students and numbers of higher ed students, and I think other witnesses have probably given out some of those numbers. Some of it went to what Mr Shreeve said. In the VET sector we have certificate I to certificate IV qualifications and once you get to certificate III you are at the trade level. So there are many apprentices doing certificate III in various engineering streams. It is one of the areas where we have quite high completion rates of apprenticeships. Then there are various qualifications at diploma and advanced diploma level which should articulate into undergraduate degrees.

There has been some work on articulation done over recent years. Certainly the introduction of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme, which is the FEE-HELP HECS-like scheme in vocational education and training, started to drive some of that articulation between VET providers and higher education providers, because we were looking for specific articulation to be able to be a provider of VET FEE-HELP. I did work in that program some years ago and can remember those sorts of things coming in.

One of the issues that was raised by VET providers with me was that they have to actually approach individual universities and put in place an articulation agreement. So while the qualifications have competencies in there that can articulate into the degrees, at the moment there is a requirement that you actually do a one-on-one negotiation with the university. Some people were telling me that what universities were requiring was for the qualifications in VET sometimes to be taught in a different way. It was not so much an issue with what competencies are in the qualifications, which the industry skills councils look after, but more in the way that providers were teaching the qualifications.

Certainly universities—this is the feedback I got from providers—were saying was, 'What we would like you to do is to give the students some more underpinning knowledge—some more essay writing, some different ways of learning which would assist them with articulation to university,' rather than it being an issue with what was actually in the qualifications.

Mr Shreeve in his statement was saying that the numbers of VET students in the diploma and advanced diploma was one of the areas that was decreasing—

Mr Shreeve : Yes.

Ms White : We had had a conversation earlier about some of the feedback that Mr Shreeve had been given about why that might be happening.

Mr Shreeve : We ran a seminar with the engineering deans and I think several of the engineering deans are very keen to increase the participation and the articulation. Traditionally the issue has been the mathematical skills of people who have come up from a trade into a paraprofessional and then going on to university. Universities have had a view that that could be quite difficult for people—not in all cases, but in some cases there is need for remediation.

At our seminar one of the things that came out is basically you have got two qualifications now at a paraprofessional level: you have got a VET diploma and an advanced diploma and you have got a higher education qualification—the associate degree. One of the differences is that the diploma and the advanced diploma is about broadening skills, so as you go up you get a wider range of skills, whereas the associate degree is more about skills deepening, so it might do a bit more theory. The interesting thing is that some employers actually prefer the associate degree to the advanced diploma. A couple of TAFE institutes have actually shifted into the associate degree as well.

So to a certain extent different qualifications have different purposes in terms of skills broadening and the theoretical. Quite often in the VET sector the diploma and advanced diploma is quite an interesting qualification, because it can be the culmination of a career; it can be somebody who has gone through a trade certificate and the highest qualification they are going to get is an advanced diploma. In other cases it is an alternative route to higher education for young people, and it is their first qualification.

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Shreeve : There are those issues in terms of maths and the broadness. The other thing is that quite often, when you are talking about credit transfer, in an advanced diploma you might do something highly specialist but of a very operational nature that you would not actually do till the fourth year of your degree. It might be something very practical. When you are talking about articulation, the American model is a two plus two, but our model, if it is unit-for-unit, can be almost like a checkerboard, so you might reduce your time globally but you might not reduce your time in a short period.

CHAIR: The consulting surveyors met with us earlier in the day and they were speaking about, from their point of view, the need to be gathering data in terms of their profession. Is this an area in which your organisation has some data to put onto the table or has the capacity to collate or work with that group to collate it?

Ms Beitz : We could certainly look at working with them. We have collated data in a number of different ways. Mr Shreeve referred to the work that we are doing for both the resources sector and the defence industry. We are doing modelling, particularly for resources. The data in defence is not as good because it tends to blend quite a bit with the manufacturing sector. But we are looking at what the occupational demand and supply and imbalances will be for those two industries. Then, more broadly, at the moment we are working with Deloitte Access Economics across the whole of the economy to develop data at the four-digit ANSCO level, as well as the industry level. That is still a work in progress at the moment, but that will be public once it is finalised.

Mr Shreeve : We are very happy to work with professional groups. One of the difficulties with the data that Engineers Australia were talking about is that some of it is self-reported. They argued that people who describe themselves as an accountant will, whatever their job is, call themselves an account for their career. Engineers who become project managers sometimes describe themselves as project managers when in fact they are professional engineers, so the ABS statistics can be unreported in certain cases. In other cases people who Engineers Australia would not consider to be a qualified engineer describe themselves as an engineer.

CHAIR: The previous witness would describe himself as a local government CEO, not as an engineer.

Mr Shreeve : Yes.

CHAIR: Can I draw your attention to the figure that has been given to us a couple of times by Engineers Australia, I think, and others, to the effect that they believe there is a cost to the economy of about $6 billion a year in projects that are either late in coming to their commencement or in fact do not get up at all, are incomplete or require rework afterwards. Which of the agencies in front of us would have some responsibility in reviewing that data, examining it and presenting it to government?

Mr Jaggers : I presume that that is a global economy-wide figure. Obviously our department is focused on the investments that we are making in road, rail and port infrastructure. We could certainly take that on notice and have a look at how that figure was generated and what its voracity is like and come back to you, Senator. We are happy to come back to you.

CHAIR: I would appreciate that. Also, I suppose it is difficult for you to give us an opinion on notice as to the degree of accuracy or otherwise of that. If the figure is real it is pretty sobering.

Senator McKENZIE: I want to ask a question, which I think might be one for the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, around the skill shortage in engineering and its impact on the government's nation building program.

Mr Jaggers : I guess as an investor in infrastructure projects we are concerned about the shortages in the supply, whether it is of engineers or of any of the inputs to projects that we are managing. The projects are obviously managed by jurisdictions for the most part. Some of our funding is channelled through local governments but most of the funding that we provide under the nation building program goes through to state and territory governments. We are looking at a couple of key interests in this area of shortages. One is how we can make the infrastructure sector more efficient and how we can make the market more efficient. We are also looking at how we can make information about future infrastructure projects more transparent, to even out the perceived lumpiness of investment in infrastructure so that companies and others who are employing engineers can see a pipeline for investments and so that they are willing to take the decisions to employ people rather than extend hours, for instance, for existing employees. In doing so, we have a number of initiatives aimed at efficiency in the infrastructure sector itself and we also have some new initiatives around the transparency of information. One of those is the National Infrastructure Construction Schedule, which the government announced last year and we have been working on bringing to fruition. That construction schedule will be a place, a website, where information about projects over a certain threshold which are funded by all three tiers of government is particularly focused, at the time they come to market, on whether there is any potential for private sector financing, where there is a range of projects building up which the private sector can look too.

Senator McKENZIE: Last year when was NICS announced?

Mr Jaggers : NICS was announced in the budget last year.

Senator McKENZIE: It did not seem that the engineers associations knew about NICS.

Mr Jaggers : We have not launched the website yet.

Senator McKENZIE: Right, but the next budget is tomorrow.

Mr Jaggers : Understood.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent! When will it be launched?

Mr Jaggers : The timing of that is for the minister but it is imminent.

Senator McKENZIE: It is with the minister so it is up to that discretion or are we still waiting for some buttons to be pressed?

Mr Jaggers : Is about to be launched this week.

Senator McKENZIE: As an employer of choice—and we have been hearing a lot about public employment of engineers—in all your consultation around this area how do you employ engineers—what traineeship programs or cadetships are there? How do you employ engineers? Do you have traineeship programs or cadetships? Do we walk the walk is my question around publicly employing engineers and young graduates?

Mr Luckhurst : Across the whole of the industry department I would not be able to give you a figure on how many engineers might be employed. We cover the skills area and so I guess the background is a general policy administrative focus rather than having a requirement for special skills around engineering. We can provide an answer across the whole of the department but certainly we would have to take that on notice. Generally, as a public service agency, our expertise is around policy development and those sorts of things. I am happy to take that on notice.

Mr Shreeve : We are very spoiled—there are only 32 of us at the moment.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes. My question was to infrastructure because we have been hearing about having that technical capacity in local government or with whoever is making decisions around contracts.

Mr Jaggers : I guess the working engineers on projects are employed by the jurisdictions or local governments, not within the department itself. Our investment program is obviously a funding jurisdictions that will be employing specialists to deliver the projects.

Senator McKENZIE: Who makes the decision on the tenders?

Mr Jaggers : State and territory governments make those decisions. We do have a role in vehicle safety standards and in that part of the department, which is not my area of responsibility, we employ a number of specialist engineers. We can provide some details of that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. I was just wondering about skills. In an earlier question there were a lot of acronyms as to a lot of programs around skill development. I am sensing overlap and I am sure there would be that between jurisdictions and the Commonwealth as well as with the programs run by the Commonwealth. I am just wanting some clarity around that.

Ms White : There could be. In terms of how vocational education and training works, the Commonwealth gives the states a large bucket of money under a national agreement for skills and workforce development and the states then have deliverables under that agreement whereby they fund training, for instance, and that agreement has just been agreed at COAG and it commences on 1 July. In terms of the sorts of programs that we run from our department, I look after some of the new industry co-contribution programs and I think other witnesses have probably mentioned the Critical Skills Investment Fund and the National Workforce Development Fund, which are two of the programs that I look after. As for those, they come to us with applications that come from employers, so employers apply to the department for those programs—directly for the Critical Skills Investment Fund and through an industry skills council for the National Workforce Development Fund. They have now been merged into one program. We do keep in close contact with the states to make sure that we are not duplicating funding for something that may be available under a state government funded program. We also attempt to put synergies in place between our various programs. As for some of the proposals I have been involved with, it may be that the Commonwealth may be able to fund one part of a particular project and other parts of it are better funded by the states. We have at officer level quite good negotiations with our state government counterparts and we organise those things between us and have separate contracts between a state and an employer and between the Australian government and an employer. In the programs I look after we are very rarely funding individuals unless they are as to programs for disadvantaged individuals. We have literacy and numeracy programs and Access, which is about prevocational training and so on. But there is certainly a range of programs out there whereby people could be upskilled in engineering , and existing workers are the ones that I look after, and there are ones for new workers. The program that we would most often support in the Commonwealth is for someone to become an Australian apprentice, to participate in an apprenticeship with an employer. These apprenticeships are at the lower levels, mainly certificate III and IV levels, and you have an employer and the Commonwealth pays incentives to assist the employer.

Senator McKENZIE: Mr Shreeve, you have a comment?

Mr Shreeve : Yes. We are mainly in policy advice rather than program development. My board is going to provide advice on priorities for the National Workforce Development Fund.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you.

CHAIR: If I may I would like to go back to this whole infrastructure thing as I do not think our questions have been answered. I refer to this skill shortage that has been identified. I am particularly interested in knowing what impact you believe that is going to have on the capacity to be able to deliver and administer the nation building program. Earlier witnesses have expressed their concerns. I am particularly interested to know what your views are. I am not asking for an opinion. I am asking what the impact is likely to be.

Mr Jaggers : We are working with jurisdictions on a daily basis around each of the projects that we have funded. We are confident that each of those projects to be delivered will be delivered. We work with jurisdictions in a number of ways. One is obviously by direct interactions with each jurisdiction to check on the progress of projects. In doing that we are often involved in steering committees for each project where risks to projects are identified. They are obviously dealt with at the state level but also with our sort of involvement from time to time. We also talk to jurisdictions about broader issues. There is a number of mechanisms for doing that, one of which is that we provide funding to Austroads—and I am thinking specifically of the road sector as the nation building program has got a lot of road projects, as you know. So we work with Austroads, who are looking at those capacity issues quite closely also. That is important to us because the jurisdictions are the ones who are taking these projects to market. So they have a number of initiatives and each jurisdiction is looking at how they deal with capacity issues in their state and also at whether there are any broader issues. I think you met with Austroads earlier today. Presumably they went through some of those issues that we have been talking with them about.

CHAIR: Yes, we met with Austroads and with Roads Australia. I have waved this document around a couple of times this morning. I do not know if it is a document with which you are familiar. It is called The rural local road crisis: its national significance and proposed reforms. Is this a document that has come across your desk or to the department?

Mr Jaggers : What is the year of that document?

CHAIR: 2012.

Mr Jaggers : I do believe we have seen that.

CHAIR: The group has been to see me. It is I think run by a series of local governments around Australia, so the spread of it is fairly wide. They are pointing to the need, in their view, for about $2.8 billion per annum just to be able to get rural roads back up and then to maintain them. Their document is well structured. I will be suggesting to them that, since most other parties associated with this area have not received it, they need to do a bit more work. They have outlined quite eloquently where the problems are and have made estimates as to the cost impact, particularly of product not getting off farm or from rural areas to the city, and they have given some solutions that they believe would work.

One of them comes to my question to you. One of the five or six recommendations they make is the establishment of a national road portfolio manager, who could collate a lot of this. Would that just be duplication, or is it an area that might be able to assist the overall planning process?

Mr Jaggers : I do not believe the government has made any response to the recommendations contained in that paper. I think it is a policy option that is open to government, but I am not aware of any decisions being made against it.

CHAIR: I will probably take it up in some more detail in Senate estimates in a couple of weeks time. I think we might go to it a little more actively then.

Senator McKENZIE: We heard about the commercialisation of research and how researchers tend to be focused in universities and not within industry around engineering. Does the department have any comments to make about that?

Mr Luckhurst : Not from our particular area.

Ms White : It is not our area of expertise.

Senator McKENZIE: Is this the innovation part that is with the economics committee—somewhere else.

Mr Luckhurst : That is right. We could take it on notice though.

Senator McKENZIE: That would be great. What is the department's view of using HECS as a lever to increase or decrease demand? We have heard a variety of suggestions—and not just in this inquiry. They include through ag ed, maths and science and whether we say no to HECS or yes to HECS.

Ms White : It was certainly mentioned in the agriculture inquiry.

Senator McKENZIE: This morning we have had a number of submitters suggesting that there would be a possible increase of people wanting to do engineering by getting away from HECS. Delving a little deeper, it seemed that the people making that suggestion were the ones that had just left uni, and it was obviously front of mind for them because you have to pay it all back. But, for the 18-year-olds who are making the decision, it might not be so. I am looking for evidence, I guess.

Ms White : I think we would be better to take it on notice. I do know that HECS applies to units of study rather than to whole courses.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes—and it does to engineering. But I am talking at a conceptual level, because I think the government has just done something about maths and science HECS. What evidence is there for using HECS as a lever to increase demand?

Mr Luckhurst : I think we will take that on notice—sorry about that.

Senator McKENZIE: No, that's good. It saves me having to write to you.

Ms White : We can turn these round relatively quickly.

Senator McKENZIE: That would be great. Could you expand on the relationship between the Office of Chief Scientist and Skills Australia? In your submission you referred us to them rather than making your own submission to the inquiry.

Ms White : We did not actually have a submission.

Senator McKENZIE: No, you did not. You referred us to their submission and the Office of Chief Scientist, so my question to you is: can you explain your relationship to these two bodies?

Mr Luckhurst : Regarding Skills Australia, it is an independent body within the department. Robin and Sue actually work as part of the secretariat—

Senator McKENZIE: An independent body within the department?

Ms White : It is an independent board.

Mr Luckhurst : Robin and Sue work as part of the secretariat to the board. In essence they are part of the department but they work to an independent board. We work closely with Skills Australia of course. Their role will change as the new workforce productivity agency comes to fruition, and that legislation is before parliament at the moment. They will take on some different roles in relation to the Workforce Development Fund in particular. The new board will set priorities for allocation of those funds and they will work with the department in terms of the process whereby funds actually go to registered training organisations to provide training.

Senator McKENZIE: And the Office of Chief Scientist?

Mr Luckhurst : It is fair to say that we have only recently joined the industry department from employment, education and workplace relations. It is an area where we have to develop our relationship further. We do not have, certainly in the skills area—

Ms White : But other areas, I would imagine the innovation area, would have links to the Chief Scientist. We will get that for you as well, Senator.

Mr Luckhurst : Higher education would be likely—

Ms White : Yes.

Mr Luckhurst : We will get some appropriate—

Senator McKENZIE: You are with the Office of Chief Scientist. Could you flesh that out, please, because I would be keen on that as well.

CHAIR: I have just one more question, going back to your submission, Mr Shreeve and Ms Beitz. This is the issue of engineers not working as engineers. I am not so much referring to younger engineers who have gone into insurance and finance, but in evidence previously to this committee there seemed to be a significant proportion of people who are transiting to retirement, who, one would have thought, have got that necessary 'greater than 10 years' of engineering experience that seems to be so much in demand. Do you believe it would be worthy of government and industry to find ways to make it attractive for those people to come back into the workplace—and not necessarily the 60 or 70 hours a week and not necessarily fly-in fly-out? They must have a high degree of expertise which could be called upon.

Mr Shreeve : Absolutely. My board is very keen in increasing workplace participation. We would like it to go up from 65 to 69 per cent, and one of the areas we have targeted where Australia does not do as well—and generally Australia does quite well—is older workers. As a general principle, we would like to bring older workers on stream, workers in their 70s or 50s.

I think you need to differentiate between trade, technician, professional and paraprofessional. Often in the trades for an electrician it can be quite physically demanding—

CHAIR: Oh, I do not know—

Mr Shreeve : therefore what you find is that many highly experienced tradespeople go into things like VET teaching. Typically, the plumber might start teaching at 50 because the back has gone, but he or she has got great skills that they can pass on.

In the professional realm some of the roles are physically demanding, but the reality is that engineers have highly marketable skills. The Inspector-General of Taxation is an engineer. Engineers have the highest proportion of any profession going on to do MBAs, so their project management skills are very transferable into general management and CEO roles. So I think one of the big issues is actually retaining engineers within the engineering workforce. But we would certainly welcome the opportunity for engineers who might have been CEOs to return to be consulting engineers and provide us some of that advice—we would certainly welcome that. It is also related to things like superannuation and whether quite a lot of people, if they are in different super schemes, are attracted to part-time work into their 50s, 60s and 70s.

So we would welcome those initiatives. Certainly we are looking in our workforce develop strategy at strategies to keep people in the workforce. If we increased our workforce participation rate to 69 per cent, our board has calculated that the bottom-line benefit to Australia by 2025 would be something like $25 billion.

CHAIR: I can believe that given the scale of the operation. I thank you all very much for your attendance and for the information you have provided. That concludes our day's proceedings. I thank Hansard and the secretariat.

Committee adjourned at 16:46