Strengthening The Talent Pool in Structural Engineering

It’s been recorded by the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) that the top reason students are choosing Structural Engineering is to ‘problem solve’. From digital integration to evolving education, efficiencies and multi-level collaboration, it’s no secret that Structural Engineers face a pile of challenges every day, but the most recurring concern is our industry’s shortage of up and coming Structural Engineers.

We are seeing companies like Canham Consulting in the UK, acquire talent by shaping it from the ground up, integrating from pre-requisite studies all the way up to chartered examination status. They are proving that by applying real-life working scenarios, we can prepare students with the technical and soft skills required to become successful in our ever-evolving practice.

The Canham / IStructE Framework:

How do we inspire the next generation and bridge the gap between a talented engineer and a Chartered Structural Engineer? Well as Rob Panter put it ‘Mentoring and inspiring others to join our profession is everyone’s responsibility, the minute we enter the working world, we have a responsibility to encourage, pass on knowledge and champion the work of a Structural Engineer.’

This mindset is no coincidence, Engineers Australia has conducted extensive research into the triggers behind talent shortages, suggesting that the compounding problem is a result of a decline in the number of young Australians choosing to study engineering and the number of Australian school students choosing to study intermediate and higher-level mathematics at school.

If consultancies integrate at all stages of education, under the following framework, we can plant the seed early and help shape student decisions.

  1. School partnership

Converting enthusiasm into future professionals. Leveraging curiosity is a powerful way to encourage students to follow a path of Structural Engineering. In year 9/10, when students are considering their VCE and HSC subjects, in year 11 when they begin to attend university open days and year 12 when university preferences are made. We should be discussing the importance of maths and physics, but also the practicality and creativity of 3D design or graphics, and the relevance of geography.

  1. Further and higher education

Every consultancy should partner with a university as it provides mutual benefits. Students acquire a point of reference, receiving deeper insight into what life is typically like as a professional engineer, and businesses form a ready-made pipeline of talent. Lecturing also provides staff the opportunity to reinforce knowledge and build confidence in public speaking, explaining complex matters in digestible modes.

  1. Preparing professionals

Developing a pipeline of talent is only the start of the process. We then need to convert that talent into professional skills and knowledge, ultimately producing technicians, associate and chartered members of the IStructE.

Learn more about how to influence students at every level on page 18 of ‘Strengthening Engineering Workforce Australia’.

Matter’s Contribution: 

Our consultancy has been involved with tutoring at UniMelb since the beginning of 2022. Now in our second year, we participate in two subjects – Structural Theory and Design 2 (CVEN90049) in semester 1, which teaches analysis methods via SPACEGASS and critical communication skills. In the second semester, we participate in the Steel and Composite Structures Design (CVEN90035) unit where students begin to apply theory to design with Australian and international codes.

Our partner of choice is UniMelb because they educate theory and soft skills for learning experiences that prepare students holistically.

Take Steel and Composite Structures Design (CVEN90035) for example:

  • Intended learning outcomes prepare students with technical theories such as ‘ability to demonstrate an understanding of Australian and international design codes for the design of composite members’
  • Generic skills prepare students with necessary soft skills such as ‘Ability to communicate effectively, with the engineering team and with the community at large’

The Outcome for Matter: 

Matter takes on students as undergraduate interns seeking degree-related employment well before they’ve graduated. We have found this to be a successful method for acquisition because we can mould pupils for full-time work so they are ready post-graduation.

Since working with UniMelb, all of Matter’s engineering interns have come from the university, averaging 1.5 intakes per year. One has since graduated and now works with us full-time, another has a full-time job lined up after graduation and the third has started with us more recently.

This greatly benefits our business because it removes the need for lengthy inductions, culture integration and system training, our Juniors are well-equipped with the Matter way on day one of their full-time position. Additionally, this program legitimises our company in the eyes of students who are looking to enter the job market. Traditionally, the companies that initially attract students tend to be large, multi-national operations. By interacting with students through subject participation, they become aware of us in cases where they likely wouldn’t have and we start to occupy the same space as companies that are significantly larger and more established.

On our end, this translates to higher-quality applications more consistently from students, which coupled with consistent in-house mentoring, will drive a stronger team long term – our company (and industry as a whole) can only be as good as the people we employ after all. For example, Kashmir is our most recent intern, her application stood out because she resonated with our company values, which fittingly was her main driver for applying to Matter. This is evidence of another benefit of this program – it allows us (as an employer) and students more opportunity to assess cultural fit prior to any significant commitment, to the benefit of both parties.

We asked Kashmir what drew her to a Matter internship:

“I was excited and impressed hearing about Matter and the expertise they offer whilst still holding true to sustainable values. I am looking to make positive changes in the world through my interest in change-centric and sustainable engineering. Realising that our values intersect drove me to apply and since entering my role, Matter has harnessed my open-minded approach to problem-solving and shown an understanding of our generation’s innovative engineering mindset.”  

The Outcome for Industry: 

The most sustainable solution to effective recruitment is to build from the bottom. To nurture talent, partner with educators and build a structural engineering brand. By nurturing young people, our profession has a future and our businesses will continue to thrive. Our young people must be mentored and encouraged to take their career to the highest level. A culture of learning, and a strong commitment to mentoring, will ensure that our wonderful profession remains in safe hands for generations to come.

Recently, UniMelb came into the Matter Melbourne office and gave us the opportunity to familiarise students with the ‘everyday life of a Structural Engineer’. See the video here.