Engineering services is now a truly global profession
Exporting Australia's high-value engineering services contributes to nation building.
A globalised profession, engineering is a service that Australia sometimes imports when large amounts of infrastructure needs to get built and major projects must get off the ground.
Engineers Australia analysis of the last 12 years highlights this. On average, 18 000 positions needed filling over this period, while only 7600 local bachelor degrees were awarded.
Interestingly, although the country is a net importer of engineering services, Australia still exports critical, high-value engineering services, and these have grown in value from $311 million in 1998 to $1.3 billion in 2016.
An OECD analysis concluded engineering services exports have soared within countries surveyed. Engineering firms have a particularly strong export orientation, owing to services that are of a highly technical and universal nature.
"It's probably one of the most mobile professions you can have," offers Carl Willis, GHD's Country Manager for the Philippines.
GHD operates in 135 countries, beginning its international expansion in 1978. It is a professional services firm dealing in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services.
It entered the Philippines in 1998, when Manila privatised water utilities. Its Philippine operations branched out into mining about eight years ago. Its energy business has expanded significantly in the last five years.
"We're mainly involved in renewable energy – wind, solar, biomass, hydro, geothermal," says Mr Willis. The firm's Philippines operation is split between two sites and split into projects. It has a technical services consultancy, including developing local employees who will work on local and international projects.
"This part of the business has grown sharply," says Mr Willis, adding "I could keep 200 people busy tomorrow if I could get them."
The three areas the company focusses on – mining, water and energy – will need plenty of technical help.
Austrade lists these as areas of opportunity within the Philippine economy, which is estimated to grow by 6.7 per cent in 2017. Urbanisation is fast-paced so a lot of infrastructure will need to be built to keep up with the rate of growth. Those building it will come from, or have worked, all over the world.
Winning projects requires the demonstration of local experience as well as international experience, according to Mr Willis.
Training local consultants, who will then deploy their skills at home and abroad, will keep things moving. "We're also here to contribute to the nation-building of a developing region, and that involves sharing the highly-skilled resources we have in other parts of the business to encourage and mentor people in the local industries to come up to speed," he said.
"If you do it correctly, it not only builds expertise and helps the country develop, but it also generates a nearly-unbeatable value proposition when competing in other jurisdictions."