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Editorial comment

Lately, I’ve had a few emails inviting me to apply for construction jobs in New Zealand. Following the destruction caused by the earthquakes last year, rebuilding is underway, and rebuilding requires rebuilders, of which there is clearly a shortage if they’re asking me. Meanwhile, I read an article about a scientist in New Zealand who is selling her farm in order to continue her research into a cure for malaria. She said a lack of funding has forced her hand, and is causing a lot of New Zealand’s finest minds to go elsewhere, where their talent is better rewarded. Clearly, there are trading patterns in skills, just as there are in everything else.

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Across the Tasman Sea in Australia, for example, the federal government is pushing skills-based training with a new AU$1.75 billion package. That should help bring new talent through, but in the meantime what to do about the crippling skills shortage? A move to fast-track the immigration of skilled workers is one solution, and lately Australia appears to be targeting the US by easing the process by which such visas are granted to US citizens. The programme is likely to concentrate on finding skilled workers to fill positions in the highly valuable mining and oil and gas industries.

Elsewhere in the world, the mining industry faces another recruitment problem: a lack of skilled people willing to do the job. At the recent Reuters Global Mining and Metals Summit, Nick Holland, Chief Executive of Gold Fields, told the newswire that ‘having skilled people available to do the job and go to locations that ordinarily they might not be too keen to go to’ is his company’s biggest challenge. “We are looking to build a whole lot of mines in the future,” he said. “And getting the right skills to build those mines is a challenge, not only for us, but for the various engineering companies.” In this case, companies are looking for a particular type of candidate: someone with the necessary skills, but also with a willingness to go to remote and sometimes hostile locales to do a really tough job.

While in some industries the demand for skills is already plain, in others, it’s a slightly more long-term issue. At this point in time, in the mature markets at least, the cement industry might not look like the best employment prospect. As developed economies continue to falter in their recovery and construction projects are put on hold, plants are being mothballed or shutdown altogether and employees who can’t be transferred elsewhere are made redundant. Attracting new recruits in this environment is difficult, but essential, as the current talent pool retires or moves on to more active industries. While the Siemens’ game, Plantville, has reportedly led 85% of students playing the game to perceive that engineering and industry could be ‘fun’*, it is evident that there are a lot of other industries also seeking engineering graduates; cement has much to compete with.

So, with this in mind, those of you attending the IEEE-IAS/PCA Conference this month should keep an eye out for the students in attendance. The Concrete Industry Management programme has been reaching out to students and employers alike since 2001, and last year the programme brought students to the conference for the first time, seeing the potential to supply talent beyond its usual sphere. During their visit, the students had a ‘Cement 101’ class and a tour of the Ste Genevieve plant, as well as the opportunity to visit the exhibits and meet industry professionals. Programme organiser, Dr Heather Brown, says: “Our best vehicle for placing students is to either travel to events such as the IEEE Conference or host companies on campus for informational sessions and interviews”. She adds that, as a result of such meetings, the programme coordinators can tailor the curriculum around relevant issues and technologies so that the students are staying current and are ready to start their career: “It’s a way to address skill shortages and the soft skills necessary to be successful.” Programmes such as this should be encouraged, so if you see Dr Brown and the students around the conference venue, please make them welcome.

Meanwhile, those of you not able to attend the conference should find plenty of information about the North American market and the latest technical innovations in this bumper issue.