The closure of the Queensland Nickel refinery at Yabulu and the recent mining industry downturn has been blamed for a drop in people wanting to study engineering in the Townsville area.
James Cook University head of engineering Daniel Christie said negative press around those issues had given some teachers, parents and students a false impression on job opportunities.
Demand was actually outstripping local supply when it came to engineering graduates, he said.
“I get emails from engineering firms all the time saying ‘have you got any graduates who don’t have jobs yet?’ and the answer is ‘no I don’t’,” Mr Christie said.
JCU aimed to have 150 commencing enrolments in engineering across its campuses each year, he said.
Mr Christie said that while Mackay and Cairns numbers had remained stable, Townsville had seen a significant downturn, with a drop of 30-40 in those opting for engineering courses in the last few years.
“My message to students and schools is that engineering is one of those professions that is going to be an underpinning pillar of work in the changing technology of the future – it’s a very future-proof profession,” he said.
Mr Christie believes JCU is very good at producing graduates who are valuable in industry from day one.
And he should know.
His background is industrial rather than academic, with his most recent posting being manager of Glencore’s Townsville copper refinery and port operations.
Mr Christie is only a month into the head of engineering role at JCU, although he has previously lectured there.
“I think it’s a big step for someone with my background to be in this position, but I’ve got huge support from the senior academics including Vice Chancellor Sandra Harding to do this – they see the real benefit in it,” he said.
Mr Christie is keen to build industry input in the department, which already has community advisory boards for engineering in general and for each of the sub-disciplines.
“Our focus is on getting the working relationship in our teaching program and research program much more closely aligned to industry,” he said.