Industry experience propels graduates

July 05, 2016

Ai Group CEO Innes Willox discusses the STEM deficit and highlights the importance of gaining industry experience while studying.

industry experience

STEM education and industry experience are key to delivering relevant skills in the information-rich modern economy. When it comes to important capabilities such as active learning, critical thinking and complex and creative problem solving, STEM qualified employees are the most highly ranked.

Australia clearly needs more STEM-qualified people entering the workforce. Over recent years, occupations requiring STEM qualifications have grown 1.5 times faster than all other occupation groups. Unfortunately, only 15% of the current working age population have a STEM qualification (Certificate III or above).

Research by the Office of the Chief Scientist with Deloitte Access Economics demonstrates the nature of STEM skills sought by employers. Eighty-two per cent of employers believe employees with STEM qualifications are valuable to the workplace. Over 70% consider their STEM staff as among the most innovative. The important link between STEM skills and innovation is also highlighted in the Australian Government’s new National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Business must collaborate with universities and other STEM educators to re-focus graduate capabilities. There are concerns around the ability of current university graduates to meet workforce challenges. The Australian Industry Group‘s Workforce Development Needs Surveys report that employers continue to experience difficulties recruiting STEM qualified workers – both technicians and professionals.

Quality is as much an issue as quantity. The proportion of employers saying recruits lack relevant qualifications doubled between 2012 and 2014. Dissatisfaction also rose with regards to lack of employable skills and industry experience.

“All graduates are better prepared to contribute productively in the workplace if they have the opportunity to integrate theory with industry experience while at university.”

Graduates are taking longer to find employment after the completion of their studies. All graduates are better prepared to contribute productively in the workplace if they have the opportunity to integrate theory with industry experience while at university.

Work integrated learning is critical to improving graduate quality and employability. The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) is working with Universities Australia on a number of initiatives to improve student-industry accessibility, including the National Framework for Work Integrated Learning.

Businesses recognise that productivity of graduates can be higher sooner if the new recruits understand business environments and cultures, can problem solve, take initiative and work well in teams. Those businesses that collaborate and practice work integrated learning see its value in the graduates they take on board.

To improve innovation collaboration in Australia, we need action from government, universities, and industry. Ai Group is part of the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre, which helps connect researchers and their work with small and medium sized businesses. That is where the potential for genuine industry transformation lies.

A broader effort by industry to build collaboration skills and practices is also needed. The cultural barriers to collaboration may be higher in Australia than elsewhere, but they are not set in stone. Industry participation and partnership with universities must be bolder and strongly integrated with approaches to graduate employability.

Innes Willox

CEO, Australian Industry Group

Read next: Tanya MonroDeputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation at the University of South Australia, on why STEM skills are key to Australia’s prosperity.

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