Tag Archives: graduates

STEM skills

Building STEM skills

There has been a lot of talk about the need to get more students studying STEM skills –science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to equip them for the jobs of tomorrow. For Australia to have the right mix of high value jobs and industries to maintain or improve our quality of life, we need more people with the digital and data-related skills that these jobs require.

A natural assumption would be that the reason we need to encourage students to study science and other STEM skills is to boost our research clout – the cohort of technically trained people within Australia’s university and publicly funded research laboratories. While of course Australia’s research capabilities are a pivotal element of our innovation ecosystem, this misses the point.

In my view, the areas where we desperately need more graduates with STEM skills include industry, government, politics and the entrepreneurial domain.

The ability to use complex data to make evidence-based decisions has never been more critical for decision-making – whether that be in the corporate boardroom, the executive suite, or the cabinet room. Most of the global challenges we face – from climate change to cyber crime – require a sophisticated understanding of STEM and basic STEM skills.

Technology offers solutions to many emerging problems. But experience from the nuclear debate to genetically modified crops tells us that when communities aren’t equipped with a good understanding of the scientific process and complexities behind these issues, it is extraordinarily difficult to secure the societal license required to introduce transformative technological solutions.

But the kicker is entrepreneurship – where young people have some of the best opportunities to harness rapidly emerging technological disruption to create high-value jobs. There is no question that many of these opportunities come from the STEM disciplines. We need to create opportunities where young people studying STEM skills are exposed to entrepreneurial ecosystems, have the chance to see first–hand what it takes and give it a go.


“We can’t afford to wait for more girls to select these traditionally male-dominated careers – we need to be proactive in creating pathways and incentives for girls to enter these fields.”


There are some STEM fields where we need to focus serious effort on getting more girls to engage. In particular, IT and engineering. Both areas are so critical to Australia’s future that we simply can’t afford to be building on half our talent base.

We can’t afford to wait for more girls to select these traditionally male-dominated careers. We need to be proactive in creating pathways and incentives for girls to enter these fields. We also need to provide much better systems and cultures to retain our capable women in STEM and research.

One simple thing we can do is profile and celebrate those female role models who are currently making an impact and are the top of their game in these STEM fields. The recently launched SAGE initiative will be pivotal in helping address the dire under-representation of women at the most senior levels in Australia’s universities and research organisations.

It’s worth noting that research, development, innovation and discovery are all about building from what’s already known. They’re about asking new questions and connecting existing knowledge. This is, at its heart, a creative process. We can’t forget that one of the critical elements in nurturing our most outstanding future engineers and scientists lies in supporting children to engage in the creative arts alongside STEM.

Tanya Monro

Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

Read next: Stephanie Borgman, People Program Specialist at Google Australia/NZ, on how internships offer mutual opportunities for students and businesses.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.

industry experience

Industry experience propels graduates

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.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Australian Innovation Thought Leadership Series here.

Connecting graduates with businesses

Connecting graduates with businesses

Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.

Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.

Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.

“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.

These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.

“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”

Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.

“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.

There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.

Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.

The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.

“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

– Marisa Wikramanayake