Tag Archives: skilled workforce

science and technology

Speak up for STEM and give facts a chance

As science and technology researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts, we feel very strongly that our community should think analytically and use scientific information to inform their decisions, as individuals and as a nation.

We hope our leaders in politics, business and in the media incorporate the lessons and findings of science and technology into their decision-making about health, energy, transport, land and marine use – and recognise the benefits of investing in great scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions.

But how do we ensure critical thinking is applied in decision-making? How do we incorporate and apply scientific findings and analysis in the formulation of policy, and encourage strong, strategic investment in research?

The only way is to become vocal and proactive advocates for STEM.

Scientists and technologists must see ourselves as not only experts in our field, but also as educators and ambassadors for our sector. Scientists are explicitly taught that our profession is based on logic; that it’s our job to present evidence and leave somebody else to apply it.

For people who’ve made a career of objectivity, stepping out of that mindset and into the murky world of politics and policy can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary one.

The planet is heading towards crises that can be solved by science – food and water security, climate change, health challenges, extreme weather events. It’s arguably never been more important for scientists and technologists to step outside our comfort zone and build relationships with the media, investors, and political leaders. We need to tell the stories of science and technology to solve the species-shaking challenges of our time.

A plethora of opportunities exist for STEM researchers and practitioners to improve and use their skills in communication, influence, marketing, business, and advocacy. As the peak body representing scientists and technologists, Science & Technology Australia hosts a variety of events to equip STEM professionals with the skills they need, while connecting them with the movers and shakers in those worlds.

Science meets Parliament is one of these valuable opportunities, and has been bringing people of STEM together with federal parliamentarians for 18 years. Others include Science meets Business and Science meets Policymakers.

We can provide the forum, but it’s up to STEM professionals to seize the opportunity by forging relationships with our nation’s leaders in politics, business and the media. We must ensure the voice of science is heard and heeded – not just on the day of an event, but every day.

Currently STEM enjoys rare bilateral political support; a National Innovation and Science Agenda; and a new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who has indicated his intention to continue to roll it out.

As we encounter our fourth science minister in three years, however, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow science and technology to slide down the list of priorities. Bigger challenges are also mounting, with the profession of science correspondent virtually dead in Australia and the international political culture favouring opinion and rhetoric over established fact and credibility.

Scientists and technologists must resist their natural tendency to humility, and proactively sort the nuggets of truth from the pan of silty half-truth. We must actively work to influence public debate by pushing evidence-based arguments into the media, and into the political discourse.

When our society starts assuming that we should make substantial and long-term investment in research; when the methods and findings of science and technology are routinely incorporated into shaping policy and making important decisions for the nation – we’ll consider our job to be well done.

Kylie Walker

CEO, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Dr Maggie Evans-Galea, Executive Director of ATSE’s Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, paints a picture of Australia’s science and innovation future – one that requires a major cultural shift.

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

science and innovation

Crossing the cultural divide

Australia’s future health and economy is a vibrant, interactive ecosystem with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at its core. STEM is central – and essential – to Australia’s ongoing success in the next 50 years. Australia is considered an incredible place to do cutting-edge research, pursue blue-sky ideas and commercialise innovative products. Pioneering discoveries fuel the innovation process. Students cannot wait to enrol in science and maths. Policies are developed using peer-reviewed evidence and broad consultation. Aspirational goals are backed by practical solutions and half of our STEM leaders are women – it’s the norm.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

To excel in science and innovation, however, Australia needs a major culture shift. We can all ‘talk the talk’, but as OECD figures demonstrate, we cannot ‘walk the walk’. Australia rates lowest compared to other OECD countries when it comes to business-research collaborations – not just large businesses, but small to medium-sized enterprises as well.

Academia blames industry. Industry blames academia. Everyone blames the government. It’s time to turn the pointing finger into a welcoming handshake and engage across sectors to actually make innovation happen.

Literally thousands of researchers in this country want to see our academic and industry leaders reach across the divide and make change happen. With every decision made, their future is impacted.

Paradigm-shifting science and innovation takes time and requires a diverse workforce of highly-skilled researchers and professionals that specialise in these fields.

The lack of a skilled workforce and poor collaboration are significant barriers to innovation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the industry engagement and impact assessment aims to incentivise greater collaboration between industry and academia by examining how universities are translating their research into social and economic benefits.

Australian academic institutions have begun to break down silos within their own research organisations with some success. In medical research for example, the breadth and scale of interdisciplinary collaborative projects has expanded exponentially – spanning international borders, requiring a range of skills and expertise, terabytes of data, and years of research.

Research teams have become small companies with synergistic subsidiaries – diagnostic, basic, translational and clinical teams – working toward a common goal.

Yet their engagement with industry is low. Industry struggles to navigate the ever-changing complex leadership structures in higher education and research. When you speak one-on-one with researchers and industry leaders, however, they seem almost desperate to cross the divide and connect! It’s a detrimental dichotomy.

How can we harness the full potential of our research workforce?

We can energise innovation by fostering a culture that values basic research as well as translation of discoveries to product, practice and policy. A culture that opens the ivory tower and is not so sceptical of industry-academia engagement. That responds to failure with resilience and determination rather than deflating, harsh judgement. That sees the potential of our young researchers.

We need to lose the tall poppy syndrome and openly celebrate the success and achievement of others. We must hold ourselves to higher standards and in particular, women must be equally recognised and rewarded for their leadership.

As a nation, we must ensure we are prepared and resourced for the challenges ahead. Not only do we need the best equipment and technologies, but we also need a readily adaptable workforce that is highly-skilled to address these issues.

To facilitate a culture shift and increase engagement with business and industry, we need to provide researchers the skills and know-how, as well as opportunities to hone these skills. Young researchers are ready to engage and hungry to learn; and they must be encouraged to do so without penalty.

They then need to be connected with industry leaders to identify the qualities and expertise they need to strengthen, and to extend their network.

We can change this now. The solution is not expensive. It is simply about letting down our guard and providing real opportunities to meet, to connect, to network, to exchange ideas and expertise – and to share that welcoming handshake.

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea

Executive Director, Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, Melbourne

CEO and Co-founder, Women in STEMM Australia

Read next: Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia, believes university and industry have a shared purpose.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on science and innovation using the social media buttons below.

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

graduate employment

Graduate employment in a changing world

How do you best set yourself up to get your dream job in a competitive marketplace? What are the skills that you need to succeed in graduate employment, and how can you determine these skills when technology, the global economy and the make-up of the skilled workforce are rapidly changing?

As the government stands poised on a knife’s edge, Science Meets Business set out to determine the top ways skilled workers can position themselves in today’s uncertain times, and the best future prospects for graduate employment. Our panel of thought leaders considered the importance of the skills that aren’t taught in our universities – how to network, pitch yourself, stay a specialist but garner the ability to work across a broad range of disciplines, with people from a variety of fields.

Getting out of your comfort zone

Scientists becoming marketers, industry business developers that can speak to research – different timelines, different prerogatives, different values, varied benchmarks of success, and the struggle towards a gender equitable workforce. These are just of a few of the road bumps on the path towards a new economy based on skills and services, ideas and inventions, rather than resources.

Job requiring skills in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) grew at about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That’s great news.

But ensuring our STEMM-skilled workforce has the best opportunities for graduate employment requires more than a passion for work.

Competition in graduate employment

More graduates today are looking for work than there have been for the last 24 years – a record 11.6% of graduates in Australia in 2014 were seeking full-time graduate employment – without success, according to the 2014 Graduate Destinations report from Graduate Careers Australia.

In this competitive workplace, we must ensure not only that we prepare our graduates for success – creating, skilled, agile workers – but that we have the economy that can support them in the future.

How do we get there? We asked our panel of experts to map the path.

Heather Catchpole

Co-founder, Refraction Media

Read next: Victor RodriguesChief Software Architect at Cochlear, on what makes a prospective graduate stand out in the crowd.

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.

science literacy

Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce

The world is changing and changing fast! Several studies, such as Australia’s Future Workforce released by CEDA last year, tell us that 40% of the jobs we know today will not exist in 15 years. So what do we need to do be ready for this? Here is my four-step plan:

1. Need for basic science literacy

The need of a base level of science literacy is growing as our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology and science to support our daily lives[1]. However, the number of school children undertaking science and mathematics in their final years at high school is dropping at alarming rates.

Those who can use devices and engage with new technology are able to participate better in the modern world. Those unable to are left behind.

Because Australia has high labour costs, and as robotics and other automated technologies replace many jobs, school education needs to inspire young Australians to realise that science is both a highly creative endeavour, and a pathway to entrepreneurial and financial success.

We need to inspire a wider range of personality types to consider post-school science and engineering training and education as a pathway to build new businesses.

2. Need to broaden the scope of university education

Currently Australian universities are highly motivated to direct research and teaching activities towards academic excellence, as this is the recognised measure of university performance.

Industry experience and methods of solving industrial problems are not generally seen as components of the metrics of academic excellence.

We need to increase the focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and industry exposure and engagement during university education.


“If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.”


3. Need to lift industry skills

It is essential that businesses and technologists better understand people’s needs and wants, so they can be more successful in designing and producing products and services that increase their competitiveness locally, and allow them to enter the global market. They can do this by using the opportunities that digital-, agile-, e- and i-commerce can offer.

If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.

Recent statistics demonstrate that Australian manufacturing is characterised by a high vocational education and training (VET) to university-educated workforce ratio. If we are to move to a more advanced industry focus in Australia, this ratio needs to change – not necessarily by reducing the number of VET-qualified employees, but through the development of higher-value positions that necessitate a university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educated workforce.

In industrial settings, complexities occur where the adoption of design-led innovation principles can make a difference. Recent research has indicated that the application of design-led innovation by Australian companies can be the forerunner of future success.

4. Embracing the full human potential

As future capacity builds through the initiatives mentioned above, there is a need to engage the full spectrum of capability that is already trained in STEM.

There is latent capability there for the taking if we capitalise on the opportunities that a diverse workforce has to offer.

Development of approaches to attract and retain women, people of different cultures, broader age groups including the young and the old, and all socioeconomic classes, has the potential to lift our workforce skill set.

Time is running out. We need to act now.

Dr Cathy Foley

Deputy Director and Science Director, CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship

Read next: Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group on how National security relies on STEM.

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

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

[1] Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future, A Report from the Office of the Chief Scientist, September 2014.