Tag Archives: STEM education

Google CwC STEM cropped

Careers with STEM: Code celebrates fifth birthday

Image credit: Google professionals Tina, Fontaine, Deepa and Joël (Lauren Trompp, 2018).

The upcoming magazine is set to be one of the most diverse representations of STEM careers yet.

It showcases real-life pathways to technology careers, promotes diversity and celebrates people in STEM doing exciting things, all to encourage Australian students to get into STEM.

From October 15, a box of the glossy Careers with STEM magazines will be sent out to every Australian high school –  a collaboration between two of Australia’s biggest STEM employers (Google and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), the Government and agile STEM startup, publisher Refraction Media.

75% of the fastest growing jobs will require skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and yet only 16% of university students graduate with a STEM degree, according to a PwC report. “We can’t say what the careers of the future will be, but we know that technology and STEM skills will underpin all careers,” says Heather Catchpole, co-founder and Head of Content at Refraction.

Careers with STEM: Code  is one of a quarterly series of print magazines and accompanies the online hub CareerswithSTEM.com, which features the most in-demand STEM careers, inspirational profiles and study resources for students and teachers. Refraction co-founder and CEO Karen Taylor-Brown explains that the magazines and e-portal were created to close the gap between students’ perception of STEM careers and the reality. “Careers with STEM is about smashing stereotypes around careers, driving diversity and celebrating Australia’s STEM-stars.”

This year, Careers with STEM: Code focuses on the most in-demand Computer Science (CS) jobs and the versatility of digital literacy for any career. With tips on how to design a CS career, diversity in tech and a Cybersecurity special, students will be well-equipped to map out their own unique pathway to a tech career that suits them.

Students can check out the profiles of several Australian STEM professionals from Google, CBA and more to find out  how they got to where they are now. “Technology and CS are at the heart of innovation in every industry,” says Sally-Ann Williams, Google’s Engineering Outreach Manager.  “New jobs and industries will continue to emerge as technology evolves…My hope is that in the pages of Careers with STEM: Code [students] will be inspired and challenged by the people who are working in these fields.”

Cybersecurity has been named one of the top 5 in-demand jobs right now (LinkedIn Emerging Jobs Report 2017) and another 11,000 cybersecurity specialists are needed over the next decade in Australia alone (CSCGN 2017 Report). The latest issue of Careers with STEM: Code includes a special Cybersecurity addition including  tips from CBA cyber-experts on how to break into the industry.

“Every day, we are faced with new cyber threats, challenges and opportunities, which is why we are constantly seeking talented, passionate and creative people to join the cybersecurity sector,” says Kate Ingwersen, General Manager of CISTO (Chief Information Security & Trust Officer) at CBA. “There is a world of opportunity for young people to become our cyber superstars of tomorrow.”

“We’re thrilled to work with so many industry, government and education leaders to bring together Careers with STEM, four times a year, for the last five years”, says Taylor-Brown. “This is a product that can address, at scale, some of the key barriers to careers in STEM, including narrow career vision, real-life relevance and pervasive stereotypes around who works in STEM and what the jobs are.”

“It’s a fantastic magazine…students really enjoy reading about their potential future pathways”, says Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at Canberra Grammar School.

Students and teachers are able to pre-order copies of the print magazine now and the e-zine will be available from October 15.

STEM education banner

Invest in qualified teachers for STEM education

CEO of Science & Technology Australia (STA), Ms Kylie Walker, said two decades of declines in high school maths and science results and enrolments were a significant risk to Australia’s future capability and prosperity.

“Intermediate and advanced maths enrolments are most worrying, with declines from 54 per cent in 1992, to 36 per cent in 2012,” Ms Walker said.

“We already have skilled workforce deficits in some areas of technology, and we know the major growth in future jobs will be in science, technology, engineering and maths: we need to support teachers with the right skills to prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We hope Minister Birmingham’s commitment to developing teacher skills extends to encouraging and incentivising universities to attract more students to undergraduate science and maths degrees.”

Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, this morning said around 20% of STEM teachers are teaching outside of their area expertise, noting that the Government wanted to ensure that universities are training future secondary teachers in science and mathematics.

“Many of our member organisations have been calling for urgent action to address the decline for some time,” Ms Walker said.

“Unfortunately, though, current caps on funding for undergraduate degrees pose significant challenges to building a STEM-qualified education workforce.

“STEM degrees are important to securing Australia’s prosperity, and though they are costly to deliver, they will pay dividends,” she said.

“The solution is twofold: have skilled teachers inspire students to develop a passion for STEM from an early age, and invest in universities to attract these students to pursue a degree in STEM.”

First published by Science & Technology Australia
stem education

STEM education mentors are superstars

These female mentors are binning the traditional image of a scientist and writing their own rules. The Superstars of STEM program is gathering a whole host of Australian business women, scientists and technologists to act as role models for the new generation of young women and girls in STEM education.

“We have gathered together an extremely impressive group of women, and I am proud to see so many decision makers and influencers in Australian business, technology, science, research and the media taking part,” says Professor Emma Johnston, mentor and President of Science & Technology Australia.

Mentors in the program include Hon Terri Butler MP; former ABC Catalyst presenter, Dr Jonica Newby; Vice-Chancellor at Adelaide University, Professor Tanya Munro; co-founder and CEO of Refraction Media, Karen Taylor-Brown; and representatives of Google, GE and ASX100.

“Linking participants with women who are already public figures, we intend for them to provide our Superstars with insights into how they can become public advocates for their science too.”

The program was designed to equip participants with the confidence to enter into STEM education or the workforce, to face Australia’s growing need for skilled scientists and technologists. “STEM skills will become increasingly important for the Australian workforce, and the more young people who find an interest in science and technology, the better off Australia will be,” Professor Johnston said.

The all-female cast of mentors hopes to reframe the tired old image of Einstein in a lab coat as representative of scientists today. “Many of the mentors involved would have faced similar perceptions in their own careers, and I’m excited to show Australians that your typical scientist is harder to pinpoint – it could be someone just like you.”

To find out more and see the full list of mentors and participants, visit the STA website.

Eliza Brockwell

science graduates

Science graduates high risk or high reward?

The employment prospects of science graduates are called into question by a report published by the Grattan Institute.

Studying science will get you a job – just not the job you might expect.

Industry and high placed academics have decried the results of a report declaring science to be a ‘high risk’ degree.

Such results fail to represent career prospects for those working outside of traditional science roles, say a cohort of Australia’s leading science experts.

Last week the respected Grattan Institute think tank’s Mapping Higher Education report warned that science was a ‘high risk’ study choice and that many recent science and information technology graduates are failing to find full-time work.

It’s not wrong, but it is near-sighted, say university and industry experts.

The report, released last week, concludes that a bachelor science degree is “high risk for finding a job” with “poor employment outcomes”, warning 51% of science graduates looking for full-time work in 2015 had found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points lower than the national average.

There has been a 20-year decline in participation in science at college.

But thinking of science as a one-track path to the lab fails to take into account the broader benefits of a science degree, says Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt.

Professor Les Field, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Australia and Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, says STEM-based education gives students a “versatile, flexible, problem-solving, technology-literate grounding, which is what you need for life and employment in the modern world”.

Science graduates have higher rates of employment

The Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM workforce, shows that over the medium term, people with STEM qualifications have higher rates of employment than graduates from other disciplines, Field points out.

“A survey of 466 employers across various sectors [STEM Skills in the workforce: What do employers want? March, 2015] have also shown that many employers expect to employ many more STEM graduates over the next five to 10 years, and around a quarter are already struggling to recruit people with appropriate STEM qualifications,” says Field.

“There is some mismatch between employer requirements of STEM graduates and the skills and experience with which they are coming out of universities. We should advocate that more industry placements and internships form a stronger part of university education.”

“Not a lot of opportunities”

Zara Barger, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) admits that she is “a little worried” about her prospects. “In Australia it seems as though there is not a lot of opportunities. As part of my degree I have to do two 6-month internships and I think that will give me insight and connections.”

Alecia Newton, a UTS Bachelor of Science student, agrees. “I’m a little bit concerned. I’m planning on getting some experience by volunteering so fingers crossed that will get me a job. But science is a good starting ground – it will give me good knowledge and if it doesn’t work out I will do a Masters in high school teaching,” she says.

Grattan report “surprising”

“It’s surprising to see the Grattan Institute’s claims that are contrary to other reports both here and overseas,” says Jackie Randles, state manager for Inspiring Australia, the Federal Government’s national strategy for engaging communities in STEM.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not yet considered crucial today and likely to involve STEM,” says Randles.

“Closer to home, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy with business joining government and academics in calls to redress a worrying skills gap.”

Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, says graduates with a “good science degree and a balanced portfolio of skills, knowledge and abilities will continue to have good employment prospects but not necessarily as academic researchers.

“The STEM disciplines, including art and design provide very good training for the world of work but degrees should not be regarded as vocational training. A good background in STEM disciplines opens up many opportunities in careers that may not necessarily be regarded as STEM careers.”

Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at UNSW and former Dean of Science agrees that the longer term prospects for science graduates are excellent.

“With slightly more people studying science, obviously slightly fewer people will get jobs at once. Science still provides opportunities – all doors remain open to science graduates.”

Heather Catchpole

engineering careers

Engineering careers in business

Looking back, I’m so pleased that I chose to study maths and science at school – even though at the time I had no idea of the opportunities this would bring. Thirty years on, I’m a professional engineer and director of a fascinating portfolio of companies. These span a range of engineering and resources sectors such as electricity generation, retail, water, natural gas and minerals. I’m glad I chose an engineering career, and that many more women are now joining me in this industry.

Identifying business purpose

I’m hearing a lot about purpose in business – establishing why we are in business – and that resonates as much or more with customers than what our products are and how we sell them. STEM education can give us the practical and analytical tools to help identify the why, and then deliver the what and the how.

Today’s graduates need systems thinking – an understanding of the interactions between components of an organisation, product or problem – to work across disciplinary boundaries. This is crucial to developing sustainable solutions that will enable our society to transition from the industrial era to the digital era, and embrace the disruption of business with the rise of consumer power.


“Many of the most interesting challenges facing businesses require a broad understanding of economics, finance, politics, marketing and communication, as well as skills in STEM areas.”


Encouraging STEM education more broadly in our society

Girls (and boys) start out with a fascination for science as they explore the world during early childhood, but many seem to lose this fascination as they develop into adults. Fortunately, we know how to stimulate interest in STEM using hands-on activities, engaging role models and examples of real-world achievements. Results for the effort are fantastic.

My husband and I have experienced this first hand with our daughter who pronounced in Year 1 that ‘science was boring’, only to be subjected to a very successful intervention from her parents (one an amateur astronomer and myself an engineer). We are still on the watch for any dimming curiosity.

The Leeanne Bond Scholarship at The University of Queensland provides financial assistance for a first year female engineering student. It encourages pursuit of the wonderful engineering careers there are for women as well as men. In addition to showing passion, ability and need, all applicants write an essay on engineering and business. It’s clear from these essays that these young women aspire to shape their world and engage with business and society to achieve their goals.

Integrators, disruptors and translators in engineering careers

I’m very encouraged by the interest in coding and robotics for young children we see today. Having started my engineering career in an era of Fortran programming and computer cards – programming that is now done on laptops and mobiles – I’m keeping up-to-date with information technology and social media. I see the nexus between traditional mature large-scale, capital-intensive industries I know well like utilities and manufacturing, and the newer, radical, disruptive, emerging business models like 3D printing and ecommerce as exciting – and I want to be part of it.

Many of the most interesting challenges facing businesses, such as sustainability, require a broad understanding of economics, finance, politics, marketing and communication, as well as skills in STEM areas. To tackle these challenges, engineers and scientists work in cross-disciplinary project teams of people with diverse backgrounds and qualifications.

A great example of the rising need for cross-disciplinary skills is in the personal transportation industry, where technological disruption is ripe. I recently heard a senior executive from a European car manufacturer speak of the need to fuse engineering and technology skills. In the race to develop electric and autonomous vehicles, today’s car companies are adding coding expertise to their traditional engineering teams and aspiring disrupters like Apple and Google are hiring engineers to work alongside their technology staff.

It is an exciting time to be an engineer in business!

Leeanne Bond

Director, Breakthrough Energy

Read next: Victor RodriguesChief Software Architect at Cochlear, on getting into a top graduate program.

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.

graduate program

Getting into a top graduate program

An excellent graduate program helped accelerate my career progress.

I arrived in Australia at the turn of the century. The trigger for leaving South Africa to move here was a little-known industrial automation software called Citect. I was inspired by this Australian invention, that back then was simply the most advanced, most innovative software in its industry.

It had been less than 10 years since I graduated from university with an Electrical Engineering degree, but the first five years were the most formative. The company that employed me as a fresh graduate had a fantastic graduate program, and equipped me with essential skills that have served me well for the past 25 years.

Today I look back on the 16 years I have been at Cochlear – another great Australian innovation – and am proud to have been part of an organisation that excels at nurturing young talent.


An undervalued characteristic is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure.”


I’ve witnessed many excellent graduate programs develop in Australia and I believe they are vital for helping young professionals to realise their full potential. We’ve been running our own graduate program at Cochlear for the last 10 years. Many of the graduates who began their careers in that program are now in leadership positions and excelling at their jobs. One of the reasons it has been so successful is because Cochlear focuses on hiring people with skills that set them up for success.

Possessing the technical fundamentals taught in STEM-based degrees is only part of what we look for in a prospective graduate. Other important attributes are intuition, creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively within and between multidisciplinary teams.

Collaboration in particular has become such an important attribute in a young people entering graduate programs. I cannot emphasize enough the need to develop this ability early, especially when aspiring to leadership roles. The days of the lone, genius contributor have all but gone. Today, the projects and startups that produce ground-breaking products achieve this because of the team-collaboration factor. Nothing says this more outspokenly than when Atlassian listed on The NASDAQ Stock Market and named their stock symbol “TEAM”.

Perhaps another undervalued characteristic in graduates is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure. A number of companies have a graduate program that formalises this process. Google and Atlassian are two companies that have successfully implemented 20% experiment time. There are countless examples of successful products that were born from these programs, such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News.

Often in an interview I will ask a candidate what they do in their spare time – the things they don’t put on their resumes, which might indicate a genuine thirst for knowledge.

Looking more closely at the foundation of Australian graduates, I’d like to add a few thoughts on STEM education in schools. In a 2014 Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute report, Kelly Roberts provides some disturbingly low participation rates of women in STEM subjects in high school. As the father of two daughters, my hope is that education systems will improve in order to draw out the innate inquisitiveness of young kids.

Let us build on that capability at an early age and nurture it. Let us teach them reasoning and critical thinking skills as young as possible. These skills are the means to building a stronger Australia.

Victor Rodrigues

Chief Software Architect, Cochlear 

Read next: Andrew Coppin, venture capital investor, on the changing demographic of founders in today’s startup scene.

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.

disruptive technology

Disruptive STEM

Wherever you turn these days you see the term “digital disruption”. For those of us lucky enough to be educated in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – we probably feel empowered and excited by this disruption and the changes it brings.

But the same sense of optimism is not true for everyone – because where there is technological disruption, business and social disruption tend to follow.

Electronic communication like email, for example, has almost completely taken over traditional mail. Mainstream bookstores are a shadow of their former selves due to massive online bookstores, and paper books are becoming obsolete due to increased use of digital devices for reading.

But these changes to traditional professions that created and distributed these products has cost jobs, and not everyone who lost a job has been able to transfer their skills into a new role in the digital economy.

Innovation has caused changes in areas such as transport, energy and financial services, and will ultimately leave more people at a disadvantage due to job loss than anything we’ve seen so far. Department stores, for example, could be wiped out in Australia, while banks could be taken over by FinTech innovators.

Disruption spurred on by digital technology is extending into new fields of engineering. Batteries will take houses off-grid and electric vehicles will do away with yearly car services. These changes could leave car dealerships without a source of service income and power utilities without a market.

The birth of the internet removed advantages for large businesses in terms of scale and geography, and allowed small businesses to compete equally with larger companies. But after 20 years, the larger online businesses still have the advantage of scale. As more people use the same search engine, for example, the algorithms for that search engine become stronger. And if a greater number of people use the same online social network, the reach of that network increases exponentially.

We can use technology to improve access to capital while maintaining a safe financial system. We can find better ways to access products and services without doing away with stores. We can make the move from fossil fuels to renewables while keeping a highly skilled engineering capability employed.


“The future depends on those with a STEM education.”


Those with STEM skills have the ability to channel their knowledge, skills and innovative flair to develop new applications of technology, as well as encourage its application to achieve greater benefits for society. The future depends on those with a STEM education.

Robert Hillard

Managing Partner, Deloitte Consulting & Fellow of the Australian Computer Society

Read next: John PollaersChairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council, on Australia’s best lever for a thriving, high-tech manufacturing sector.

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!

Advanced manufacturing

The advanced manufacturing flagship

We have a rich seam of transformative advanced manufacturers in Australia who are not only securing their own future; they are helping to underpin a sustainable Australian economy.

But our future in an uncompromising global economy is precarious. Few decision-makers in OECD countries believe they will remain prosperous without a thriving, high-tech manufacturing sector.

A prosperous Australia depends on supplying higher value solutions to the world – and the recent national focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is fundamental to this aspiration.

How can we, as a nation, facilitate this growth? The Federal Government’s Innovation and Science Agenda released last December is the most substantial recognition we have seen that advanced manufacturing is the future face of Australian industry. The agenda pulls a number of policy “levers”, and places unprecedented emphasis on leveraging our research excellence for greater commercial outcomes.

Of all the interventions of governments, however, the defence procurement “lever” obliterates all others.

Manufacturing’s best hope lies in “flagship” projects like Australia’s future submarine and shipbuilding programs. Some economists have estimated the knowledge spillovers from such programs produce multiplier impacts 2–3 times the initial investment. For example, one study estimates the Gripen multi-role combat aircraft project in Sweden generated at least 2.6 times the government investment in terms of additional production, and skills and knowledge transfer. What large national projects can mean for jobs growth, technology diffusion, skills development and market development in the short term is important. What they mean in the longer term is critical.


“The digitisation revolution will be a key enabler for Australian manufacturers to enter the global supply chain – it conquers distance and helps bring ideas into production sooner.”


For the advancement of Australian industry, we must ensure that Australian companies are actively engaged in the high value technology creation and development of large defence contracts. And these companies must be able to sustain their businesses through exports. Denmark and Sweden provide good examples of countries successfully exporting their defence capabilities. If Australia does not do the same, we doom our high value defence manufacturers to the same fate as the automotive sector.

Technological change doesn’t just bring disruption; it also brings opportunity. The digitisation revolution will be a key enabler for Australian manufacturers to enter the global supply chain – it conquers distance and helps bring ideas into production sooner. Digitisation will enable Australian manufacturers to leap ahead of many of our competitor nations.

And embracing the digital age requires greater emphasis on STEM education. In many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate. By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

With a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, employing a higher proportion of skilled engineers and scientists and successfully investing in research and development in order to stay at the leading edge in their sectors, we can ensure Australia’s continued prosperity.

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Read next: Vish Nandlall, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer, on the skills we really need to be teaching our children.

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!

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.