Tag Archives: STEM graduates

The power of non-linear role models

The world around us is undergoing rapid transformation by people finding innovative ways to use information and technology to better serve our needs. At the heart of these disruptive innovations are people with deep groundings in science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM disciplines.

Critically, the number of kids studying subjects in school that lead to STEM courses is decreasing. According the Australian Bureau of Statistics only 29% of STEM graduates are women, and in the key disciplines of IT and engineering this falls to 14%. Low enrolment numbers for women in STEM have been a consistent factor since I was an undergraduate in engineering.

Today, Australia competes in the global race for innovative ideas with only half the team – the male half. If we are to develop new industries that move us beyond Australia’s traditional industries and allow us to be globally competitive, we have to change.

For a start, we have to help our kids, and in particular our girls, understand the wealth of opportunities open to them with a STEM foundation. We need to address any perceived or real bias in our high school exam systems and marking arrangements that discourage kids from taking up studies in maths and science. With the highly competitive nature of the results from high school assessments, we need to work to change views that taking STEM subjects could lead to any disadvantage.

We also have to recognise – as a positive – the fact that many STEM graduates will work in roles outside of the classical STEM disciplines. These are role models for a future in which interdisciplinary graduates are able to contribute to the transformation of traditional industries such as the finance, automotive and healthcare sectors.

In an effort to stimulate interest in STEM early on in schooling, Macquarie University runs the FIRST Robotics program in Australia for children in years K–12, with key sponsorship by Google and Ford. This program gives all participants a chance to work as teams that bring together mechanics, electronics, information processing, design and software development skills to build robots and compete with them.

This is an example of how we can not only inspire school students’ interest in STEM, but create pathways for them to pursue these fields into further study, careers, and entrepreneurship in a variety of areas. Today the program involves 5000 kids from 600 schools, and the total numbers of participants across Australia is rapidly growing.

Having stimulated interest at school, we need examples at universities and in the workplace that highlight the important roles that women with STEM backgrounds occupy. This is vital to improving the pull of women through universities and into industries where they are able to make meaningful contributions.

At Macquarie University, we are actively focused on building women’s participation in world-leading research programs through the Science in Australia Gender Equality (SAGE) program. We are able to celebrate the achievements of our world-leading female researchers, including role models such as Macquarie University’s Professor Ewa Goldys (recent winner of a Eureka Award) and Professor Nicki Packer.

Having shining examples of where STEM can take our young women is key to closing the gender gap. We need to expose women to the right kinds of images and messages, which involves having conversations around the non-traditional and non-linear career pathways available to them.

Professor Barbara Ann Messerle

Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Macquarie University

Read next: Deloitte Partner Elissa Hilliard says raising Australia’s STEM IQ means teaching girls foundational skills in their formative school years.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on role models using the social media buttons below.

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

Preparing graduates for the future of work

A new future of work is looming – one that is driven by the rapid pace of technological development and new approaches for interacting with colleagues and customers. In this future, STEM graduates are in higher demand than ever. They will find their place at the forefront of emerging industries – virtualisation, creative intelligence, robotics, data science are just to name a few – where they will co-exist with peers from a wealth of other disciplines.

As educators, we know the increasing importance of STEM skills in a world in which almost 40% of jobs that exist today are likely to disappear in the next 10–15 years. We know that today’s graduates will have 20–30 jobs over the course of their working lives. How can we prepare these graduates to respond to existing workforce needs, and perhaps more crucially, to workforce needs in industries that don’t yet exist?

First, we must fundamentally rethink the skills people will need, and how we support them acquiring these skills. Many of these will be numeracy and digital skills, such as those involved in data analytics and coding. Others will be sense-making skills that will enable people to absorb a wide variety of information to inform decision-making in a changing and complex environment.  The future workforce will also rely on very sophisticated interaction skills to facilitate collaboration in virtual, real and cross-cultural contexts.

The enterprises of tomorrow will not only need a greater prevalence of multifaceted digital and STEM capacity, but they will need more “boundary crossing” and creative problem solving skills in our STEM graduates. Underpinning this is an almost ubiquitous level of numeracy and digital literacy that does not currently exist in society.

There are many things universities can do to optimise the opportunities available to our STEM graduates, to ensure our graduates are agile, future-focused, committed to innovation and responsive to ongoing shifts in industry. To begin with, we can support the development of well-rounded STEM graduates, to more systematically emphasise the critical importance of cross-disciplinary training.

The ability of students to take their discipline expertise in science and engineering and apply it across a vast range of questions, jobs and sectors has always existed, but we need to be more deliberate about this into the future. We can embed collaborative, entrepreneurial, critical thinking and interpersonal skills at the core of all our courses. We can deliver educational experiences that champion student-led modes of learning, and treat students like professionals from the moment they commence their university careers. We can emphasise internships, work placements and volunteer opportunities that give students a taste of the world outside the classroom – be this in businesses, R&D laboratories or start-ups. We can involve industry more deeply in our assessment processes.

We can also provide development opportunities both on and off campus that encourage students to place their STEM skills in a wealth of exciting new contexts, from entrepreneurship programs to workshops in design thinking, and combined STEM/creative intelligence degrees. This has the added advantage of providing more visibly attractive opportunities for STEM graduates, increasing those Australians choosing STEM careers.

Similarly for non-STEM graduates, as well as much of the above, embedding contextual numeracy and increased data literacy into our courses will be vital.

If our aim is to create a generation of graduates who will lead the development of new and emerging sectors, and who will carve out competitive advantages for Australia, then we must focus on preparing them for the brave new world ahead. Let’s equip them to become creators, innovators and global thinkers with the capacity to untangle the wicked problems inherent in the future of work.

Attila Brungs

Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Technology, Sydney

Read next: Innes WilloxCEO of the Australian Industry Group, highlights the huge demand for STEM skills in today’s workforce and discusses why it’s paramount for students to gain industry experience while studying.

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.