STEM skill shortages holding back business
A shortage in crucial Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in the current and emerging workforce is holding back Australian employers in their ongoing question to be more innovative, productive and competitive, according to a new report released by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).
The Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Skills report surveyed over 500 employers from across the nation, and concluded that an acute lack of STEM skills across a range of sectors, including recruiting technicians and trade workers (41% of respondents reported difficulty), professionals (27%) and managers with STEM skills (26%).
There is also growing concern among employers about the ability of apprentices to acquire the necessary STEM skills to fully contribute to the workplace with previous Ai Group research finding a significant number of apprentices are affected by low levels of literacy and numeracy.
Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox said: "The report lays bare the challenges facing Australia's educators and employers to adequately skill the workforce that will be required to build a competitive economy of the future.
"A quarter of the employers surveyed found a lack of applicants with STEM skills to be their greatest barrier to recruitment. Other key barriers included a lack of workplace experience and the content of qualifications not being relevant to business needs.
"STEM skills are essential for the future economic and social well-being of the nation with an estimated 75% of the fastest growing occupations requiring STEM skills and knowledge. Despite this, enrolments and the number of graduates with STEM qualifications continue to decline. This is a major concern for industry.
"There is an urgent need to introduce a number of strategies across the various sectors to lift Australia's STEM skills:
- In the schools sector - this includes lifting teacher quality and adopting more innovative teaching strategies to engage students in STEM learning. It also requires providing better careers advice that highlights to both male and female students the importance of STEM skills for many occupations. Ai Group also proposes that increased participation and attainment in STEM-related disciplines should feature as Key Performance Indicators in future school resourcing negotiations.
- At the tertiary level - Ai Group supports the proposal from the Office of the Chief Scientist to introduce semester-long work placements for new STEM undergraduates. Universities and industry should collaborate on business-related research projects.
"Such strategies would be most effectively advanced in partnership between business representatives, the Office of the Chief Scientist and STEM experts. A working group drawn from these groups should be charged with developing a national framework to assist schools, the tertiary education sector and industry lift STEM skills," Mr Willox said.
- Employers are having increasing difficulty recruiting employees with STEM skills. From across a wide range of industries, more than four in ten (41%) respondents reported difficulties recruiting technicians and trade workers with STEM skills. More than a quarter of businesses reported difficulties recruiting professionals (27%) and managers (26%) with STEM skills.
- Among manufacturers, 44% reported difficulties recruiting technicians and trade workers with STEM skills. This was slightly greater than the proportion of construction businesses (39%) and service sector businesses (35%) who reported difficulties recruiting technicians and trade workers with STEM skills. In the mining industry, 37.5% of businesses reported difficulties recruiting professional occupations with STEM skills. All of these occupations with STEM skills shortages are at the higher end of the qualifications spectrum.
- Large enterprises experienced greater difficulties than smaller enterprises in recruiting employees with STEM skills.
- In terms of industry responses ? 30% of respondents from the mining sector and 29.4% of respondents from the services sector reported the lack of applicants with STEM skills to be greatest barrier in recruiting employees with STEM skills. Among respondents from the services sector 29.4% reported that a lack of workplace experience was a significant barrier.
- STEM skills are essential in the following occupations: electrical engineers; electricians; agricultural and forestry scientists; environmental scientists; software and applications programmers; architectural, building and surveying technicians; metal casting, forging and finishing trade workers; mining engineers; chemists, food and wine scientists; ICT business and systems analysts; database and systems administrators; mechanical engineering draftspersons and technicians; toolmakers and engineering patternmakers; and telecommunications trades workers.
- Australia's participation in STEM skills at secondary school continues to drop with the number of students taking advanced mathematics falling by 27% between 1995 and 2007. The number of female students opting out of mathematics and science is also rising with only 13.8% of female students in NSW studying maths and science for their Higher School Certificate in 2011.
- Number of students enrolled in maths majors in Australian universities declined by 15% between 2001 and 2007.