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Australian Companies Lagging in the Promotion of STEM

By Gary Angel, Regional Director, Tata Consultancy Services

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Gary Angel, Regional Director, Tata Consultancy Services

The ability for Australia to compete in the modern, rapidly changing world of global business will require us to be more innovative and creative than we have ever been before.

We can no longer rely on vehicle manufacturing, on coal as a major source of power, or out-dated and stagnant business practices. Instead we need to change the focus of our investment towards education, and how we deal with entrepreneurial, creative businesses and individuals - or we will be left behind.

Consider, that contribution from our manufacturing industry peaked in the 1960’s at about 25% of GDP – today it accounts for less than 10% of GDP. In the past we looked at row upon row of motor vehicles coming off assembly lines, or massive trucks loaded with iron ore and coal and equated this with strong economic growth.

Now esses to extract minerals using more efficient, cost-effective, and safer methods, to help make us more productive. It is these innovative, creative people, driven by an entrepreneurial desire to succeed who will deliver the greatest chance for Australia to compete and succeed in a more competitive world.

Australia’s global competitiveness will be dependent of our ability to meet the demands for skilled resources in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) - and yet, today, Australia still lags behind many other countries in delivering the highly-skilled, well-educated work-force that we will require. This is particularly prevalent when you consider female participation in STEM related fields.

According to the Office of the Chief Scientist for Australia – Australia is producing about 18% graduates in STEM related fields while Singapore and China are closer to 50% - yet a 2014 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study indicates that the job market requiring STEM related skills experienced a growth rate in excess of 14%, while the non-STEM related job market grew around 9%.

Demand for STEM related graduates is growing at 1.5 times the rate of other jobs, and today, Australia is forced to rely on overseas graduates for these skills.

Clearly we need to encourage more young men and women (in particular), to participate in these subjects. This is not purely the responsibility of schools and universities. Australian organisations, both established and entrepreneurial will continue to generate significant demand for these skills; therefore, they have a critical role to play in ensuring a steady supply of highly skilled technical resources are available to support their future requirements.

A 2010 OECD study indicates that about 4.1% of Australian companies are actively collaborating with education institutions in promoting STEM, while Sweden and Mexico have 12.5%, the UK and South Africa around 16.5%, and Finland has almost 30% active corporate participation.

Australian companies have a fundamental responsibility to proactively invest in STEM related activities... motivating young men and women to take up studies in these fields, or providing incentives as they enter university - it is after all, these companies that will benefit most from these skills in the future.

Therefore, if Australian companies do not become more actively involved, they run the risk of these skills moving off-shore, making it even harder to compete over time.

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