The role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in propelling future economic growth and industry digital innovation cannot be ignored. However, Australia has a declining rate of STEM-related course completions which have decreased over the past 10 years from 22% to 16%. This decline factor in the number of skilled and ready-for-work graduates is creating an ‘digital innovation bottleneck’ within the Australian businesses.
For instance, lack of skilled personnel is cited as the number one barrier to industry innovation followed by lack of access to additional funds and cost of development and/or implementation.
In addition, approximately 50% of Australian adults’ literacy and numeracy skills are below average.3 This is not such good when considering that 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge, and that the top innovative OECD countries have three times more R&D personnel in industry than Australia.1 2 Moreover, Australia is lagging behind the OECD nations, with only 30% of researchers in the business sector.
What does this mean for Australia?
By 2020 in the US, 60% of its workforce will require skills held by only 20% of the current workforce.4 Considering this, that one of the most innovative countries in the world – has a shortage of STEM-related skills, Australia’s current position to drive digital innovation, economic performance, create good jobs and new opportunities for citizens is at risk. Without concerted action (businesses and government), it is likely that the falling trend of STEM graduates will continue and further impact Australia’s global competitive position within the growing global knowledge-based economy. The consequences of inaction could be very costly for Australian generations to come.
Graph – Australian STEM Graduates: Australian Government – Department of Education, ‘2012 Award course completions’, 2013
Graph – Barriers to Innovation: Australian Government – Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, ‘Australian Innovation System Report – 2012’, September 2012
1 ABS, ‘Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia’, 2011-12
2 Becker, K. and Park, K., Journal of STEM Education Volume 12 – Issue 5 & 6, ‘Effects of integrative approaches among STEM subjects on students’ learning’, July-September 2011
3 ABS, ‘Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia’, 2011-12
4 American Society for Training & Development, ‘Bridging the Skills Gap: New factors compound the growing skills shortage’, 2009