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Australian industry hamstrung by hi-tech skills shortage



A new report from the Australian Industry (Ai) group has found a shortage of key science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills among the current and emerging workforce that, it says

The report - "Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills" surveyed more than 500 businesses from across the economy.

An article on the report on IT news site iTNews.com.au provoked a deluge of commentary, laying blamed for the situation on employers, universities and others.

One commentator suggested that the problem had very little to do with education but more to do with money. "When you have companies trying to recruit industry professionals like myself with over 20 years hands on experience in both IT and management but expecting to pay entry level wages its no wonder they can't get staff."

It appears that the new corporate philosophy pervading many universities is partly to blame. This approach was identified by the commentator who wrote that, in IT particularly, there had been retrenchment of the needed academics "as universities themselves become little more than corporate enterprises coupled with a 'dumbing down' of curricula to get - well - crudely 'bums on seats'. ... You know, the 'tertiary education industry' that is a major 'export earner' ... a disastrous philosophy that is simply NOT there with our Asian / SE Asian competitors who regard such education as a national activity vital to their development and competitiveness - with pride."

Ai Group CEO, 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."

Willox added: "STEM skills are essential for the future economic and social well-being of the nation with an estimated 75 percent 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."

He called for the urgent introduction of a number of strategies to lift Australia's STEM skills, in schools and at 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," Willox said.

"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."

According to the report a promising beginning to addressing the situation was made in the 2012 Federal Budget when a $54m package of measures was announced in response to the recommendations of the Chief Scientist. These measures included the establishment of a new post within the Office of the Chief Scientist to promote greater STEM awareness, to improve high quality teaching in mathematics and science and national initiatives to set new benchmarks for raising the engagement of school students.

Ai Group believes that this approach must be further developed. "Australian education at all levels and in all sectors requires a major re‐think leading to a transformation in STEM to increase participation in STEM‐related education and training," it said.

"This issue is particularly important in school education as STEM subjects provide critical underpinning skills in the workforce and society. Further, without these underpinnings, students may not have the pre‐requisites to progress to tertiary study or specific vocational programs."

The full report can be downloaded from http://www.aigroup.com.au/policy/reports

For more information about Charles Sturt University IT Masters : www.itmasters.edu.au

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