Commonwealth forecasts high demand for STEM skills


The future of STEM is bullish, according to a report by the Commonwealth’s Office of the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. Demand for STEM is strong across key sectors, and offers openings in unexpected areas.

Australia’s future success is marked by a growing reliance on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, according to a report by the Office of the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

This report, “Australia’s STEM Workforce,” offers one of Australia’s most detailed analyses of graduate opportunities. The report draws on historical data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Among the findings, STEM is opening up countless opportunities, while opening up diverse paths and career choices.

In a foreword to the report, Dr Alan Finkel, says the lines between STEM and non-STEM workers are starting to blur. “As times move on it becomes increasingly difficult to decide who is and who isn’t STEM.”

Looking to the future, a world of opportunity will open up for those with STEM training. These include unexpected detours from the original plans. New pathways are marked by physics doctorates that may work as financial analysts, or chemistry graduates that run farms and make wine.


Unexpected detours

“We have ICT graduates planning cities,” Dr Finkel says. “There are no limits to what a STEM graduate can do.” The opportunities lie in unexpected places.

A traditional STEM education encompasses science, technology, engineering and mathematics. However, graduates are armed with ‘higher-order’ skills that encompass research savvy, logical thinking or the qualitative analysis. This goes beyond simply sharing knowledge in the narrowly-defined fields.

Beyond the tech-savvy, STEM nurtures creativity, open-mindedness, independence and objectivity, observes Dr Finkel. “I know from my own experiences that the opportunities rarely lie in the expected fields.”

States with the highest proportion of STEM graduates are in Western Australia, followed by NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.

Across the total qualified STEM population, 49 per cent are 45 years or older. This has varied across fields, for example, with 20 per cent of IT qualified people aged 45 years or older. In engineering, this is currently capped at 55 per cent.

The latest report will build on new census data that is being collated by the ABS this year. This data is due for release in 2018. The consolidated data will enable educators and the industry to track the outlook across demand-driven sectors.


Opportunities for women

In other news, the Australian government is offering STEM scholarships for women.

Two recent recipients are Professor Julie Bernhardt from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Deann Lomas, a director of supply chain at Telstra.

Recipients are participating in a prestigious leadership program at the Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan program.

The Commonwealth says that more than half of Australian PhD graduates and early career researchers are women. But women represent only 17 per cent of senior academics across Australian universities and research institutes.

Support for STEM is reinforced through Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s National Science and Innovation agenda. The Commonwealth’s Women in STEM initiative earmarks $13 million over five years to boost the number of women studying STEM subjects, while pursuing careers across a range of fields.