The Federal Government has failed to provide any clear pathway to achieve current objectives in its latest report on the STEM agenda, according the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).
The government paper, entitled Vision for a Science Nation, discusses how to encourage and leverage STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills in Australia in response to proposals from the chief scientist last year around intervention and investment in STEM.
The AIIA said that although the intention of the government paper is indisputable, it contains no concrete plan of action around the specific initiatives required to execute the vision outlined in the chief scientist’s 2014 STEM strategy.
On its website, the AIIA said the report’s omission of recommended actions “raises serious concerns regarding the extent to which the government is genuine in its commitment to STEM capacity building.”
Australia is the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy in place, while research by Digital Careers shows 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations today require STEM skills and knowledge, AIIA Chair, Kee Wong, told CIO.
Wong said he believed without committed investment in STEM capability development, Australia simply cannot compete with the efforts of our global competitors.
“STEM is a long-term impact activity, but it is one that you cannot afford not to pay attention to, it’s a bit like boiling the frog, by the time the frog realised it’s boiling, it’s too late,” he said.
At the recent annual Australian American Leadership Dialogue event held in Melbourne, leaders across Australia and the US discussed the importance of STEM and cyber-related job, and the need for an intervention program to tackle these issues.
”When you have a close forum like this, everyone will be nodding their head on what is considered to be a no brainer,” said Wong.
“But then when you come out of that room and there are other more burning issues and limited resources available, other choices need to be made… sometimes foolish choices, with low hanging fruit.”
The AIIA’s has recommended that a more holistic approach to the STEM agenda is required.
“STEM is a foundation for economies in order to develop high value and innovative industries so the whole equal system needs to work together,” said Wong.
The association’s suggestions to government included:
- a comprehensive statistical database to monitor STEM performance across education, workforce, research, international engagement and competitiveness in the workplace, and
- a STEM measurement framework with clear objectives, targets, and milestones to monitor progress, mapping outcomes against workforce needs and tracking the maturity of Australia’s innovation capability.
The association praised initiatives such as the Industry Growth Centres, CRC and Entrepreneur Infrastructure programs that incorporate a strong STEM focus, and suggested a mechanism be put in place to encourage collaboration with universities and SMBs to provide stronger research capacity to their projects.
“The research industry needs to have enough resources to be able to continue current and future research initiatives. Industry leaders and government need to make sure that they responsibly invest in the right areas, not just driven by short term profit and bottom line focus,” said Wong.
“We need a sense of urgency in all these initiatives, even though it will take a long time, we must think about the intervention approach that we need to take now.”
The education system in particular needs a major shake-up, according to Wong, so that it contains materials relevant to what will be required now and in the future. This includes a change in curriculum, the quality of teachers, and the need for more exposure to STEM leaders and roles models.
“Most teachers don’t know about data scientists or cyber specialists… you can’t upskill all the teachers fast enough, but what you can do is identify industry role models that can come into the classroom and inspire the students,” he said.
“If you ask STEM leaders, most of them, if not all, will tell you one particular teacher, field trip or role model that has inspired them to want to learn maths and science and that’s the moment and the spark that allows them to take on that journey and then they become a STEM leader.
“For us and those potential future STEM leaders, that moment is now.”