Australia’s digital economy continues to face a skills shortage; while it relies exclusively on science and technology, the number of professionals available is significantly less than that required, according to shadow communications minister, Jason Clare.
Speaking at the TechLeaders 2014 Forum, the Blaxland MP said Australia had a lot of work to do when it comes to developing the appropriate skills to drive the digital economy. This is particularly due to the lack of a Stanford-like education model or a relevant science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative.
California’s Stanford University runs an Undergraduate STEM Fellows program intended to increase the number of PhDs earned by what are considered under-represented groups in STEM. The Office of the Provost-funded scheme included financial bonuses, funding, mentorship, and summer research positions.
Clare said that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations in Australia require STEM skills, while the number of students taking on ICT-related degrees has dropped by about 36 per cent over the last decade.
“In the last 10 years, there have been 100,000 new jobs created in the technology sector,” he said. “At the same time, only 49,500 students have graduated with technology degrees. Turning this around is a big task.”
Clare claims the uncapping of university places in 2009 has helped turn this around, but not enough.
“We need to embed technology in the curriculum from primary school. I know there are delays in implementing the new curriculum and how it applies to primary schools and I’m concerned about that.”
“I think we need to change the way STEM subjects are taught. We need to increase the digital literacy of teachers. We need to change the way we provide careers advice to students in high schools.”
“We need universities to take a more proactive role in encouraging students to take out STEM degrees, and get universities to collaborate even more with businesses on research projects.”