• Edwin and George

The Curious Case of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Skills


What’s happening to people with STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

STEM skills, as we know, will be increasingly important in the future of work. Take Australian business. When competing globally and particularly with the Asian region, STEM will be critical.


A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report on ‘The Future of Jobs’ highlights the need for STEM skills. The WEF predict a shift in the kinds of jobs that will be created. They conclude that demand will be highest for data analysts and scientists.

It’s odd though.

At a time when you’d think demand would be building, there are worrying reports on how easy it is for STEM graduates to find jobs.

For example, in a recent Australian Government report*, 67% of 2017 science graduates said they have low expectations of working in a job that utilises their degree. The same report found that, of the 367,000 graduates in STEM from 2007-2016, a large proportion are in jobs that don’t utilise their skills. Indeed, one respondent said that her expectation of employment in the first six-months of graduation would be at Coles or 7-Eleven.

The education system has something to answer for. There’s discussion about whether standards are slipping in STEM teaching (see for example, Australia Select Committee on the Future of Work 2018 which highlights shortages of teachers and poorer knowledge levels for 15-year olds compared to 20 years ago).

Government education policies are increasing the focus on the development of STEM skills. However, they might not be enough to provide real change.

As the future of works unfolds, there will be an increasing need for people to design, configure and build systems and to organise and interpret data. However, the truly employable STEM staff will be those who have developed wider skills and experiences:

  1. Organisational skills – to understand the impact that technology can have on business

  2. Team working – to be able to work in cross functional project teams as they become a way of life

  3. Human skills – to know that the success of automation and robotics depends on how the people elements are dealt with

  4. Entrepreneurship – to spot opportunities and drive home the potential that technology provides.

In their submission to the Select Committee on the Future of Work, the Australian Creative Industries Council suggested that we should forget STEM and think STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). They want to emphasise the human and social science skills needed.

It might also be worth remembering that, in terms of automation, basic STEM roles are just as likely to be impacted. Perhaps expanding STEM to STEAM will also add a bit of extra security for future graduates.

  • Australia Select Committee Report 2018


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