STEM Future Workforce

What’s the problem?

In Australia, it is estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of all the jobs created in Australia will require a diploma qualification or higher.

International research suggests 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations now require STEM skills and knowledge.

Employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations.

The pipeline begins in schools – ensuring that STEM teachers are equipped to teach with expertise and enthusiasm to encourage students to pursue STEM subjects through to Year 12.

In his 2014 report, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths: Australia’s Future, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb called on the Federal Government to “Support the national interest by maintaining the pipeline of STEM graduates, and increase the recognition of STEM education and careers as a public good”.

This, he argues, must happen to address the rapid global growth in jobs requiring STEM skills and knowledge, and the challenge ahead for Australia to meet demand. The Chief Scientist has called for the introduction of “mechanisms to encourage student uptake into STEM courses, with particular regard to presently less popular core STEM courses and subjects.” 

At university, women remain under-represented in many STEM courses. In engineering and related technologies they made up just 20 per cent of enrolments, and 14 per cent in information technology.

This underrepresentation feeds into the workforce. In 2008, the participation of women in science, technology and engineering jobs was 45.1 per cent, representing an increase of just 2.8 per cent increase since 1992.

In its report, Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Skills, Australian Industry Group said the shortage of STEM graduates to meet demand loomed as a major challenge for business. 

 “A key way to meet the emerging challenge of developing an economy for the 21st century is to grow our national skills base ‐ particularly the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills of our school leavers,” AiG said.  “Our relative decline of STEM skills is holding back our national economy and causing real frustration for employers.”

Labor’s plan

Economic growth cannot be sustained without inquiring and capable people, a steady pipeline of specialist STEM skills in the workforce, and general science and mathematical literacy in the community.

Our program will make a university STEM degree more attractive than ever before, representing a major step towards delivering the high-skilled graduate workforce our country needs.

1. STEM degree – HECS Debt free

Labor will provide a financial incentive for students to enrol in and complete a STEM undergraduate degree, in recognition of the significant public benefit of growing Australia’s STEM capacity.

Labor will offer 20,000 STEM Award Degrees a year for 5 years, which upon graduation will see the entire students HECS-HELP debt written off.  These students will graduate HECS debt free.

At present, an average science graduate will pay off a $44,000 HECS debt over 8 years.

A Labor Government will give the next generation of Australians an incentive to study science and a head start in their working life, free of student debt. The start date for this policy will be the 2017 school year.

Previous incentives to study STEM subjects have been small, piecemeal and largely unsuccessful. The STEM degree scholarships will provide incentives for different scale and scope.

This policy reflects Labor’s policy focus for higher education: structuring assistance to encourage and incentivise completions at university.  Students will continue to accrue their HECS-HELP debt as normal, and so a failure to graduate will see them retain that liability.

The policy will also reflect Labor’s equity objectives, with the selection criteria to target increasing enrolments in underrepresented groups like women.  With only 20 per cent of engineering and related technologies enrolments, and 14 per cent in information technology enrolments, boosting the representation of women in STEM degrees will be a priority.

Labor will consult with the Chief Scientist, and work with universities and State Governments to develop criteria, and selection criteria  around access to the scheme and the eligible courses and use of the grants.

This policy will seek to encourage universities to work with schools and TAFEs to target students in their last two years of their schooling or TAFE, with an emphasis in boosting the number of STEM students from underrepresented groups such as women, Indigenous, regional and lower SES backgrounds.

This initiative has a $45 million financial impact over the forward estimates.

2. Business collaboration

Australia’s future workforce is a national priority that requires the effort of government, business, universities and education providers.

Labor wants more Australian businesses sharing in the benefits of that technology: in our offices, hospitals, warehouses, laboratories, factories and design firms.

We have a plan to turn around the lapse in focus on innovation that threatens to leave Australia behind in the global STEM race.

But business and industry also have a key role to play in putting science and innovation at the heart of our nation’s future.

A Labor Government will build the pipeline of job-ready STEM graduates by supporting every step of a child’s education, and better equipping their teachers.

This has been a long standing priority for business.

A Labor Government will fulfil our part of this national bargain. But to complete Labor’s vision for innovation-led economic growth, we need business to do their part.

Labor’s STEM package challenges the business sector to show children in school today the limitless possibilities that a career in STEM will offer – today, in 10 years and in 20 years. 

Labor wants more Australian businesses sharing in the benefits of that technology: in our offices, hospitals, warehouses, laboratories, factories and design firms.

Labor will seek to collaborate with business and universities as part of a national effort to establish more work experience opportunities for STEM students into their studies.