Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) underpin Australia’s potential to innovate and compete on the global stage, but when employers go looking for STEM-qualified staff those they find don’t meet their requirements.
That’s the disturbing conclusion of a report from the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS), Stem Skills In The Workforce: What Do Employers Want? It is based on the findings of a survey of Australian employers undertaken for the OCS by Deloitte Access Economics.
Deloitte Access Economics carried out an online survey of employers. In total 1,065 employers responded, representing 450,000 employees across a range of industry sectors. The outcome was not entirely satisfactory: the OCS report says: “Not all respondents answered all the questions in the survey and over half of employers did not specify the industry sector for their organisation.”
The survey found that, overall “Employer perceptions of their STEM qualified people were positive. Employers (384 of 466) agreed that people with STEM qualifications are valuable to their business, even in positions where the employee’s qualification (major field of study) is not a prerequisite for that role. … Also, 345 of 486 employers nominated their STEM qualified staff as among their most innovative.”
The survey also found demand for STEM qualified staff to be high. “Of 451 respondents, 241 expected an increase in demand for STEM qualified professionals [over the next five to 10 years], while 34 expected a decrease. Almost 40 percent of those expecting an increase in demand were from the Manufacturing and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry sectors.”
Almost all those that responded to questions about shortages of STEM qualified applicants for positions identified problems.
These workplace issues were of particular concern to the Professional and Scientific Services; Manufacturing; Information Media and Telecommunications; and Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sectors.
Employers indicated the importance of a range of candidate attributes when assessing the suitability of STEM qualified applicants for their workplace. Over two thirds (224 of 323) responded that work experience in a relevant industry was important or very important. Over half (162 of 320) indicated that work experience of greater than 12 weeks was important or very important.
However the survey also found these problems to be, in part, of employers’ own making. In response to a specific question, only 140 of 502 employers said they offered structured work placements to students.
The OCS concluded that the Deloitte survey had found “a mismatch between the skills required by employers and those of job applicants,” and said: “Clearly, an effort has to be made to minimise this discrepancy. The information presented here should help to identify what needs to be done.” However it offered to suggestions as to what this might be.”
The full Deloitte Access Economics report, Australia’s STEM workforce: a survey of employers, is available at www.chiefscientist.gov.au
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