recruitment and hiring

Half of Australian businesses struggling to recruit STEM workers: Report

Broede Carmody /

A lack of skills in areas such as science, technology and engineering in the current and emerging workforce is holding back Australia’s economy, according to the Australian Industry Group.

The negative implications for the local economy were highlighted in the Progressing STEM Skills in Australia report, which was released yesterday.

The survey, which spoke to 300 businesses across the country, found nearly half were having difficulty recruiting technicians and trade workers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Read more: Why STEM skills are important to the Australian economy and innovation

Other barriers for Australian businesses include a lack of previous workplace experience and limited STEM skills in the first place.

The Australian Industry Group is now calling for a national strategy to help tackle the country’s skills shortage, including greater collaboration between industry, employers and education providers.

The Australian Industry Group’s director for education and training, Megan Lilly, told SmartCompany a lack of skills in science and technology was a significant issue for local businesses.

“We have insufficient STEM skills in our workforce at the moment and it’s a problem that is set to worsen,” Lilly says.

“We do have a significant problem in the future – we’ll have a significant skills shortage which will have a significant economic impact on the country.”

Lilly says future business opportunities “absolutely lie” in STEM skills.

“STEM skills are actually needed across the economy – they’re not restricted to a particular area,” she says.

“Seventy-five per cent of occupations in the future will require some STEM skills, so we need to think of it very broadly. Of course manufacturing is a particular case in point and there is a lot of transitioning happening in that area.”

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, told SmartCompany there is room for greater collaboration between industry and education providers to ensure graduates come into the workforce knowing what to expect.

“Looking at a program around graduate recruits could be good, because they have the knowledge but not the on-the-ground experience,” Strong says.

“The big guys can handle that… for us it is more tricky. Maybe there are some retraining issues around the older workers on some things as well.”

Strong also says SMEs in places outside of Sydney and Melbourne can find it hard to attract skilled talent and an overhaul of the current employee share scheme will go a long way in helping Australian companies stay competitive.

“In the regions, because of their nature, you’ve got a closed labour market. You might find other people outside the community who are happy to support that,” Strong says.

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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