If we could add up the figures, they wouldn’t be good: Report finds maths and science skills shortage harming innovation

A quarter of employers are struggling to find qualified workers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, new research suggests, hindering their innovation as a result.

An Australian Industry Group report into STEM skills – science, technology, engineering and maths – found 41% of the respondents reported difficulties in recruiting technicians and trade workers with these skills, while 27% struggled to find professionals and 26% couldn’t find skilled managers.

Ai Group surveyed 500 businesses Australia-wide and found a lack of STEM skills was representing a barrier to innovation.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said at the launch of the report that what students are being taught and what industries need did not match up.

Willox told SmartCompany businesses, the government and educators need to play their part to fix the problem.

“I think governments have to encourage, but industry and educators need to participate in developing people with the right skill set so that they are employable.”

“Education institutions and industry need to do much more together, and there is fault on both sides, to collaborate and build relationships. This can occur at either a school level or a university level,” he says.

Large businesses faced the greatest challenge in recruiting these workers, but Willox says small and medium businesses also rely on people with STEM skills and some engagement is starting to occur between educators and small businesses.

“We’re seeing small and medium sized businesses in regional areas and suburban areas participating with their local schools and bringing kids through to have a look at what their business looks like.

“A lot of businesses now see their local schools as a pool to pick up future apprentices and trainees and if they get onto it at an early stage, they’re finding this is an investment worth making,” he says.

Ai Group is pushing for the development of a national framework to assist schools, tertiary education and industry boost these skills.

Willox said these skills are crucial in order to lift innovation in Australia and maintain the country’s economic position.

“For all of the good news stories, I find it hard to think of a time when lifting the pace of innovation and improving our productivity has been more important.”

Without encouraging innovation, Willox says, it will take longer for the country to repair economically and by 2025 Australia will have fallen significantly on the global ladder.

“We may not fall into a quagmire, but with a slow-growing economy we quickly go from 12th largest to the 15th and then to the 20th largest economy by 2025,” he says.



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