More focus needed on STEM career pathways

Friday, 27 August, 2021

More focus needed on STEM career pathways

Industry, schools and governments need to work together to develop and implement STEM programs, according to Weld Australia.

In the midst of National Skills Week, there are calls to deliver more STEM programs that attract and engage students.

This follows reports that the number of school students studying STEM in later secondary (Year 11 and 12) has flat-lined at around 10% or less. In addition, the latest OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show a long-term decline in maths and science skills for Australian students. Australia was placed 36th for Engineering and 14th for Arts; despite there being a demand for the former and a surplus of the latter. In 2003, four countries or economies significantly outperformed Australia in PISA mathematics. In 2018, 23 did.

“We need a vibrant STEM program implemented across schools nationally so that children and parents alike understand the opportunities available — the future of employment in industries like welding is not hard, dirty work carried out in a dark workshop, it’s focused on IT and programming skills, using robots and co-bots, and implementing Industry 4.0 concepts,” said Geoff Crittenden, CEO, Weld Australia.

“STEM skills are crucial to the changing nature of work. Digital technology is now a part of our everyday lives, and is impacting the world of work in ways never experienced before.

“Our young people need to acquire complex, high order technical knowledge and skills. They need robust, deep and transferrable qualifications that provide a strong base for life-long learning and skill development.

“Kids need STEM skills. And yet, Australia is simply not keep pacing with this need.

“Australian students, their parents and their teachers simply don’t understand the importance of STEM, or STEM career opportunities, until it’s too late. One way to combat this lack of understanding around STEM career opportunities is through innovative STEM programs in high schools.”

In June 2020, the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) commenced a pilot program to teach welding to students in Years 10 to 12 studying Manufacturing and Engineering, and Industrial Technology. The program utilised cutting-edge training techniques, including the use of 32 augmented reality welding simulators and innovative teacher training delivered by Weld Australia. Based on the success of the pilot program, NSW DET ordered a further 20 simulators to be rolled out across another 10 high schools in regional NSW.

To resolve the growing lack of STEM skills, Australia has adopted a ‘push’ approach by focusing on school-based STEM programs like that implemented by the NSW DET.

“There is no question that STEM education in schools and careers advice must be improved. But industry cannot continue to rely on government to solve the problem. There also needs to be a ‘pull’ strategy that engages students through close collaboration between schools and companies,” Crittenden said.

“Identifying and developing skills should start in school. Students of all ages need to be excited by the opportunities available in welding, and in trades more broadly. Industry and schools need to work together to develop and deliver programs which engage, excite and attract students.”

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