The Western Australian government has launched a state STEM skills strategy to help students and the current workforce alike develop science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) skills to prepare for “the jobs of the future”.
The delivery of the strategy over the next four years will be supported by an initial $3.3 million in funding, which will go towards the professional development of up to 1,200 public school teachers in lower socioeconomic areas, mentoring programs, STEM communication, and digital and tech programs.
The four core goals of the strategy, developed by a panel of industry experts put together last year and led by WA Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken, are to prepare students with STEM skills for the jobs of the future; upskill the current workforce with STEM skills; increase the participation of under-represented and disadvantaged groups; and increase “STEM culture” and the community’s recognition of the importance of STEM skills
Dave Kelly, Science Minister, said, “If we want to see our economy grow and to create the jobs of the future, we need to have clear goals and pillars, and now we do. This will be used as a roadmap to help equip all Western Australians, industry and government to adapt to the industries and workplaces of the future.”
Kelly said the panel specifically recognised that lower socioeconomic communities are the least likely to acquire STEM skills.
“That is why the strategy has a focus on these areas to ensure no Western Australian is left behind in the growing innovation economy,” he said.
The government stated that it will be looking to partner with industry to develop and resource future STEM programs; Rio Tinto, for example, recently partnered with South Metro TAFE to develop a curriculum for qualifications in automation.
The launch of the strategy comes as more policymakers recognise Australia’s current situation is rather dire: a Federal Government committee last year warned that there must be more investment in quality STEM education if Australia is to turn back the “decay curve” of STEM-capable students and grow its “nascent but promising” innovation ecosystem.
In a report into its Inquiry into innovation and creativity: workforce for the new economy, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training stated that the “quantity and quality” of Australia’s university STEM graduates is dependent on the quality of STEM education in schools, with the problem here being that the educators undertaking the teaching of STEM subjects are not themselves adequately qualified.
“Unfortunately, in some schools, STEM subjects, particularly maths, are not taught by teachers who have a specific proficiency in those subjects,” said Committee chair Andrew Laming.
Along with the poor quality of education, the Committee heard that other key reasons for this include the fact students don’t perceive the relevance of STEM subjects to their everyday life, and that students believe they will get a higher ATAR score by studying other subjects – particularly as maths isn’t a prerequisite for most tertiary STEM degrees.