Australia is actually producing less STEM graduates now than it was 10 years ago

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Australian companies, regardless of industry, are reporting that it’s becoming harder to find staff with suitable skills.
  • That may be due to a mismatch in what Australians are studying compared to the skills demanded by employers.
  • The proportion of Australia’s population aged 20 to 64 with post-school qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields has fallen for both men and women over the past decade.

Australian companies, regardless of industry, are reporting that it’s becoming harder to find staff with suitable skills, according to the latest NAB Business Confidence Survey.

While that could reflect a reduced pool of available workers — Australian unemployment, at 5%, now sits at the lowest level in over six years — it may also be due to a mismatch in what Australians are studying compared to the skills demanded by employers.

This chart from Deloitte Access Economics makes for interesting viewing.

Deloitte Access Economics

It shows the proportion of Australia’s population aged 20 to 64 with post-school qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM for short, comparing the results now to what they were a decade ago.

While men, in comparison to women, still dominate qualifications in these fields, the proportion of the population studying in these areas has actually fallen for both men and women over the past decade.

“The modest decline in interest in STEM fields is a little surprising given the significant focus among governments on promoting them,” says David Rumbens, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics.

“The general consensus among policymakers is that STEM jobs will become more and more important as technology plays an ever-increasing role in the economy, a view backed up by research from Deloitte Access Economics that shows STEM skills are in demand by employers, and even for roles where STEM qualifications are not a prerequisite for the role.”

That may partially explain why Australian businesses are now reporting skill shortages well above the average level seen since the turn of the millennium.

Australians, in a broader sense, may not actually be learning the skills that are required now and in the future.

According to the Australian Government, workers with an education in STEM fields are deemed to be “critically important for our current and future productivity”.

It’s already allocated over $64 million in funding for early learning and school STEM initiatives, a move designed to encourage further study in these fields.

However, while that may help alleviate skill shortages in the future, it will do little to help address the problems of the day.

“For both policymakers and employers, these statistics are worthy of attention, perhaps a little concern, and even further action,” Rumbens says.

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