STEM skills, education reform urgently needed for “hyper-connected” workplace future: BCA boss

The
Business Council of Australia’s president has warned that Australia needed to
adjust its education system and workplaces or be overwhelmed within a decade by
technological change.

In
her speech to the National Press Club yesterday, the business lobby group’s head, Catherine
Livingstone, said the importance of digital disruption was something the
country was not prepared for.

It
was essential to reform education, with primary school-level exposure to STEM
(science, technology, engineering and maths) needed. Training and work also needed to be integrated
and continue throughout a worker’s career.

Other
leading figures in business and science have recently lamented the participation
rate in STEM studies.

“Teaching four-year-olds how to code, introducing them to
computational thinking, problem-solving: they’re absolutely capable of it,” The Australian reports Livingstone as saying.

“And
that’s when they should be learning those skills. So I’d like to see that
coming into the curriculum immediately.

“We do see fragmented attempts at individual schools attempting
this but actually we need a broad-based ­approach in the curriculum so that all
schools have that capability.”

The pace of technology adoption in workplaces was another reason
education reform was urgent, said Livingstone. She cited Oxford University research figures suggesting that in the US, 47 per cent of jobs were at risk of
being automated out of existence.

“We need to move urgently from a discussion about protecting the
jobs of today, to creating the jobs of the future,” she said.

“This includes ensuring that there is a workforce skilled in the
attributes required by business.

“Precision
welders and robotics mechanics will be more useful in the growing advanced
manufacturing sector than yet more law graduates for whom there are no jobs.”

Livingstone
admitted that the task of adopting the country’s workforce to the “hyper-connected”
world would take time, with action now meaning having a framework that was “fit for purpose” within a decade.

The consequences of not acting would, however, be dire.

“If we do not [act], we face certain loss
of standard of living and social cohesion,” she said.

Livingstone is also chair of Telstra, and has previously worked as chair of the CSIRO and chief executive of Cochlear.

Image: Cole Bennetts/Fairfax