Rapid growth in technology-driven jobs makes STEM learning a priority

The Learn@Bosch program aims to spark enthusiasm for STEM learning.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related occupations have a 1.6 times higher growth rate than non-STEM jobs in Australia. This is according to an analysis of labour force data by the Department of Jobs and Small Business, which indicates that between November 2013 and November 2018, employment in STEM occupations grew by 16.5 per cent.

With more Australian organisations, universities and businesses introducing Industry 4.0 models into their daily processes, the need for STEM related jobs is expected to keep rising. The Department of Jobs and Small Business projects that STEM occupations will grow by 10.8 per cent by May 2023, which is another 271,300 people who are work-ready with STEM skills at hand. Non-STEM jobs are projected to grow by 6.1 per cent, 614,900 people, over the same period.

With STEM jobs taking leaps in the Australian workforce, organisations and businesses are recognising the need to teach younger generations the importance these roles will play when they enter the workforce in just a few years’ time.

Australia’s national science research agency, CSIRO, is gearing secondary school students up for careers in STEM with the establishment of Generation STEM. The program aims to attract, support, retain and train students in STEM at school and into further education to lead them into STEM jobs. Currently the program is available to New South Wales (NSW) students, but CSIRO is striving to adopt it in other states.

CSIRO education and outreach director Mary Malcahy said the NSW government made a $25 million endowment to the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) to establish Generation STEM, as technology is changing the working landscape.

“As we move into an era of fast-paced technological disruption, a STEM-skilled, innovation-capable workforce will be integral to enabling the growth of our nation and economic prosperity.

“There is a clear current and future need for STEM-skilled talent. STEM skills are already in high demand and growing,” said Malcahy.

Not only is there a growing demand for STEM-skilled employees, but the number of students taking on STEM subject is declining.

Australia’s National Science Statement 2017 indicated that participation in STEM subjects in Australian schools has been declining, with enrolments in these subjects at the lowest level in 20 years. Australia’s performance in STEM subjects is also slipping. In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia’s performance in school level scientific literacy and mathematics is reported to have declined not only relative to other participating countries, but also in absolute terms.

Malcahy said the decline in STEM participation is a topic that has been widely canvassed. “We know there are many things that may deter a student from choosing a STEM education pathway. A large number of students are not aware of the rich variety of STEM careers available to them in their local community. There are also students who don’t realise the importance of STEM subjects in achieving their future career ambitions,” she said.

“Generation STEM will not only drive an increase in STEM career aspirations, but also understanding of manufacturing careers, pathways and job opportunities in local communities. It will attract more diverse, high-potential students into STEM pathways and build a relevant talent pipeline to meet the current and future needs of the manufacturing industry,” she explained.

Connecting with industry 

Generation STEM connects schools with employers, helping to increase understanding of pathways and career opportunities. With that in mind, Malcahy said the program calls for industry involvement to ensure this initiative prepares the next generation with the relevant skills to address current and future
labour needs.

“The manufacturing industry is a major player in the STEM arena and will be integral to helping us increase the number of STEM-capable citizens in NSW,” she said.

Companies that are heavily involved in automation, robotics and other Industry 4.0-driven areas are taking on the challenge of growing Australia’s STEM-skilled workforce. Bosch Australia is one of these companies. It offers programs to students at an even younger age than secondary school. The company hosts a Learn@Bosch program for 11-12-year-olds. Students visit the headquarters in Clayton and experience future technologies such as robotics, connected manufacturing, augmented reality, automated driving and an introduction to coding.

Bosch piloted the program in 2018 with 17 schools and 1000 students, and the aim is to get 34 schools and 1500 students on board in 2019.

Bosch Australia corporate affairs manager, Mounir Kiwan, said as the company recognises that STEM based jobs will make up 75 per cent of its future workforce, which is consistent with predications from the federal government on the broader workforce needs.

“We also learnt that lots of young people lose interest in STEM by the time they are 15, so Learn@Bosch aims to spark enthusiasm at a young age that hopefully will continue into their studies at a high school and university level,” said Kiwan.

At a university level, Bosch works with most major universities to support their professional placement programs and offers internships across all business units. At any given time, Bosch Australia has 50 to 60 students working as interns in manufacturing, engineering, trade sales, administration and marketing. This represents nearly eight per cent of the company’s workforce.

Students at Bosch are offered opportunities to interact directly with Bosch president Gavin Smith. They are also given public speaking experience, CV and LinkedIn tips, and a range of programs in corporate social responsibility and volunteering activities including with the Learn@Bosch program.

Kiwan said manufacturing is increasingly becoming connected through Industry 4.0, which is an area where STEM skills will play an important part. “Most future roles will require some STEM skills – be it in coding, robotics, automation or just the ability to read and understand data in a connected world. This is especially true of manufacturing where increased levels of robotics, automation and data analysis will become the norm.

“One area that Bosch is heavily investing in is automated and connected driving where mechatronics, software developers, robotics, data science and mathematics will play an important part of our future workforce,” said Kiwan.

Learning with a company

Support for undergraduates and graduates is also important to Beckhoff Automation, which offers four internships programs a year. Interns, who mainly work in the electrical or electromechanical disciplines, learn about modern industrial automation techniques and use this knowledge to complete a project of their choosing. Previous projects have been 3D printing, robotics and industrial communications.

Beckhoff Automation managing director, Nick Psahoulias, said the company has also helped Australian universities introduce dedicated courses for industrial engineering. These courses focus on the practical needs of automation, robotics and machine design in a modern factory.

“STEM subjects encourage students to think for themselves and to create a better way of undertaking a task or problem. In the industry, this constructive thinking allows graduates to challenge the status quo in their organisation or process; testing it against newer ideas, and creating opportunities for the betterment of the company as well as the wider community.

“Traditional manufacturing needs to adapt in order to survive, and this is why Industry 4.0 and IoT is so important in today’s manufacturing environment. Graduates of STEM subjects are poised to drive this change in manufacturing,” said Psahoulias.

Internationally, Beckhoff offers practice-integrated engineering training in cooperation with the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences. Students have a practical internship with the company and a theoretical phase at the university. The students are remunerated by Beckhoff throughout the full duration of the course. After 3.5 years, they graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering degree.

“We see a clear and immediate need for more students to get involved in STEM subjects, as this knowledge brings greater opportunities for entrepreneurs and leaders,” said Psahoulias.

“STEM courses are developing some amazing talent with a great depth of knowledge in their respective disciplines. To better utilise this depth of knowledge, we also need some diversity to understand our impact on other systems or processes. In particular, collaborative manufacturing and harnessing IoT for a more transparent manufacturing environment,” he said.

With industries and organisations ensuring STEM learning plays a large role in their entities, companies such as Bosch Australia and Beckhoff Automation hope the future workforce will be set up to take on the challenge of a growing list of STEM occupations.