The STEM imperative: future proofing Australia’s workforce

13 May 2015

Like many western economies, Australia is facing some tough challenges. After a sustained period of economic prosperity, Australia has faced slowing growth, declining real wages, falling productivity and the end of the mining boom.

At the same time, businesses are progressively coming to terms with the massive disruptive impact that digital technologies are having on their business models, supply chains and customer behaviour. As illustrated by PwC’s Annual Global CEO Surveytechnological advances are rising up the Board agenda, with 58% of the CEOs surveyed globally concerned about the speed of technological change (47% last year), and with a higher proportion of Australian CEOs (67%) registering concern.

As in other countries, these changes are putting major pressure on the Australian workforce to adapt. Building on research undertaken at Oxford University, new analysis by PwC Australia shows that 44 per cent (5.1 million) of current Australian jobs are at high risk of being affected by computerisation and technology over the next 20 years.

As part of this analysis, jobs forecast to decline include accountants, cashiers, sales assistants, administrative workers, secretaries, farm and forestry workers, and factory process workers.  Conversely, occupations that will increase include health professions, carers (for both children and the aged), teachers, engineers and ICT professions.

But in order to realise its potential for innovation, Australia needs an appropriately skilled workforce; a workforce fit for the future. In particular, businesses competing in a global economy driven by data, digital technologies and innovation will need more employees trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Research[1] indicates that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations now require these skills. But unfortunately Australia is lagging on a number of key STEM indicators: STEM university completions are flat; the number of students in their final year of secondary/high school studying STEM subjects is declining; and businesses are struggling to find STEM employees.

Our report highlights that there are many economic benefits of a stronger commitment to STEM (see Table). It helps to meet workforce needs, better equips workers with vital skills for the future and drives innovation and productivity. In turn it can deliver higher economic growth: for instance, our modelling shows that shifting just 1 per cent of the workforce into STEM roles would add $57.4 billion to GDP (net present value over 20 years).

STEM

To deliver on this agenda, however, needs collaboration. Businesses, including PwC, need to take a leading role alongside government and the education sector in order to deliver the STEM outcome that Australia needs to remain a competitive, innovative and prosperous nation.


[1] Becker, K. & Park, K. (2011). “Effects of integrative approaches among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects on students’ learning: A preliminary meta-analysis.” Journal of STEM Education, Volume 12.

Tony Peake  |  Australian Government Leader
Profile | Email |  +61 (3) 8603 6248

 

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