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Why STEM is important

A STEM-educated workforce will play an important role in building a robust future economy. But don’t just take our word for it – here are the numbers.

Since the industrial revolution, economic growth throughout the world has been driven largely by science, engineering, and technological innovation. We’re currently in the midst of what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Building off the digital revolution (the explosion in electronics and IT for automation), this new wave involves a blurring of the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres: think computational design, advanced materials and synthetic biology. The World Economic Forum believes that countries that can best adapt will be most able to compete in the global economy.

It’s vital for Australia to have a qualified STEM workforce to best respond to this new revolution. In a recent report on Australia’s STEM Workforce released by Australia’s Office of the Chief Scientist, STEM skills are described as ‘the lifeblood of emerging knowledge-based industries’, like biotech and ICT. STEM also provides a competitive advantage to established sectors, such as agriculture, resources and health.

Right now, advanced sciences are estimated to underpin 15–22% of Australia’s economic activity, according to the Australia's STEM workforce report mentioned above. Growing our qualified STEM workforce could have even more benefits. A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report estimates that changing just 1% of Australia’s workforce into STEM roles would add $57.4 billion to the GDP.

About 17% of the Australian workforce has STEM qualifications, putting us behind many comparable countries. To ensure future economic growth, Australia needs to keep investing in educating the next generation of STEM professionals. A recent update of the Australian Curriculum includes the allocation of $64 million to fund school and early learning initiatives (Embracing the Digital Age and Inspiring STEM Literacy) to support students’ STEM outcomes, as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. With secondary students showing declining participation in advanced science and maths courses, it’s essential that we prioritise our national participation in STEM.

STEM stats

  • Advanced physical and mathematical sciences make a direct contribution to the Australian economy of around $145 billion a year (Australia’s Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016).
  • By 2030, it’s estimated that we’ll spend 77% more time using STEM skills than we do today (Foundation for Young Australians, 2017).
  • Within the next 10 to 20 years, 40% of Australia’s workforce will be replaced by automation, according to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia.
  • By May 2023, the Department of Jobs and Small Business projects that STEM occupations will grow by 10.8% (271,300 people), whereas all non-STEM jobs are projected to grow by 6.1% (614,900 people) over the same period (ABS, 2018).
  • ‘Sixty-five percent of Australia’s economic growth per capita in the past 50 years can be attributed to improvements in the use of capital, labour and technological innovation made possible in large part by STEM capability’ (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2014).
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