How can we engage girls early to help solve the STEM skills shortage?

Australia is on the verge of major opportunity – but also potential crisis. The last three years of the pandemic have been incredibly disruptive across all parts of our society, but they have also had one positive impact. That is, accelerating digital transformation and innovation agendas.

As our lives shifted online, governments and business had to move quickly to keep up. Overall, the pandemic has created a landscape that offers incredibly fertile ground for digital innovation and development. However, the big question for our nation is, do we have the pipeline of qualified people to keep up – not only for the rest of this decade, but beyond?

Many experts are worried the answer to that question is ‘no’. There’s already been a lot of discussion about the current IT skills shortage across much of the economy, and for the education system, that represents a significant challenge. Competition for qualified technology professionals is already fierce, and it’s only going to increase.

The Technology Council of Australia projects one million people will be employed in tech-related roles in Australia by 2025. The number is expected to reach 1.2 million by 2030 – just as today’s early secondary school students are settling into the workforce.

Of course, it’s not just the technology sector that will be impacted by the skills shortage. STEM skills are going to be vitally important to the future productivity of a number of industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, mining and retail – not to mention defence and national security.

The Federal Government has concerns that demand for skilled workers is going to outstrip supply, which will become a major inhibitor for driving forward our national tech and innovation agenda. The situation won’t be helped by the so-called science and tech ‘brain drain’ facing our nation: highly skilled workers who are fleeing overseas for better jobs, pay and conditions – particularly in the US and Europe.

Both the government and industry are concerned. The skills shortage dominated discussions at the recent Jobs and Skills Summit. Meanwhile, in early September, Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP, announced the Federal Government will review existing Government programs to determine how they can support greater diversity in Australia’s science and technology sectors.

The announcement underlines the Government’s commitment to supporting pathways for women and girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Women are incredibly under-represented in the STEM sector, making up just 16 percent of people with STEM qualifications.
Said Minister Husic:

“Improving diversity in our science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce is not only the right thing to do, it will also deliver a huge boost to our national economy – $60 billion over the next 20 years.”

“Breaking the back of a decade long science and tech skills shortage will be a tough job – but a necessary one.”

The review will look at the delivery and impact of existing programs under the Government’s Women in STEM program and other initiatives. It will also examine the barriers that limit participation and retention of women and other under-represented groups in STEM professions – and make concrete recommendations to address those barriers.

The question remains for educators: how confident are you that your school’s programs are sparking interest in – and aptitude for – critical STEM-related professions?
And then there is the $60 billion question – how do we encourage more diversity across these skillsets, from an early age?

What does this mean for STEM in secondary schools?

There is no single answer to this very complex issue. However, for secondary schools there is a significant opportunity to inspire and encourage girls to become confident and enthusiastic about STEM from a young age. Working in partnership with parents and industry, we believe we can shift the dial on female representation in STEM careers – and that work starts now.

In general, we can help pique student interest in STEM right across the board by embedding hands-on learning at the heart of everything we do. There is only so much a student can do by reading a book or listening to a teacher. At some stage, those skills need to be transferred and applied to a real-world, hands-on environment. This helps students develop problem-solving skills, encourages them to ask questions and embeds critical knowledge.

Others will be re-energised in an existing subject because they’ve seen the real-world applications, which helps them understand why they are learning what’s in the school curriculum. It can even spark an interest in a subject that the student previously didn’t feel.

The second key point is that of representation. We believe strongly in the importance of introducing role models – particularly for groups that are under-represented in the STEM professions, including females – at critical points in their journey through secondary school.

A great example of this: We recently organised an educational workshop for a group of female students at a large aircraft manufacturer. We arranged for a female test pilot to deliver a talk and answer questions from the group.

The feedback we had from the students was so positive. They were fascinated to hear from the pilot and to hear about the many different careers in STEM at that one site alone – from the hands-on excitement of flying planes, to data science and analytics, through to cybersecurity and business support.

One student even told us that she had finally found the career she wanted to pursue – as an engineer in aircraft manufacturing. The workshop really changed the game for that group, and we were so proud to be involved in it!

How can we help?

Latitude Group Travel is Australia’s leading provider of STEM tours for late primary and secondary school students. We’re committed to helping teachers and their students bring their classroom learnings to life by creating memorable and unique experiences. Our itineraries allow your group to take in iconic sights combined with as many classes, workshops, themed guided tours or subject related activities as you wish.

To find out more:

Tour Brochures – Request a copy of any of our tour STEM brochure here by filling out the form – we’ll send it to you via email
Get in touch to find out how to claim the discount for your school.

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