Ambiguity turning students away from STEM: Deloitte

Rob Hillard, managing partner at Deloitte Consulting, believes it is the ambiguity of a future job description that is holding students back from embracing a career in STEM.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

With various estimates pinning the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) shortfall in the "workforce of the future" somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 people, Rob Hillard, managing partner at Deloitte Consulting, believes the issue Australia is currently facing when it comes to preparing for this is the ambiguity around what those jobs will actually be.

"We are all looking for the workforce of the future but there is a shortage of people to serve the needs that we can see in our workforces in the next 10 years," he said. "Whatever the number is, however you calculate it, it's absolutely a substantial number."

Speaking at the Day of STEM launch in Sydney on Thursday, Hillard said that just like what those before faced in the 1960s, nobody knows what the jobs of the future look like.

"The problem is we're dealing with tremendous ambiguity and ambiguity creates uncertainty in the minds of students and is absolutely a turn off to people going through STEM pathways and finding these jobs of the future," he said. "And that creates a huge amount of fear for students today."

He did say however, that Australia's workforce does not need any more job ready graduates, rather those that are "future ready".

"Graduates who are capable of learning, because the jobs those graduates will be doing, even just a couple of years into their careers, have not been invented yet," Hillard said.

"A few things we learnt watching the 1960s, number one they had jobs at the end of the 60s ... but you could not have in 1962 defined exactly what skill a kid needed to have in order to be guaranteed a job."

As previously highlighted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the world is facing a global skills shortage. Infosys also reported earlier this year that young Australians were ill-prepared for the digital economy that stands before them.

Infosys found 50 percent of young Australians believe their education did not prepare them for what to expect from working life, and 58 percent of respondents expect those with computer science skills to be more likely to have a successful career.

Despite this view, young Australians were found to be the least confident of their technical abilities and job prospects in the innovation age, and whilst they are highly aware of the need to learn new skills, Australians are also the least interested in improving their STEM knowledge.

Less than a fifth wanted to develop data skills, build mobile apps, or learn how to code; even fewer -- just 3.41 percent -- had a desire to work for a startup over a large company.

"The next generation has the opportunity of the Internet of Things, the connectivity of devices right across the country -- areas that Australia has an absolute natural advantage in," Hillard added.

"We are world leaders when it comes to the resources sector, mining, gas, our ability to be able to move things around the country, our supply chains, we can take technology, export it, and our people can be involved in every aspect of that and that's not necessarily just sitting behind a computer screen.

"Thomas Davenport organised the future workforce into three groups: Those who are going to work for the machines, those who are going to work with the machines, and those who are going to work on the machines -- I want our economy to be part of the last group."

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