CSIRO partners with Ai Group to increase industry interaction in schools

In a bid to tackle the looming skills shortage, the CSIRO has partnered with Ai Group to increase the number of industry professionals showcasing real-life science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills in Australian schools.

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) has partnered with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in a bid to see businesses increase their presence in Australian schools.

The Ai Group, which represents more than 60,000 businesses, wants the number of industry professionals showcasing real-life science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills and associated careers in schools to increase, hoping to generate interest and motivation in STEM through real-world exposure.

With 75 percent of the fastest growing occupations requiring STEM knowledge and skills, the Ai Group said the number of students leaving university is not keeping up with the demand.

CSIRO Education Manager Mary Mulcahy said Australia needs to tackle the decreasing interest in STEM subjects early on in schooling to ensure the future workforce pipeline can meet future demand.

"Our evidence shows that bringing real-life, hands-on STEM into classrooms results in students being more engaged in these subjects," Mulcahy said.

"Letting students know about the diversity of careers available to them is also important -- jobs from accounting, construction, nursing to hair dressing all use STEM skills."

CSIRO's partnership with Ai Group is through the Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) program which links practising scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and IT professionals with students.

Of the 1,972 active program partnerships across Australia, Ai Group said that only 13 percent of STEM professionals come from industry and corporate businesses.

Cisco Australia Vice President and SMiS mentor Sae Kwon said kids are fascinated with the industry, and that encouraging the "innovators of tomorrow" is a great privilege.

"It's great to be able to talk about the cool jobs available, the great people you get to meet, the many countries you can visit and all the fun you can have working in STEM," Kwon said. "I was certainly not aware of the cool jobs that exist in STEM until I started working in the field."

Last month, the federal government announced that it was providing AU$10 million in funding for CSIRO to extend the SMiS program, which forms part of the AU$110 million STEM funding Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull allocated in December under his AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

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 that young Australians were 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.

Speaking last week in Sydney, Rob Hillard, managing partner at Deloitte Consulting, said the issue Australia is currently facing when it comes to preparing for the "workforce of the future" is the ambiguity around what those jobs will actually be.

"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."