Shorten pledges a total AU$2.5b for future jobs with focus on STEM

On Monday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten extended his 'jobs of the future' commitment, pledging an additional AU$31 million in what he says will boost the quality of teaching and resources in the country's universities.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Graduates from Australian universities must be highly skilled, highly adaptable, and technology literate to compete in the world, according to Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

On Monday, Shorten extended his pre-election education commitment, announcing plans to invest a further AU$31 million into the sector, prioritising study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at Australian universities, as well as coding in schools.

Labor has now pledged a total investment of AU$2.5 billion to Australian universities in a bid to drive productivity and growth, and deliver "jobs of the future".

"75 percent of the fastest growing occupations today require skills in STEM and employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at almost twice the pace of other occupations," he said.

"We want to make sure young Australians have the skills to fill those jobs and drive the new economy through their knowledge, innovation, and creativity."

In addition, if elected, Shorten said he will work with universities to establish an independent Higher Education Productivity and Performance Commission to ensure graduates meet the needs of the future economy.

Shorten announced his plan to "kick-start the economy and create jobs" in May, outlining a plan if he were to become prime minister to turn Australia into the "science, start-up, and technology capital" of the region.

At the time, the Labor leader said 3 percent of gross domestic product should be devoted to research and development by the end of the next decade, and pledged to wipe the university debts for 100,000 STEM students.

"Coding is the literacy of the 21st century, and under Labor, every young Australian will have a chance to read, write, and work with the global language of the digital age," Shorten said.

"Digital technologies, computer science and coding, the language of computers and technology, should be taught in every primary and every secondary school in Australia, and a Shorten Labor government will make this a national priority. We will work with the states and territories and the national curriculum authority to make this happen."

Shorten's additional pre-election commitment comes on the same day as the federal government announced a Cabinet reshuffle.

On Monday morning newly elected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield would pick up his previous role as communications minister, the role Turnbull resigned from last Monday after announcing he would contest then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the leadership position. Fifield is also the new minister for the arts.

Similarly, Christopher Pyne has moved from minister for education and training to minister for industry, innovation, and science. Turnbull said it highlights how important the government believes it is to invest in science, promote STEM education, and support startups.

"If we want to remain a prosperous, first-world economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive. Above all, we must be more innovative," he said.

"We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We're not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it."

Shorten previously slammed the Abbott government for what he had labelled as a "missed opportunity" by not placing a greater focus on introducing coding to schools as part of the 2015 Budget; at the time he said it was important that the current education curriculum pre-emptively equip school children with coding skills for future jobs.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) published its major research report Australia's future workforce? earlier this year, calling on Australians to ensure that the nation is technologically ready for the workforce of the future.

According to the think tank, more than five million jobs -- almost 40 percent of Australian jobs that exist today -- have a moderate to high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years, citing technological advancements as the reason.

Shorten believes two in every three jobs in the future in Australia will require a university degree, adding his government will set an "ambitious goal" to increase the number of students completing their study by 20,000 graduates a year from 2020.

"Recent figures show that more students are leaving university, with a debt but no degree; the trend is even more concerning when it comes to disadvantaged students in Australia," he said. "Our focus as a nation must shift from enrolment, to completion; these graduates won't just fill the jobs of the future, they will help create them as our economy transitions."

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