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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 66

Mrs ANDREWS (McPhersonAssistant Minister for Science) (15:52): I am delighted to be speaking on today's MPI because I, along with my coalition colleagues, understand the importance of education for the jobs of the future. That is particularly what I would like to speak about today. We have heard from the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, who spoke broadly about education and the funding commitments of this government. I would like to speak about education in the context of the jobs of the future—our need to increase STEM skills and the action that the government is taking to address the significant skills shortage that we have in the STEM areas.

I would like to start with a few statistics. It is always good to set the scene so that we understand what the problem is and what we need to do to at least start addressing some of these significant issues. We do not know exactly what the jobs of future are going to be—that is well recognised—but we do know that three in every four jobs of the future are going to require STEM skills. We know that jobs requiring STEM skills grew 50 per cent faster than other jobs between 2006 and 2011. This is certainly going to continue in future. We also know that, despite this, employers are having great difficulty in employing people with the skills that they need to undertake these jobs. We know that demand for workers in information and communications technology doubled between 1999 and 2012, but during that period applications for tertiary ICT courses declined. At the same time there were fewer students studying science and maths subjects at school than there had been before.

There are some interesting statistics to support the point that I have just made. If we compare the number of students studying maths and science in 1992 and 2012—effectively, over a 20-year period—we know that there were 30,800 more students in year 12 in 2012 than in 1992, but there was a significant decrease in the number of those students who were studying science and maths. There were 8,000 fewer physics students, 4,000 fewer chemistry students and 12,000 fewer biology students. So, at a time when the number of students in total increased, there was a significant decrease in the number of students studying those science subjects.

We also know that there was a drop in the number of students taking intermediate and advanced maths, but there was an increase in the number taking the less advanced levels of maths. Whilst that is a positive, it indicates that we do have a problem with students not taking the higher level maths but going for the less advanced. It becomes a real problem if those students are going to go on and study science and maths at university, because they do not have the core skills that they need to be able to undertake those courses. They are immediately in a position where they have to undertake bridging courses or courses in maths just to bring their skills up to the level they need to do courses such as engineering.

We know that there is an issue. I am conscious that I have only a five-minute speaking spot on this MPI. There is so much that I could say on this subject. I want to move to the actions that this government is taking to address the significant skills shortage. In December last year the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science launched the National Innovation and Science Agenda. For those who have not read it, I do encourage you to look in depth at this agenda, and to look specifically at what we are doing to meet the skill needs of the future. We have committed a total of slightly over $112 million to preparing our workforce for the jobs of the future. That comprises some new initiatives—time is running away from me at the moment, so I will need to be brief—including $51 million to equip our young Australians to create and use digital technologies, over $13 million to expand opportunities for women in STEM and $48 million to inspire STEM literacy.

So it is not correct to say that we are not taking action. We are taking action. We are focusing on the skills of the future and making sure that we are putting money into addressing the skills shortage that we have now, so that over time we will have a skilled workforce here in this country.