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Time to tackle skills shortages

Instead of engaging in a shrill debate over the 457 visas, the federal government would be better off tackling the issue of the real need for better science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training to address skills shortages. Australia ImmigrationIf the politicians are serious about developing a high value services economy and driving innovation in our economy, we need to ensure there are enough STEM graduates coming through the system. As we head into a federal election campaign it is vital to remind our political leaders that the investments we make now in STEM education will be what determines our economy's chances of remaining strong. Developing this skills base is the only way to future-proof the Australian economy from further global economic downturns and fluctuations in commodity prices. The government has taken some important steps in this regard, and we welcome the joint funding for the $230 million science and technology precinct in Queensland which will help guarantee the required turnover of Australian STEM workers. However it takes many years for this sort of investment to come to fruition. For most of the past decade, demand for engineers in a range of areas (mechanical, civil, computer) in Australia has outstripped our ability to produce these workers from tertiary institutions, forcing employers to seek skilled labour offshore. Recent reports suggest employers are clamouring to hire information and communications technology graduates but are unable to find a home-grown source for these much-needed skills. Our leaders should not ignore the ever-growing chorus of voices calling for more investment into STEM education to overcome Australia's skills shortfalls. Skills shortfalls of this kind take a long time to fix. As much as a decade of sustained investment is needed to get STEM graduates back to where they need to be to support our economy. The good news is that Australia has the capacity to begin to address this problem immediately, but we need to think more creatively. For example, if the engineering sector could manage a better retention rate for its female workers, and should it successfully attract a higher number of women to the profession, the shortfall would decrease significantly. Last year, a survey showed that a quarter of our female engineers planned to leave the profession. The ingrained masculine culture and expectation accompanying STEM occupations has let women graduates down. Now is the time to get serious about addressing this issue. Engineers Australia has worked hard to break down the stereotypes that engineering is men's work. If we are serious about attracting the best minds to the profession, we need to appeal to men and women. More flexibility in hours and removing the stigma surrounding maternity leave is needed to get women back into the sector. Equal pay must also be addressed; women currently receive a salary that is roughly 8.5 per cent less than their male counterparts. By attracting the best people for the job we will make certain that as current Australian engineers grow older, we have well-trained recruits ready to take their place, to fill the yawning gap of current STEM workers and build a stronger Australia. Source: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/time-to-tackle-skills-shortages-20130409-2hji6.html

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