STEM students need more industry experience


Monday, 31 August, 2015

Australia’s tertiary science and ICT students are being disadvantaged by a lack of industry experience to help them prepare for the workplace after graduating, according to a paper released by the Office of the Chief Scientist.

‘STEM-trained and job-ready’ focuses on the growing need for work-integrated learning (WIL) and puts forward a set of actions that could lift participation in WIL in Australia. It is based on two commissioned surveys: one conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) of university staff and the other by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) involving employers.

Although engineering faculties require all students to complete industry placements in order to graduate, such placements have played a marginal role in science and IT education in Australia. The paper shows that just one in seven undergraduate students in the natural and physical sciences participates in an industry placement, while only three in 100 participate in a placement of 12 weeks or longer. Meanwhile, 73% of IT students participate in projects but only a minority have access to longer term experiences.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, says change is needed, as studies consistently show that industry placements are invaluable to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

“We need industry and universities working better together to prepare our future workers to innovate, collaborate and adapt,” Professor Chubb said.

“In the decades ahead we will need people trained in STEM to be working in every industry, in many roles, including roles we haven’t yet imagined.

“Yet we still offer placements to a minority of science students and they are usually ad hoc.”

So what obstacles are preventing STEM students from completing industry placements? University staff reported a lack of time and resources, as well as low employer participation, while employers were often unsure who to approach.

Professor Chubb has called for business leaders and universities to work together so student industry placements or projects are built into every STEM degree. He stated, “We need industry and universities working better together to prepare our future workers to innovate, collaborate and adapt.”

The paper is available at http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2015/08/occasional-paper-stem-trained-and-job-ready/.

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