If you’re not familiar with the term STEM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths, you soon will be as voices from industry, education and government gather in chorus to declare its indispensability for Australia’s future prosperity in an increasingly high-tech world.

This week, representatives from all of these groups gathered in Melbourne at the Improving STEM in Education conference to discuss, despair and share thoughts about how to get our kids, their parents and teachers excited about STEM.

Participation in intermediate maths has fallen from 38% to 27%. Advanced maths fell from 16% to 9%. On the flipside, entry-level maths has increased from 38% to 49%.

Only 18% of Australia’s workforce has STEM qualifications, but 65% of our economic growth is due to technical advances, underpinned by STEM skills.

After decades of relying on natural resources, it’s now becoming apparent that Australia’s economic comfort over the last four decades masked a decline in innovation. A report by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has warned that Australia could fall out of the top 20 economies unless we remove our reliance on resources and invest in STEM.

Tony Peake, National Leader – Government PwC Australia and conference speaker predicted the future workforce of Australia will have little similarity to what we know now.

“Half of the middle-skill jobs of today won’t exist in 13 years. 42% of Australian jobs are at risk of being digitised. But in 2012, just 16% of Australian’s graduated from STEM courses,” said Peake.

“The decline in interest and investment in STEM began in the height of our mining and construction boom, even though the need for engineers was increasing at this time.”

STEM is gaining traction within industry because key groups in industry and government have recognized that it is a vital ingredient for a prosperous future.

The changing nature of work means we’re seeing an explosion in consumer data that somebody needs to understand and analyse. We live in a world of connectivity that allows global collaboration and where machine learning is changing the face of the labour market. Supplies chains are set for massive disruption with the increasing affordability of 3D printing which could mean the end of a transportation industry.

“A STEM-skilled workforce is essential – Australia needs to position itself as a leader in solving some of the world’s problems,” Peake concludes. “If we can reverse these trends, it will affect living standards in the future.”

Showcasing the careers of the future and equipping classrooms with inspiring stories, dynamic resources and enthusiastic teachers might be one way to stem tide away from STEM. See www.refractionmedia.com.au/products for STEM focused career guides, magazine and classroom resources.

– Karen Taylor-Brown, Publisher, Refraction Media