Alarm as STEM support gets the cold shoulder

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

An association representing thousands of engineering, science and IT workers has slammed the government for its failure to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the budget.

Professionals Australia, which claims 25,000 members from various STEM fields, said despite the government racking up nearly $1 trillion in debt there was little to support STEM sectors in a way that would drive economic growth in the post pandemic recovery.

“When flow-on effects are considered, STEM sectors account for over 26 per cent of Australian economic activity, or about $330 billion per year,” said Professionals Australia chief executive Jill McCabe.

“Yet the budget once again neglects to provide investment in the key drivers of economic growth, such as infrastructure, science, innovation, higher education and research.

“The consequences of this failure to invest in these areas will have flow-on consequences for many years to come, undermining the nation’s economic capacity, employment and long-term productivity.”

Professionals Australia chief executive Jill McCabe has slammed the government for failing to support STEM sectors in the budget

A 2020 report from the Australian Government’s Chief Scientist found around 16 per cent of Australia’s labour force had a formal STEM qualification. They worked widely across the economy and typically commanded higher salaries.

But certain groups including women and Indigenous people were underrepresented in STEM, and the overall share of the labour force has not increased.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s third budget handed down Tuesday included a commitment to invest $42.4 million over seven years to the new Boosting the Next Generation of Women in STEM program, which will offer co-funded scholarships for women in STEM in partnership with the private sector.

Ms McCabe welcomed the program but said it should have come alongside more structural equity reforms like superannuation to support women.

Overall, the budget failed to support STEM professionals in a way that would support Australia’s economic recovery and spur long term economic growth, she said.

“The 2020-21 Federal budget fails to invest in the skills of engineers, scientists, ICT professionals, pharmacists and other technical professions by not committing to career-long learning, modular forms of training or re-skilling, to ensure an agile and well-trained workforce is available to lead us into economic recovery,” Ms McCabe said.

“Additionally, no investment has been made to ensure the Australian Public Service is capable of attracting the STEM skills it requires, nor has there been any effort to fund a whole of service STEM workforce plan for the Australian Government.”

The Opposition put innovation programs and clean energy jobs at the centre of its budget reply on Thursday.

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