STEM skills might be the currency of jobs of the future, but a new report casts doubt on whether there is enough domestic demand in the short-term to cater to an immediate increase in the number of graduates.
The latest instalment of Mapping Australian higher education, produced by the Grattan Institute, appears intent on questioning the logic of driving more students to take science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.
STEM skills are widely promoted as the key to a future in a wide range of industries, which are in the process of being digitally disrupted.
The ACS predicted that Australia would need to find 100,000 extra ICT workers in the next five years alone to keep pace with rising demand for these skills.
But analysis by the Grattan Institute shows that many of these opportunities might not be afforded to domestic graduates.
While graduate engineers generally emerge from domestic universities with “good job prospects”, the same can’t be said for science and IT degree holders, Grattan found.
Science graduates already outnumber available jobs, the Institute said, while “IT graduates seem unable to take full advantage of job growth in the IT industry” as employers look elsewhere for talent.
The Institute said that since 2009, the annual number of domestic students completing a science bachelor degree has increased by more than 4000 to 15,600.
Only 51 percent of science graduates looking for full-time work “found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points below the national average.”
“Low rates of full-time employment shortly after finishing their bachelor degrees suggests that the labour market was overwhelmed by the 35 percent increase in domestic [degree] completions between 2008 and 2014,” Grattan said.
Things improved over time, with four in five employed within a three-year timeframe.
Many graduates also go on to more study rather than seek employment.
“Employment statistics look only at graduates immediately seeking full-time employment, but this is less than half of all students completing science bachelor degrees,” Grattan said.
Unlike in science, there is no shortage of IT jobs for the graduate pool but they are no easier to get.
“Weaknesses in IT university education, and strong competition from a globalised IT labour force, mean that IT graduates do not easily find full-time work,” Grattan found.
“Employers in Australia are dissatisfied with the quality of IT graduates.”
That led to recruitment of people with vocational skills or of international talent on 457 visas.
“Net migration of ICT workers is about six times the number of completing domestic bachelor graduates,” Grattan said.
Grattan is not the only thinktank concerned at the current policy push on STEM.
In June, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) raised concerns about that a lack of demand for STEM skills, combined with an influx of STEM professionals from Asia Pacific nations, could leave domestic graduates in career limbo.
However, those STEM graduates who do find employment tend to earn above-average wages.