release concrete recommendations for helping an “unprepared” Australia claw its way out of the STEM skills crisis, as hundreds of government, academic, and industry leaders meet in Sydney to brainstorm solutions.

To be held this Wednesday and Thursday at the Sydney Masonic Centre and streamed online, the ATSE Activate 2022 STEM Symposium will feature dozens of speakers and hundreds of the nearly 900 peer-elected fellows ATSE.

The organisation represents the interests of a scientific and engineering community that has been hobbled by persistently low availability of STEM skills – leaving the country “unprepared for the future,” ATSE president Professor Hugh Bradlow said.

“By 2024, we need 100,000 more digitally skilled workers,” he said. “By 2025, we need 40,000 more engineers. By 2030, up to 30% of existing jobs could be displaced by automation.

“Australia is unprepared for the future and the clock is ticking.”

By holding the event, Bradlow said, “we hope to catalyse action across government, industry and academia for a significantly enhanced technology workforce – informed by our country’s leading and emerging applied scientists, engineers and technologists.”

Speakers at the event will include renewable energy experts like UNSW Sydney’s Professor Xiaojing Hao, ANU Professor Mark Howden, and CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Beth Fulton; deans of engineering faculties at several universities; CSIRO executive director future industries Kirsten Rose and director of science impact & policy Dr Jack Steele; Professor Wei Zhang, founding director of Flinders University’s Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development; and others.

Panel discussions will address a range of topics including how to best develop a skilled STEM workforce; how to raise the bar of digital literacy overall; how to translate and commercialise research through collaboration; how to foster long-term STEM interest within the school-age population; and other issues related to the STEM workforce challenge.

A companion report, entitled Our STEM Skilled Future: An Education Roadmap for an Innovative Workforce, will be released tomorrow with a series of broad and sector-specific recommendations designed to bring consistency to the way STEM subjects are taught, and the way the workforce is developed and reinforced.

Closing the STEM gender gap

Policy makers in STEM-related industries have been working furiously to increase numbers to meet demand, particularly by increasing representation of women that remain marginalised within the STEM workforce.

Recent efforts to boost the representation of women have seen strong responses to hands-on STEM events and scholarships, confirming assertions that the right outreach promises real improvements to the STEM skills gap.

Yet there is still a long way to go: the government’s recently updated STEM Equity Monitor highlighted the persistent gaps within the 1.6 million strong STEM workforce, which despite some bright spots has barely moved the needle on gender equality over the past decade.

Although over 82,000 women began working in STEM occupations between 2016 and 2021, overall just 15 per cent of those working in STEM occupations in 2021 were women, the statistical compendium found – compared with 11 per cent in 2009.

This was higher in the Australian public service, where women comprised 32 per cent of employees working in STEM roles – yet with women still comprising 65 per cent of non-STEM roles, gender equity still has a long way to go.

The figures have prompted a government effort review progress around female participation, with Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic last month saying that “we need to find new ways to call up and skill up Australians from all corners of the community.”

“Women remain chronically underrepresented in STEM,” he continued, adding that “renewed effort is required to address this problem and meet the growing demand for workers in the tech and science sectors.

“Breaking the back of a decade long science and tech skills shortage will be a tough job – but a necessary one.”