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STEM skills:


Strong science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills, are extremely important for the knowledge economy.

While often associated with the university sector, the report Australia’s STEM Workforce released by the Office of the Chief Scientist on Australia’s STEM workforce shows that the vocational education and training (VET) sector provides more than two thirds of Australia’s STEM workforce.

However, different industries have different levels of STEM needs and more work needs to be done with the relevant training packages to specify realistic standards for STEM-related competency requirements.

Industry skills needs

Generic skills

In their 2018 Skills Forecasts, IRC’s ranked a series of 12 generic skill categories, in priority order.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills received an average ranking of 8th (out of 12) across all skills forecasts.

Priority skills

STEM skills were also identified, but only in a few instances, by industries that reported on specific priority skills in their 2018 Skills Forecasts.

While not highly ranked across all industries, STEM skills are a high priority for a handful of industries, including:

  • Health, specifically within the following industry sector:

    • Technicians Support Services.
  • Manufacturing, specifically within the following industry sectors:

    • Metal, Engineering and Boating
    • Textiles, Clothing and Footwear
    • Furnishing.

Interestingly, the value of STEM skills may, in fact, be under-reported in Skills Forecasts – this is supported by a statement in the Furnishing IRC’s 2018 Skills Forecast, which notes that employers believe “LLN [language, literacy and numeracy] and STEM are fundamental skills applicants should possess before they apply for work”. Which explains why STEM skills were not ranked as highly by the Furnishing industry, and perhaps by other industries also.

Case studies

Textiles, Clothing and Footwear

The Textiles, Clothing and Footwear industry is grouped into three broad areas:

  • production of clothing, textiles, footwear, leather goods and technical textiles
  • provision of services including dry cleaning operations, laundry operations and footwear repairs
  • processing of natural (wool, cotton and leather) and synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and shade cloth.

This industry is evolving, partly due to new technologies and materials such as wearable textiles, which has led to further increases in the demand for a STEM-skilled workforce.

According to the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear IRC’s 2018 Skills Forecast:

Research by the former Department of Employment found that more than two-thirds of Australian employers place at least as much emphasis, if not more, on employability skills as they do on technical skills. This was further reinforced during industry consultations, with calls for soft skills and STEM skills to feature more prominently in training for the industry’s future skill needs.

Consequently, in their 2018 Skills Forecast the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear IRC identified STEM skills as one of the top four training priorities for the next three years.

The forecast goes on to explain that:

The Food, Fibre and Timber Industries Training Council conducted STEM skills research, and these came up as crucial skills required by the industry. This was further supported during industry consultations to inform this Skills Forecast.

STEM skills have been identified, during consultations, as being highly regarded by industry.


Industry feedback indicates that learners attracted to the industry often lack sound STEM skills, which are required in the workplace across most occupations to allow graduates to be effective workplace contributors and successfully undertake further formal training. Industry consultations identified that some newer students do not seem to appreciate that they need sound STEM skills to successfully undertake higher-level qualifications.

Interestingly, despite the demand for STEM skills outlined above, the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear IRC ranked STEM skills as their 8th highest priority in their generic skills rankings. The rationale for this can be drawn from the quote below:

On reflecting on their rankings, the TCF IRC… asserted that industry assumed new workers already had the necessary STEM and LLN skills before commencing work (Textiles, Clothing and Footwear IRC’s 2018 Skills Forecast).

Updated: 17 Dec 2018
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