THE recent announcement that BAE Systems and aviation servicing company TAE have been granted the maintenance contracts for Australia’s fleet of Joint Strike Fighters is a welcome announcement for the Hunter.
This will be a massive boost to our region both economically and for our region’s ongoing capability, coming from construction upgrades to begin in 2015 and a host of long-term, skilled roles following shortly thereafter.
The skills that are needed for these jobs come from science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and recently there has been a lot of interest in their importance.
Recently the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, released a report saying that a lack of STEM skills among the current and emerging workforce was holding Australia back, and that STEM skills were essential for Australia’s future wellbeing. He called for a more engaging STEM curriculum to attract students, and to increase the STEM teaching workforce.
His words are backed up by Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb, who has been calling for a national STEM strategy to avoid workforce skill gaps and ensure we remain competitive as a country.
Clearly we are living in a world that requires a greater awareness and understanding of technology. It appears increasingly likely that the jobs of the future will require all of us to have a deeper appreciation of the role that technology plays in helping us become more efficient and effective.
With predictions that up to half a million process-oriented jobs will shortly be replaced by automation including robotics, industrial design and systems processing, it is vital that as a region we ensure that our workforce is competitive, adaptable and tech savvy.
As the manager of RDA Hunter’s ME Program, that promotes careers in manufacturing and engineering, I have taken great pleasure in witnessing a significant turnaround in the HSC subject selections of our region’s young people. Against declining rates of STEM study across the state and nation, the Hunter Region has been bucking the trend.
In the past four years ME Program high schools from public and private sectors, in partnership with local industry, have worked to embed technology such as 3D printers, robotics, programming and unmanned aerial vehicles into their STEM curriculums.
The result has been some profound shifts in the preparedness of students to follow a STEM pathway. ME schools in the Hunter have increased the subject selection of physics and engineering to a point where students are now significantly more likely to select these subjects than the state average.
Our region’s industry partners have seized the opportunity the ME Program provides to secure a skilled future workforce, meaning many of our Hunter schools are able to offer contextualised learning experiences.
Ashley Cox is the manager of Regional Development Australia Hunter’s ME Program