The urgent imperative for Australia to train and retain more STEM talent – and bring our STEM talent back from overseas – was tackled today by the Parliamentary Friends of Science group at Parliament House.
The powerful longstanding group of Federal Parliamentarians – co-convened by former Industry and Science Minister Karen Andrews and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles – heard from a stellar expert panel on how to secure Australia’s STEM workforce.
The event was organised for the co-chairs by Science & Technology Australia – and supported by the Academy of Technological Science and Engineering and the Australian Academy of Science.
The event was attended by Parliamentarians including Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing Senator Tim Ayres, Independent Senator David Pocock and Labor MP Mike Freelander, members of the PM’s National Science & Technology Council, STEM sector leaders and senior public servants.
In a panel facilitated by STA CEO Misha Schubert, Parliamentarians heard from NSW Deputy Chief Scientist and Engineer Dr Darren Saunders, CSIRO Executive Professor Elanor Huntington, Superstar of STEM Dr Yee Lian Chew of Flinders University, and STA President and research rockstar Professor Sharath Sriram.
The panel shared insights on the challenges facing Australia’s STEM workforce, how policymakers could entice back the Australian diaspora of skilled scientists and technologists overseas, and how to tap into a broader and more diverse STEM talent pool in the country.
Ngunnawal custodian Serena Williams opened the event with a generous Welcome to Country.
Parliamentary Friends of Science Co-Chair Karen Andrews thanked Professor Brian Schmidt, ANU Vice-Chancellor and Nobel Laureate, who ran an astronomy masterclass on the grass-covered roof of Parliament House as the very first event the Parliamentary group of science champions ran back in 2012.
“As a Minister, it was a focus to make sure we had the STEM workforce we need – it’s an ongoing issue many nations across the world are struggling with.”
Dr Saunders said better tracking of STEM career pathways were urgently needed to help young people understand the breadth of choices and where a STEM career could take them.
“We need more data – especially longitudinal data – to motivate more kids to move into [STEM career] pathways and help them understand the spread of jobs out there, understand what their motivations are for studying it, and matching them to the jobs available,” he said.
Professor Huntington emphasised the importance of crafting bespoke policy interventions for people in different areas of STEM as what works for scientists may not be what works for engineers.
She also encouraged policymakers to ditch the metaphor of STEM careers as a ‘pipeline’, but more like the London Underground system that allows people to get from anywhere to anywhere through a network of interconnections.
“We need to reframe conversations to give people a sense of agency – even if we don’t know what jobs they’ll have. That will give them the confidence to move around that underground system,” she said.
STA President Professor Sharath Sriram urged a ‘grand challenges’ approach to bring scientists together with social scientists to tackle the big issues facing society – and attract and retain top STEM talent.
“We need to frame grand challenges into solvable practical problems to attract talent to solve these challenges in multidisciplinary teams,” he said.
Dr Yee Lian Chew said policymakers should look to build in pathways that encouraged researchers to easily switch into industry and back into research.
“For Early Career Researchers, looking at a pipeline [career approach] is not encouraging – at some point they will have to divert. That is something we can build into the system to encourage people to move from academia to industry and back. That will expand the talent that can be called on,” she said.
STA CEO Misha Schubert said the Parliamentary Friends of Science events tackled complex issues facing our nation’s decision-makers – and delivered timely, actionable, expert advice to busy MPs and Senators.
“In the high-stakes race for global STEM talent, Australia cannot afford to let our competitors steal a march on us,” she said.
“That’s why it’s so important – and so heartening – for Parliamentarians to work together to ensure Australia does everything we can to train more brilliant home-grown talent in these crucial fields. Our country’s future prosperity depends on it.”
“We’re honoured to organise Parliamentary Friends of Science events – and delighted to always see such a strong turnout from the nation’s politicians.”
The event was closed by ATSE CEO Kyle Walker on behalf of the organisations that support Parliamentary Friends of Science – Science & Technology Australia, the Australian Academy of Science, and ATSE.