Doing a STEM degree doesn’t necessarily mean good job prospects – unless you’re an engineer.
The STEM skills shortage widely reported by the media has always felt like good news for engineers’ job security. STEM jobs are growing at a rate 1.6 times faster than non-STEM jobs, and the Australian Government has allocated more than $64 million to fund early learning and STEM initiatives in schools.
But a new report from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute might just see some STEM undergrads throwing out their science textbooks and making a run for the closest arts lecture theatre.
“Despite claims of a STEM graduate deficiency, science and mathematics graduates actually experienced some of the worst full-time work outcomes, with only 65 per cent finding full-time jobs within four months of graduation,” wrote the report’s authors Alison Pennington and Jim Stanford.
While the report stressed the importance of STEM capabilities in building an innovative and productive economy, it found these so-called ‘hard’ skills had received disproportionate attention.
“The OECD [data] finds, surprisingly, that Australia does not face a shortage of technical skills (which are well-balanced with employer demands),” the pair said.
“Instead, it is more basic and multi-dimensional competencies that are in short supply: things like verbal and reasoning abilities, and basic problem-solving and social skills.
“Despite popular derision of arts degrees, industry leaders now actually want more arts graduates in their workforce, given their training in abstract, critical methods of inquiry.”
So, what about the engineering undergrads?
At this point, it looks as though they can stay put in their advanced fluid dynamics lectures, knowing that, of all the STEM degrees, engineering graduates experienced the strongest demand for their skills.
The report noted that 83 per cent of engineering graduates typically found full-time employment within four months of graduation, on par with graduates of teaching courses, and above that of business and management graduates (sitting at 78 per cent).
Long-term prospects are likely to be even more favourable, with the 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey – Longitudinal showing almost 95 per cent of engineering graduates were employed in full-time roles three years after graduation.
Nonetheless, the Australia Institute’s report urges universities to take heed of the evidence that employers’ strongest demands are for basic and flexible skills like critical thinking, communication and problem-solving.
“In a world of smart machines, STEM skill sets will not be the only route to high-performance, productive work lives,” Pennington and Stanford said.
“We will equally require people educated in the humanities, social sciences and the skills of inquiry: skills that define our ‘humanness’ in an age of machine-learning and artificial intelligence.”