How studying STEM in senior years opens doors

UTS Insearch Associate Dean of Studies
UTS Insearch Associate Dean of Studies

By Sally Payne, Associate Dean of Studies

Choosing final-year school subjects is a challenging time for students – students may be tempted simply to avoid Maths or Science and therefore miss out on the foundation for many future opportunities.

According to a recent SEEK Employment Report, the top areas of job growth are Mining, Resources & Energy (54 per cent), Trades & Services (31 per cent), Engineering (25 per cent), Science & Technology (22 per cent) and Government & Defence (21 per cent) – many of these require good Science and Maths. Australian executives are also concerned about facing a talent shortage and people with Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering (STEM) degrees are in demand worldwide.

A report by professional services firm PwC argues that learning STEM helps to future-proof students in the 21st century, with 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations needing STEM. Most businesses are part of the global economy, and are driven by data and digital technology. This means many have an acute need for STEM-trained employees in a variety of roles. By studying STEM, students can pursue careers which will support Australia in a competitive advantage globally, the report says, and it will contribute to our ongoing innovation, productivity and economic growth.

Maths and Sciences also teach students valuable skills, applicable to professions other than the ‘typical’ STEM careers. Students learn how to analyse and hypothesise, problem-solve, communicate complex ideas and think critically. These skills are vital in many different careers - from architecture to management or running their own business. 

When students are selecting their final-year subjects, if they are considering further education they should look up the degree they are interested in and see if it has required or recommended subjects. Some university engineering courses require students to have a STEM background, and have specific prerequisites levels of Maths and Physics. Nursing recommends that students take at least one Maths and one Science subject.

A strong foundation in Maths and Science helps people function more effectively in everyday life and appreciate the world around them - understanding topics as varied as interest rates, climate change or measurements all require some level of Maths.

That said, it’s also important for students to focus on subjects they are interested in - otherwise they’re less likely to do well or obtain the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) they hope for. But Maths and Science shouldn’t mean boring - just look towards Australian of the Year, quantum physicist Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons, or Australia's 2018 Local Hero and Maths teacher extraordinaire, Eddie Woo for inspiration.

Balancing the arts

Striking the right balance is important. NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes is reported as saying recently that he believed there was an over-emphasis on STEM to the exclusion of subjects in the arts and humanities, arguing that education was not just about funnelling graduates into a job but preparing the next generation to build a more just and engaged society.

While I tend to agree with the Minister about the purpose of education in building an engaged society and preparing for the future - it is also about acquiring knowledge and skills, in which ever discipline that may be.

Students have time to choose their subjects thoughtfully. Studying Maths and Science in years 11 and 12 is a personal choice – but we should not forget that STEM is undeniably very important for all of us in the future.

This article first appeared on Education Review on 7 June 2018. 

Attributed Author

Sally Payne, Associate Dean of Studies, UTS Insearch

Sally is the Chair of the Learning and Teaching Committee and Deputy Chair of the Academic Board at UTS Insearch.  Prior to becoming the Associate Dean of Studies, Sally was the Program Manager for the Diploma of IT and the UTS Foundation Studies program where she was responsible for the academic management of the pathway programs.

Sally is also the mother of three children who have completed the HSC in the past seven years.