An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM is the next industry, or set of industries, in need of a larger workforce.

According to a report by the Australian Industry Group, about 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills. These same figures can be applied here in New Zealand.

David Harper, dean of science at Wellington’s Victoria University, notes that STEM study opens up doors to a wide variety of careers.

“STEM graduates are going to be in increasing demand,” he says.

“For example the Royal Society of New Zealand last year issued a report indicating that [we] needed more trained science technicians in the workforce. STEM graduates are also in heavy demand for teacher training. Increasingly, STEM graduates are in demand for policy advice roles and working with a huge range of organisations because of their ability to understand and communicate technical information, guide decision making and [for] their high level of analytical skills.”

David lists careers involving responding to climate change and energy, data and the internet, science communication, gene-editing and psychology as well as the exploration of synthetic biology and immunotherapy as careers with roles that need to be filled now, and in future times.

At Victoria University they are working to ensure their programmes of study are ‘future-proofed’ and responsive to the changing society in which we live.

“In response to the world’s changing demands, we are investing in creating new programmes in distinctive and emerging areas, many of which are unique to Victoria and developed in partnership with industry,” David says.

STEM is currently an industry largely dominated by males. However, David states that study in the area is inclusive, regardless of age, gender and cultural backgrounds.

“We need to ensure that our teaching styles and the culture exhibited in our classes is appropriate and non-threatening to all students irrespective of gender, ethnicity or background. This is something educators have become increasingly aware of and [we] work to ensure an inclusive learning environment is maintained.”

What’s it like working in a STEM industry?

Profile: Rebecca Ward, University of Auckland Graduate in Mechanical Engineering

Rebecca graduated in 2015 and is currently employed at WorleyParsons in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay.

As a female, Rebecca is a rarity in both her industry and at her firm, but she says this should not deter females from pursuing a career in this field.

“It shouldn’t put you off if it’s something you enjoy. I guess you could say the same thing for teaching, which is generally a female dominated industry; that shouldn’t put males off either,” Rebecca says.

Within her role as a graduate mechanical engineer, Rebecca is exposed to a variety of different types of engineering: from mechanical, process and civil to consulting about design and builds.

Rebecca says that the industry is diverse, and no two days are the same.

“I can change projects that I am working on and I can interact with lots of different people… I love not sitting at a desk every day,” she says.

Rebecca encourages school leavers with a passion for maths, science and physics to explore the opportunities offered by careers under the STEM umbrella.

“Stereotypically it’s a hard degree, but I wouldn’t let that deter you. If you enjoy maths and physics, definitely look into it as career because there really are endless opportunities,” Rebecca adds.

More information about programmes of study available at Victoria University Science Faculty can be found at www.victoria.ac.nz/science.

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