Right now, governments all over the world seem to agree on one thing — there is not only a damaging shortage of STEM workers in the pipeline, but an entire skills sinkhole that needs to be plugged.

There are many initiatives to drive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) participation in Australia, including changes to education curricula, various programs to encourage digital and technical skills in students, and a push for more collaboration between universities and industry. Despite this, engagement levels remain low and employers struggle to locate appropriate STEM applicants.

Some research would suggest it is not just a lack of STEM-specific skills that are hindering Australia’s ability to remain competitive, however, and despite the unquestionable need to encourage more STEM focus in schools and universities, we may require additional focus on what is normally seen as a completely separate entity – the arts.

Changing the acronym to STEAM shifts the focus to arts education existing in conjunction to – or completely blended with – STEM studies. This could encourage creativity and design, drive more engagement and interest in STEM, while also enhancing cognitive abilities required for science and technology-focused subjects.

As the STEM skills gap is concentrated mostly around technology, with a growing need for systems engineers, developers, data scientists and inventors, the broad inclusion of science notes those with scientific interests and insights will excel in technology and engineering. With arts, the same rule applies.

“While STEM alone needs to be a focus because we are lacking in participation levels, let’s not forget about the creativity side of things,” says Kee Wong, chair of the the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), which has rallied for more government action on the skills crisis.

“STEAM is probably a more well-rounded approach to look at the whole issue. Whatever students do in terms of STEM, if we have that something to instil in them the creativity and the passion, then art and STEM are highly complementary.

“In fact, I think anyone who is artistic and does STEM will be a better STEM leader than someone who lacks creativity.”

It’s a sensible statement if we consider STEM leaders of the future will not only have to carry out their everyday work remit, but also continually innovate to remain competitive.

To attract and mould these future STEM leaders, the focus from universities and industry on simply increasing the take up of technical subjects “misses the mark”, says Rob Hillard, managing partner – consulting, Deloitte.

“It’s not just about technical skills, when you go over human history and you look at contributions across a whole range of fields, you can’t get past the need to be able to have a level of insight in the arts subjects … It is in the adjacency, where you bring the two things together, that’s where the greatest innovation occurs,” he says.

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