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With National Skills Week taking place from 23 to 29 August, Weld Australia is calling on industry, schools and governments to work together to develop and deliver Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) programs that engage, excite and attract students.

According to Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, a vibrant STEM program implemented across schools nationally will help children and parents alike understand the opportunities available—the future of employment in industries like welding is not hard, dirty work carried out in a dark workshop.

In this day and age, it is an industry focused on IT and programming skills, using robots and co-bots, and implementing Industry 4.0 concepts.

“STEM skills are crucial to the changing nature of work. Digital technology is now a part of our everyday lives, and is impacting the world of work in ways never experienced before,” Crittenden said.

“Our young people need to acquire complex, high order technical knowledge and skills. They need robust, deep and transferrable qualifications that provide a strong base for life-long learning and skill development.

“Kids need STEM skills. And yet, Australia is simply not keep pacing with this need.”

The number of school students studying STEM in later secondary (Year 11 and 12) has flat-lined at around 10 per cent or less.

In addition, the latest OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show a long-term decline in maths and science skills for Australian students.

Australia was placed 36th for Engineering and 14th for Arts; despite there being a demand for the former and a surplus of the latter. In 2003, four countries or economies significantly outperformed Australia in PISA mathematics. In 2018, 23 did.

“Australian students, their parents and their teachers simply don’t understand the importance of STEM, or STEM career opportunities, until it’s too late. One way to combat this lack of understanding around STEM career opportunities is through innovative STEM programs in high schools,” Crittenden said.

In June 2020, the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Training (DET) commenced a pilot program to teach welding to students in Years 10 to 12 studying Manufacturing and Engineering, and Industrial Technology.

The program utilised cutting-edge training techniques, including the use of 32 augmented reality welding simulators and innovative teacher training delivered by Weld Australia.

Based on the success of the pilot program, NSW DET ordered a further 20 simulators to be rolled out across another 10 high schools in regional NSW.

To resolve the growing lack of STEM skills, Australia has adopted a ‘push’ approach by focussing on school based STEM programs like that implemented by the NSW DET.

“There is no question that STEM education in schools and careers advice must be improved. But industry cannot continue to rely on government to solve the problem. There also needs to be a ‘pull’ strategy that engages students through close collaboration between schools and companies,” Crittenden said.

“Identifying and developing skills should start in school. Students of all ages need to be excited by the opportunities available in welding, and in trades more broadly.

"Industry and schools need to work together to develop and deliver programs which engage, excite and attract students.”

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