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Australia’s Chief Scientist launched Australia’s STEM Workforce report in March 2016 that provides the first detailed analysis of Australia’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) trained workforce.

The report confirms that the 2.3 million people with STEM qualifications at the time of the 2011 census (the most recent data available) were working right across the Australian economy.

In an interview with the Financial Review on 30 March, Dr Finkel said that people with STEM qualifications had an unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent, while the unemployment rate for those with non-STEM qualifications was 4.1 per cent. Eighty-five per cent of STEM-qualified people worked in the private sector compared with 77 per cent of non-STEM-qualified people.

The report demonstrates the types of careers available to graduates. The most common occupations are technicians and trade workers which account for a third of the STEM-qualified population. University graduates in professional positions accounted for 55 per cent and managers at 18 per cent. The most common industry for STEM graduates was in manufacturing, accounting for 17 per cent of STEM-qualified workers.

As for salaries, graduates fell into the highest income bracket (over $104,000) for STEM than non-STEM qualified workers. At the Vocational Education and Training (VET) level, more than one-in-10 STEM graduates made the top bracket; compared to one-in-20 non-STEM graduates. At university level, it was more than one-in-four; compared with fewer than one-in-five.

Dr Finkel said, “Success, of course, may not come in the most obvious form. If you leave university with a degree in mathematics, you're more likely to become a software programmer than an actuary, mathematician or statistician. Just 13 per cent of employed chemistry graduates work as chemists – which means 87 per cent are successful in other roles.”

“And why should we hide from that reality? De-couple choosing a degree from committing to any particular career, and the possibilities can begin to unfold.”

He suggests that new industries like FinTech, demonstrate just what a PhD with a laptop can do. “There are existing industries greatly in need of an infusion of STEM talent, like education – both harness new technologies and teach STEM extraordinarily well.”

His advice to students studying STEM, “I say choose STEM because you enjoy it. Know that it will serve you well, if not necessarily in the way you expect,” he said.

To read Australia’s STEM Workforce report, visit Australia’s Chief Scientist website.

To read the full news report, visit Financial Review.