There is growing recognition of the importance of human capital in shaping Australia’s future prosperity. A recent report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies claimed that building capacity particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is pivotal to competitiveness in the global economy (Marginson, Tyler, Freeman & Roberts, 2013).
Increasing the number of people with STEM qualifications has become a key focus of policy makers around the world. While a STEM education equips people with specific skills required for research and technical roles, it also fosters a range of generic skills, knowledge and ways of thinking that are relevant to a wide range of occupations. These include problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills, among others (Harris, 2012).
This article profiles the level and nature of Australia’s current stock of human capital in STEM and explores the range of occupations commonly held by STEM graduates. The article also looks at those with qualifications in the closely related field of Health.
|DATA SOURCES AND DEFINITIONS|
Most of the data in this article are drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Learning and Work Survey, conducted from July 2010 to June 2011 as part of the ABS Multipurpose Household Survey (MPHS). The survey collected data from individuals about their non-school qualification history including the level and field of each qualification and year of completion. Information was also collected on the relevance of the main field of study of each qualification to a person's current job. For more information see Learning and Work, Australia, 2010-11 (cat. no. 4235.0). The article also includes data from the 2006 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing.
All references to higher level qualifications in this article relate to non-school qualifications at the level of Certificate III or above. Non-school qualifications are awarded for educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education, though they may be attained concurrently with school qualifications.
Education data are coded to the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED), 2001 (cat. no. 1272.0). The ASCED is a national standard classification which can be applied to all sectors of the Australian education system including schools, vocational education and training, and higher education. The ASCED comprises two classifications: Level of Education and Field of Education.
Level of Education is defined as a function of the quality and quantity of learning involved in an educational activity. The level of a particular educational activity is measured on the basis of three criteria: the theoretical and vocational orientation, the minimum entry requirements, and the program length or notional duration. There are nine broad levels, 15 narrow levels and 64 detailed levels. For detailed definitions of these levels see the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED), 2001 (cat. no. 1272.0).
The analysis presented in this article distinguishes between university level and vocational level qualifications. University level qualifications refers to Bachelor degrees (Pass and Honours), Graduate Diplomas, Graduate Certificates, Master degrees, Doctorates and other postgraduate degrees. Vocational level qualifications include Certificates III or IV, Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas and Associate degrees. This article focuses on vocational and university qualifications that were identified as such in the survey and therefore the small group of people who had qualifications that could only be classified as 'Certificate not further defined' or whose level of qualification could not be determined were excluded from the total with a Certificate III or above qualification.
Field of Education is defined as the subject matter of an educational activity. Fields of education are categorised on the basis of subject matter, the broad purpose for which the education is undertaken, and the theoretical content which underpins the subject matter. There are 12 broad fields, 71 narrow fields and 356 detailed fields. For detailed definitions of these fields see the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED), 2001 (cat. no. 1272.0). Field of Education is only presented at the broad level in this article.
STEM qualifications refer to any non-school qualifications at the Postgraduate degree level, Master degree level, Graduate diploma and Graduate certificate level, Bachelor degree level, Advanced diploma and Diploma level, and Certificates III and IV levels in any of the following fields:
While including vocational as well as university level qualifications in the broad STEM category combines a diverse range of qualifications, this reflects the important role of vocationally oriented qualifications in building STEM capacity (Australian Industry Group, 2013).
- Natural and Physical Sciences  (NPS)
- Information Technology (IT)
- Engineering and Related Technologies (ERT)
- Agriculture, Environmental and Related Studies (AERS)
While qualifications in the field of Health are not included in the STEM category in this article, it is a closely related discipline and often features in broader definitions of STEM.
Occupation data are classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), First Edition, 2006 (cat. no. 1220.0).
Relevance of qualifications refers to whether people stated that they were working in the same field as a STEM qualification, or, if not, whether they reported that a STEM qualification was nonetheless relevant or highly relevant to their current job.
 Includes Mathematical sciences.