STEM subjects are a vital foundation for engineers - Professor Alex Baitch, President, Engineers Australia Tuesday, 05 August 2014

This Australian Engineering Week celebrates the role that engineering plays in providing our built environment and standard of living, and the people who make it possible.

Engineering has generated technology for medical advances to save lives, agricultural production to feed us, and the transport network that allows us to enjoy the trimmings of the modern lifestyle we are so lucky to have. Engineers are building the foundations of Australia’s future.

But what are the foundations of the next generation engineers?

Having a strong foundation in science and mathematics opens the door to careers in a range of disciplines - not only in engineering but also to a host of science, commerce and medical careers.

Teachers have a pivotal role in developing students’ attitudes toward and confidence with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) based subjects. However, some teachers aren’t themselves confident in teaching science and maths because their own education has concentrated on other areas. Universities are starting to take vital steps towards developing and implementing strategies to assist these teachers to gain confidence when teaching STEM subjects.

The confidence of our teachers, career advisers and parents with STEM subjects will be reflected in our students. We must empower these influencers to instil confidence in young students and encourage them to take STEM subjects while at school.

Contrary to a belief commonly held by students and parents, it is not in the best interest of students to avoid STEM subjects in their final years of secondary school, and to instead opt for ‘easier’ subjects to ensure the best score in university entrance exams. This approach doesn’t provide a solid foundation for the skills required to succeed at university. It often means remedial training is required prior to entering university or extra, concerted effort is required at the university level.

Taking STEM subjects at secondary school may be harder but it is worth it in the long run.

The future of the engineering profession rests on the shoulders of young people. It is up to us to ensure they have a strong foundation upon which to build their own future.