Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Castle Hill—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.48 p.m.]: I inform the House that while New South Wales may be in the midst of a housing boom it is being strangled by a serious skills shortage. Last week I hosted a Western Sydney Business Forum with the New South Wales Treasurer, and Minister for Industrial Relations, the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian, at which we fielded questions from more than 300 Western Sydney businesses looking to expand into the region. One of the most salient points made during the forum was the current gap between investment opportunities and a skilled youth workforce. The problem is spread right across some core industries, including the construction industry, the motor vehicle trades and the electricity industry, up to senior management and project managers. I believe we can all play a role in overcoming this problem by encouraging young people to take opportunities, even when they feel it may not be their first choice of a job.
I have always said that opportunity finds you once you are involved in the workforce: It will not come knocking on your door while you are at home watching television or playing on a computer. The reason for that is quite simple: If you apply yourself to whatever job you are doing, people will notice and offer you opportunities to expand your career, and when you have an income you are much better placed to improve your education and thereby increase your chances of gaining a better job and so on. It is not rocket science but it is common sense. We must all play a role in encouraging young people into the workforce and highlighting the many opportunities available to them if they work hard. The old saying, “The harder you work the luckier you become” is very true.
I am pleased to advise the House that much progress is being made in encouraging students to take up a trade or profession, and that an inspirational not-for-profit private company, Re-Engineering Australia, is at the forefront of leading this charge. Established in 1998 by Dr Michael Myers, OAM, in response to a drastic shortage of skilled young people wanting to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths activities, Re-Engineering Australia [REA] is now a world leader in STEM career intervention activities within our schools.
With more than 35,000 Australian students directly mentored each year by REA programs and 250,000 students each year benefiting from having access to the technology provided by REA in Australian schools, REA programs have mentored more than 650,000 students to date across Australia. REA’s programs link schools, industry, TAFEs, universities and parents in a collaborative environment focused on attracting students to take up STEM-based subjects at school and in their careers. The Defence Materiel Organisation, responsible for billions of dollars of high-tech engineering projects across our nation, has come on board as a national sponsor of REA, keen to see smart young kids look to shipbuilding, aerospace and land vehicle projects for their careers. REA’s current patron, Peter Farrell, the founder and executive director of the board of ResMed, said:
Australia needs more highly skilled technical people who are willing to think and be creative.
Importantly, Re-Engineering Australia Foundation is making the STEM subjects desirable through a host of new programs. The first is the Fl in Schools Technology Challenge, where students as young as 10 years old are designing, testing and making miniature Formula One [F1] cars capable of going up to 80 kilometres per hour. Students learn leadership, team building, project management, business planning, public speaking, marketing, collaboration, and writing and presentation skills. Many students engaged in this program have already been offered employment by industry before completing their studies at high school. Others are pursued by universities with competing scholarships. One has even been headhunted into the real world of Formula One racing as an aerodynamics engineer
Australia is ranked number one in the world in the Fl in Schools Technology Challenge program. The best news of all is that after participating in the program 64 per cent of boys and 38 per cent of girls indicated that as a result of their involvement they had changed their career aspirations towards STEM-based activities. Another program is the Jaguar Primary School Challenge, which is designed to engage primary school students as young as five years old—kids who are in kindergarten—in building and racing miniature Fl cars. Students get to test their cars in a smoke and wind tunnel to understand the science behind aerodynamics. In the first year of operation, the program involved over 6,000 schools. Another program is the SUBS in Schools Technology Challenge, which enables students to build a fully operational remote-controlled vehicle or submarine.
REA has also expanded programs such as these to rural and regional communities through the Outback STEM Education Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to expand programs into remote Indigenous schools with a focus on the north and north-west of Australia. It not only provides opportunities for Indigenous students to increase skills but also has become a catalyst for creating links between schools in the city and Indigenous students in regional and remote schools. Other programs include entrepreneurs in schools, architecture in schools design challenge, the Solar Railways Challenge and Silverback Racing STEM education mentors, which encourages retired teachers and engineers to engage with students, helping them with their STEM projects.
There are opportunities for students to be involved in the STEM Education World Tour, which takes them to the pinnacle of STEM centres across the world, including Boeing, Microsoft, Google, McLaren, Honda, the University of Oxford and Stanford University. REA is simply an outstanding enterprise and is leading the charge to inspire and upskill today’s youth in STEM industry areas. With a focus on applied learning and industry collaboration, students are being excited by the practicalities of STEM-based activities. Here is an initiative truly worth embracing. I commend REA for its phenomenal progress to date.