We live in a time when science, technology, engineering and maths skills have never been more important, yet Australian employers are struggling to recruit workers with STEM skills.
The message that STEM skills are in demand does not seem to be breaking through, with the Office of the Chief Scientist reporting that the proportion of students studying maths and science subjects is at a 20-year low.
The picture is troubling in country areas, with studies finding regional and rural students are about one year of schooling behind their city counterparts in science and maths literacy, and far less likely to pursue tertiary studies.
The reasons for these gaps in achievement and participation are complex, but initiatives like the La Trobe University-led In2science program show that mentoring can make a big difference.
Many regional and rural students face barriers including reduced access to STEM resources and specialised knowledge. Since 2004, In2science mentors have reached more than 60,000 students across 170 schools, building enthusiasm and encouraging students to pursue STEM careers.
In2science eMentoring, a multi-university program targets regional and rural students, aiming to break down barriers to STEM study and careers.
Each week for 10 weeks, young, bright, enthusiastic university student mentors meet online with small groups of students to talk about topics including advances in STEM, university life and STEM careers.
About 90 per cent of eMentees surveyed report increased confidence in doing science and 90 per cent report an increased understanding of the pathways and options available in STEM.
- Dr Alison Every is program director of In2science at La Trobe University.