STEM for growth

A focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in Australia’s school curriculum is the key to unlocking future innovation in business.

This is the view of Matt Barrie, prominent entrepreneur and founder and chief executive officer of Freelancer.com, a global online freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace.

To fire up innovation in the technology field, Barrie says we have to start in the classrooms and encourage students to start taking STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

“Australia is falling behind in what it offers in the school curriculum compared to the rest of the world. We are educating for a world that was 50 years ago,” he said.

“Take a look in the classrooms and you’ll see we have a declining number of students enrolling in STEM subjects. This is due to the curriculum that should be changed to encourage students taking on more technology-related subjects. A subject like maths is no longer compulsory for the higher school certificate anymore. The result is a declining number of students entering the technical field,” he says.

Barrie adds that higher standards must be set. “The bar needs to be raised higher and teachers need to up-skill in this area, along with increasing their understanding of the importance of the connection between careers and technology.”

Other challenging factors include the fact that Australia is an expensive country in which to operate.

“Rents are high and we are geographically remote from other nations. It can be tough to build a start-up out of Australia. We haven’t created the financial support and venture capitalists are not having much success in Australia. Traditionally it has been quite tough to re-finance; although in certain areas this is changing,” says Barrie.

He adds that the current framework protects incumbents and as a result provides a barrier for new entrants. “There are lots of rules and regulations in place and what can happen is these can create shields that protect a number of incumbents and stop new entrants from coming in and being innovative. Some of these should be questioned and asked if they still make sense in this changing world. The rate of change has accelerated.”

Barrie is calling for a national imperative to embrace technology and make it a significant contribution to GDP. 

"One upside is that you can build a start-up relatively cheaply.  There is a huge world of opportunity for starting a business. The whole world of human knowledge is online, you can hire freelancers, design something, use a software package or training; it’s all there.  This is quite a phenomenal time to start a business or turn a business around. It’s all there in front of you, all you need is motivation.”

One development is the launch of an Innovation Hub by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It aims to provide innovative start-ups with informal assistance throughout the early stages of their development.

More information, see ASIC's Innovation Hub