Dubbo is a key regional hub where roads, railways, and airways converge. Recent migration has transformed the local education system and boosted science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) fields. With its strategic location and focus on renewable energy, Dubbo promises a bright future for the region.
At the centre of this is the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) project, which will light 1.4 million homes and mark a significant step towards a sustainable energy future.
However, its impact goes beyond household lighting. The initiative is set to infuse up to $10 billion into the region, fostering economic growth and creating about 5,000 job opportunities. Recognising its importance, the NSW government has dedicated $128 million over the next four years to deliver this infrastructure.
To keep up with the region’s growth, fostering collaboration between educational institutions, local businesses, and organisations is essential. Initiatives like Generation STEM’s STEM Community Partnerships Program (STEM CPP), which launched in the Orana region this year, and Generation STEM Links, play a vital role in bridging the gap between education and industry.
These programs give students and junior professionals practical experience alongside professionals, bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. They offer valuable skills, preparing the next generation for real-world challenges.
Empowering communities in STEM skills
Taronga Western Plains Zoo signed up as a STEM CPP industry partner this year to build its future workforce and connect with local students and educators.
“STEM-based skills are crucial for our local area. They are essential in creating opportunities for our young people to thrive in regional areas and compete with the rest of the world,” said Kelly Pfeiffer, Education Officer at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
“The STEM CPP allows students to access and experience STEM in their local environment. It creates STEM opportunities that students can immerse themselves in while feeling comfortable. Students need to see it to be it.”
Showcasing real-world STEM experiences and connecting students with local STEM role models through site visits, careers events and mentorship enables students to consider career pathways they may not know about, contributing to the goal of building a skilled and adaptable workforce.
During a recent site visit, students from Wellington High School had the opportunity to engage with the science, husbandry, and conservation efforts involved in safeguarding the Regent Honeyeater.
“It's our responsibility to create opportunities for young people. A real-world curriculum that conveys meaning and purpose and increases student agency,” Kelly said.
She explained that Generation STEM is instrumental in establishing frameworks that empower students to make career decisions tailored to their strengths and interests.
Keep it local: How internships can help
Even at the tertiary level, students may not have a clear picture of what jobs are out there after graduation. Engaging in internship programs such as Generation STEM Links equips them with workplace skills, while gaining first-hand experience to better inform their career choices.
Over 80% of interns have been offered employment after completing the internship, highlighting its value beyond the initial period.
Simon Hansen, CSIRO's Director of SME Connect, said Generation STEM Links allows small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to identify talented people to bring into their business.
“It’s an easy program for businesses to participate in – CSIRO finds the students for the business and supports the student and the business during the placement,” he said.
“It provides businesses with the capability and capacity to solve problems and work on projects they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”
Simon also said that the uncertainty of getting a job in a STEM industry after graduating can be the missing link to building Australia’s STEM workforce.
“Generation STEM Links can provide students with a pathway to an exciting career or help them become job-ready,” he added.
Forging Links: Enhancing business-education connections
Generation STEM Links recently held an Industry and Education Roundtable event in Dubbo, following its success in Newcastle. The primary focus was to explore the question: How can education and industry better support the future workforce?
At the event, participants exchanged ideas on entry-level job challenges and improving educational and career development opportunities.
Peter Schreiner, an Industry Innovation Specialist at TAFE NSW, emphasised the significance of the Generation STEM Links Roundtable as a valuable platform. He said it allows collaboration between industry experts, stakeholders, and government officials to devise strategies for expanding STEM involvement from schools into the industry sector.
“I really enjoy meeting and working with likeminded people to support STEM partnerships and inclusion from diverse backgrounds,” he said. “An ongoing discussion starting with awareness of how and what we can each contribute to the STEM discussion. I’m looking forward to maturing our individual and collective involvement.”
Initiatives, like Generation STEM Links and the STEM CPP can help staff retention in regional areas by providing local students with practical work experience and exposure to career opportunities in their communities, increasing their likelihood of staying in the area and joining the local workforce.
“Providing a pathway to employment for STEM students is of critical importance to ensure young people are inspired and choose to study STEM subjects at school or university,” Simon said.
- Tuesday, 14 Nov: Join us for the STEM CPP showcase in Orange, where student will present their solutions to issues like affordable housing and sustainability.
Register for the showcase
- Wednesday, 15 Nov: Generation STEM Links is hosting a workshop with community, industry and education to develop ideas and initiatives that help to improve STEM workforce outcomes.
Register for the workshop
- Tuesday, 05 Dec: STEM CPP is hosting a virtual information session for principals, STEM teachers, librarians, and careers advisors to learn about how your school can benefit from this initiative.
Register for the information session