By Craig Hingston
With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Minister for Industry, Innovation & Science Christopher Pyne beating the innovation drum and calling for an awakening of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills in our younger generation … who is really listening?
They are right in what they say. Australia needs to be known as an innovation incubator in the Global Village in order to form a competitive edge and attract premium (read: highly profitable) projects from overseas. We have almost given up manufacturing but we can retain our creative edge if we ensure that the next intake of engineers, technicians and designers have the right expertise.
One organisation has put its heart on its sleeve. It is a not for profit organisation founded by an engineer who is now president of the Sydney chapter of Engineers Australia. Dr Michael Myers OAM has dedicated almost two decades to the pursuit of a dream to see Aussie children become world-class thinkers and producers of their ideas. It is his Re-Engineering Australia Foundation which has placed space-age technology into the hands of over 400,000 students and encouraged them to think outside the square via a series of highly competitive national programs.
True, there are a few large companies in the engineering-manufacturing space which have stepped up and assisted REA but we’re really talking counting the fingers on both hands. Dr Myers has presented to everyone from successive governments to multinationals to local companies to industry organisations. His audiences are astounded by his achievements, and that is where it stops.
So, the question needs to be asked. Is Australian business ready to invest in innovation?
REA has tabled two litmus tests and is waiting to see what type of response they receive from the business community.
The first is a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience for students, teachers and parents. The REA STEM World Education Tour 2016 is the result of Dr Myers “talking to his mates” around the globe and organising a treasure chest of innovation experiences.
The itinerary includes visits to the Mercedes Benz and Porsche headquarters in Germany, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, Siemens wind power site in Denmark, Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard in South Korea, Tokyo City in Japan, and in the U.S. the Daimler Chrysler and Ford Design Centres, NASA Space Centre, Microsoft, Boeing, Google, Stanford University, Disney Studios, Frank Gehry Partners and the Smithsonian Institute.
Each one of these sites is persona non grata to we common folk and yet the REA tour will go right inside the inner workings of these landmark technology sites and meet the people responsible for the latest advances in science, aerospace, energy and architecture.
Take the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), for example. How else is an Australian teacher or student going to witness the world’s largest and most complex experimental facility – the single largest machine in the world. The LHC is 27 kilometres in circumference, lies up to 175 metres beneath the surface, and took 10,000 scientists and engineers a decade to construct.
Imagine the world view of a young person coming back from that experience.
Of course something like this costs money and this is where REA appreciates the business community stepping up to the plate. For an investment of $10,000 it can sponsor a student on that trip. You would have to say that same person would be an A-grade candidate as a future employee.
We often hear businesses bemoaning the fact that they cannot find young, excited, self-motivated, can-do cadets. Therefore, it makes good sense for companies to provide scholarships to these young people full of ideas and confidence who are seeking to embark on the four week tour. Begin the partnership now by allowing the kids to experience world-best technology. Expose them to the career opportunities offered in your company and coach them into taking the relevant undergraduate studies whilst commencing their cadetships.
Litmus test number two involves three groups of outstanding high achievers.
These high schoolers have competed in three technology competitions operated by REA: F1inSchools, Subs in Schools and the Land Rover 4×4 Technology Challenge. They belong to global competitions involving 10,000,000 students in more than 40 countries.
As the titles suggest, the kids aged between 10-17 have designed (using NASA-type engineering and analysis software) and made operational F1 cars, submarines and off road vehicles.
More than 40,000 students were engaged in these programs and Team Australia represents our brightest and best STEM students. There are 27 in total, divided into seven teams. Interestingly, one-quarter of the contingent are girls and three of the teams are managed by girls.
These 27 teenagers, from public and private schools in four states, need financial assistance in order to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we are in fact The Clever Country.
Australia is already revered. For example, in F1inSchools teams from Down Under have become World Champions a record four times and been runners-up more times than any of the other 40-plus nations. We have a reputation to uphold.
Athena, the all-girl National Champions of Subs in Schools, are heading off to the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Facility in Houston in June to participate in the Marine Advanced Technology Education ROV Competition.
Wombat Warriors from Queensland is returning to England in July for the World Finals of the 4×4 competition where they finished second in 2015, hopeful of going on better in 2016. This time they will be joined by a regional team, Zircon, from Dubbo Senior College in NSW.
Austin, Texas, is the scene of Team Australia’s most recent triumph when it was named 2014 World Champion. In October, Team Australia will return there with the goal of winning world title number five. Four teams are involved: Zero and Fast Payce Racing from Sydney, Terminal Velocity and Negative Filter from Victoria and South Australia.
All of these students have dedicated hundreds of hour outside the classroom to get to this level. Just like the STEM world tour, these young people will make champion employees over the next few years. For businesses seeking out ‘bright eyes’ it becomes a very viable investment opportunity to sponsor them.
A sponsorship package of as little as $5,000 (which sees the sponsor’s branding exposed multiple times before, during and after the event) is a very cost effective means of forming a partnership with a future cadet.
There we have it. Two tangible investment options with long-term benefits.
REA is waiting and watching to see if the business community is asleep at the wheel or ready to engage.