ATTRACTING STEM women is a “great task” but retaining such talents is even tougher, the Malaysian Employers Federation says.
Women play dual roles as employee and wife, or mother. So they need encouragement to remain in the labour market, its executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says.
The setting up of community child care centres with reasonable fees and assured standard of quality and safety will allow women to remain in employment.
Day care centres for the aged are also necessary as Malaysia heads towards an ageing society where women generally have to stop work to take care of their old parents, he says.
Among others, he calls for industry initiatives to increase the number of engineering graduates.
“Research and development exhibitions highlighting success stories of women with STEM qualifications, publication of books and technology competitions, are just as important,” he says, stressing on the need for a change in mindset among the young.
Job stereotyping where certain roles are classified as “for men” or “less suitable” for females, must stop. Similarly, there is a need to overcome the fear of STEM subjects, often seen as being “too difficult” and only meant to be taken by the exceptionally brilliant.
Increasing female participation is important, he says, because women make up 48.7% of the total population and form 61% of total graduate enrolment in the country. Female labour force participation rate, he notes, has increased from 46.4% in 2009 to 53.6% in 2014.
“Women – especially those with STEM qualifications – are vital in bridging the country’s talent gap. Work today, and in the future, is increasingly collaborative and focused on solving complex problems in creative ways.”
But while it’s true that female graduates prefer to be in the social sciences, employers are mainly concerned about the total output of STEM graduates, he says.
Quoting the Academy of Sciences Malaysia’s findings, he says the country needs at least 270,000 science students sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination annually. There are only about 90,000 now.
To make matters worse, of those taking STEM-based programmes in school, 12% migrated to non-STEM programmes at tertiary level.
The target ratio of 60:40 which was first set in the 1970s for the number of students enrolling for STEM and non-STEM programmes hasn’t been met, he says.
“With global economic giants like the United States, Japan, Singapore and Germany having a solid 30% workforce in STEM fields, we have a long way to go as our STEM-related workforce is less than 3%.”
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