Named the Australian Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2013 Engineering Excellence Awards, Matt Barrie believes Australia is desperately in need of a lot more engineers.
Barrie, founder of Freelancer.com said despite engineering being the foundation of new start-ups, new enrolments for the degree at Australian universities continues to fall. “Australian engineers are up there with the world’s best, and the only problem is that we don’t have enough of them!” Barrie said.
“The number one thing you hear is ‘How can I find a technical co-founder?’ because the people running [start-ups] are not technical. It’s a real problem,” he added.
Part of the problem lies in a lack of awareness among school-aged children of engineering as a career path.
“[School kids] see these big companies, they see Google, they see Facebook, but they can’t connect the dots on who starts these businesses. It’s quite funny because Facebook was started by someone who was only about four years older than these kids,” Barrie said.
Like Barrie, Richard Chua, founder and CEO of high school tutoring college Talent 100, believes Australia is crying out for a more robust tech sector.
“I think many of our best students end up studying degrees that have more practical job opportunities (eg. law, medicine, banking). One of my biggest regrets was not studying Computer Science in university, but I wasn’t even aware of it when I finished the HSC,” Chua said.
Chua believes the US tech giants and universities, as well as the start-up community in Silicon Valley, are more effective at inspiring young students to consider engineering as a first choice.
“One of the fundamental issues facing Australia is how to invest in and spur innovation. I think investing in infrastructure like the NBN is a step in the right direction,” Chua said.
Barrie believes that Australian start-up heavyweights need to engage with school-aged children to explain the engineering career pathway.
“There was a great commercial done recently in the US with the Black Eyed Peas encouraging kids to get into programming, and I think it could be really beneficial for us to do something like that with the computer sciences here. This is a career path that can be shown in a video in 5-10 minutes in schools before year 10, so that kids actually know the career path involved in creating software,” Barrie said.