The government’s 457 visa fix will not help the Australian tech industry effectively address the ongoing skills crisis, according to panelists at a recent CIO Australia breakfast event in Melbourne.
In March, the government said it would pilot a visa scheme to make it easier for big business and tech startups to hire overseas talent for highly skilled roles. It replaces the axed 457 visa program and enables bigger businesses to use the scheme to fill up to 20 positions with a minimum salary of $180,000 per year with foreign candidates expected to pass on their skills to Australian colleagues. Under the pilot, startups can employ five positions per year through the scheme, which must pay more than $53,900.
“People like to work in inclusive teams and with people who have global experience so they can learn from each other and we can’t take that away,” said Bridget Gray, managing director at global recruiter, Harvey Nash.
“I think we were moving towards borderless talent and global mindsets and I don’t think these [recent visa] changes do help at all,” Gray said. "I have some fascinating discussions with people making these types of decisions and they don't understand the problem; it's not broad-based, there are people that do, but it's worrying. I don't think we thought about it enough before we made the change, there wasn't enough discussion or lobbying."
Sportsbet’s parent company, Paddy Power Betfair, is based in Ireland and the company gets access to tech staff from Ireland and the UK, said Michael Foster, the gambling company’s general manager, enterprise technology.
“They bring a wealth of knowledge and capability into our organisation; people like working with them and it creates a fantastic amount of diversity within the organisation. It’s a real shame that we do anything that puts that at risk, so we definitely need to work out what the right solution is to enable people to come into our country and work with us,” said Foster.
“If we want to actually create more opportunity for people to develop skills and work in the tech industry, we have to create this ability to foster organisations to grow and grow rapidly. Limiting the pool of people we have access to does create the risk that we can’t start up organisations in Australia. Anything that we can do that helps us bring the right talent into our country is important,” he said.
Andrew Buckley, head of training and certification APAC & Japan at Amazon Web Services, makes the point that he came to Australia from Ireland on a 457 visa and he "probably would not be here" if he tried to emigrate after the visa was axed.
"I think it certainly is a challenge and the new scheme from what I remember is only going to be trialled for a year and then they will look at some of the lessons and learnings on that and that in itself means that it's a band-aid," he said.
Sportbet's Foster told the audience that people have moved to Silicon Valley because they feel it's 'the land of opportunity' for a start up organisation.
"Organisations that are starting up overseas typically get better access to start up funding or support or they are structured better to enable people to take a vested part of that organisation. So there is opportunity for us to do a better job of creating and environment here where they can take those opportunities," Foster said.
"There is still a bit of a brain drain going on but we have an opportunity to correct it ourselves."
A strong economy and less political uncertainty in Australia - compared to other countries - has worked in our favour to 'temper' the brain drain, said Harvey Nash's Gray.
"I was certainly seeing a lot of top talent going to Silicon Valley. It's still happening but I do think it has been tempered a little bit."
AWS' Buckley points out that Silicon Valley will always be a hub due to the level of VC funding that is available there for start ups.
"But I do think we need to make it a lot easier for start up talent to stay here through funding, through the infrastructure and skills that we have. The more people that do leave and feel that we can't bring in that talent - that's just going to exacerbate the problem."
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly
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