We recently saw the Albanese Government host the Jobs Summit, which aimed to solve the skills shortage affecting all sectors across the country. I felt it was refreshing to see business, unions and government in the same room working collaboratively together.
For the IT sector, there were several initiatives relating to immigration and training that should have an impact.
Overall, the message rang out loud and clear that we need more immigrants to ease the skills crisis. An influx of highly skilled tech workers would instantly take some of the heat out of market and stop the inflationary pressures we have seen since 2020. To give some context, the team at Balance estimates that we are currently seeing only 10% of the applications from newly arrived skilled immigrants as compared to 2019.
6 months ago, I was totally convinced that the number of skilled immigrants would rebound extremely quickly. I thought that there would be some headwinds due to our extended border closures, lockdowns, and vaccine rules but I figured these factors would fade away quickly.
What I failed to predict was the backlog of visa applications… there are almost one million visa applications in the queue. To combat this, the government announced $36m for 500 visa processing staff for 9 months to ease the backlog, this was on top of recent increases in permanent headcount. By my back of the napkin calculations, if the new staff are able to process 2 visas per day per staff-member, then that’s almost 200,000 visas processed in 9 months – that is a massive impact.
500 new staff!! How hard can that be?
For those of you who have been attempting to hire staff over the last few months, I’m sure there was a wry smile on your face when you envisioned the challenge of attempting to find 500 administrative staff for 9 months to solve the intense shortage of such staff. If you’re keen to help, you can apply for the permanent version of these roles here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here (and there are another 7 ads on Seek but you get the picture). The role pays $69-$74k plus super and you must be an Australian citizen. They appear to be looking for these people all over Australia and the 500 temporary positions appear to have a budget of around the same salary.
Whilst I may enjoy poking fun at their unenviable task, I believe they will have success recruiting at least some of the roles, especially in Adelaide, Brisbane, and Hobart where unemployment is higher and wages are lower. I certainly applaud the new willingness to prioritise visa processing and attempt to drive down waiting times.
Graduate Visas: I’ve seen some hesitancy from employers over recent times regarding hiring individuals on Graduate Visas due to concerns surrounding the length of the visa. The Graduate Visa has now moved from 2 years duration to 4 or 5 years. This should have an immediate impact, as the duration is far longer than the average employment tenure of a graduate.
Student Visa work hours: Students have traditionally only been able to work for 20 hours per week during term time. This has been increased to 40 hours and will remain in place until June 2023. Employers should be considering student visa holders for their more junior short to medium term contracts. The majority of student visa holders are completing their Masters and often have significant overseas commercial work experience.
Skilled Immigrants: The cap on the number of skilled immigrants has increased from 160,000 to 195,000. This is a great initiative though obviously reliant on the visas being processed. It is worth noting that we have a growing homelessness problem and sky-high rents, I’m unsure of the impact of this decision on these problems, but it’s certainly concerning.
TAFE: On the training side, there was $1 Billion towards free TAFE places, this is encouraging however most Australian workplaces don’t show too much interest in the Certificates and Diplomas offered by TAFE students. So I’m not expecting this to have a massive impact on the tech sector.
Digital Apprenticeships: Interestingly the government is offering 1000 Digital Apprenticeships for school leavers interested in pursuing IT careers. It’s great to see some actual innovation aimed at attracting new talent into our sector. Will businesses be prepared to carry more of the load for training young staff? Or will the idea that tech workers need a degree as a starting point remain as the prevailing sentiment? I’m intrigued to watch the success or otherwise of this program.
My 2 cents
In my opinion, the key to securing the long-term supply of high-quality IT talent in Australia is providing pathways for foreign students to achieve permanent residency once their studies have completed. We have seen far too many great graduates walk away from careers in Australia and return home as their visas have expired. Let’s hope we see this process fixed very soon.
Overall, I’m hopeful the IT talent crisis may improve over the course of 2023. Whilst it’s been a boon for employees, Australia needs to remain competitive as a tech destination and thus our salaries and rates cannot continue to soar upwards forever.