Australia’s IT Industry: In Need Of Overseas Talent

IT industry 457

Think about Australia’s top 50 startups. How many do you think might have been founded by immigrants or children of immigrants?

20%? 30%? Maybe even 50%?

Nope. 61%. SIXTY ONE PERCENT. That’s a majority of Australia’s best startups.

But despite immigrants playing such an important role in Australia’s startup scene, more and more companies are finding it difficult to hire skilled tech workers from overseas.

The government has proposed tougher restrictions on the 457 visa programme recently, with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton saying the changes are about “reducing competition from overseas workers for those Australians who are actively looking for work.”

But those in the tech industry aren’t convinced.

Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes says that sourcing good talent is key for Australia’s tech startups, saying that the proposed 457 changes are “hilarious political grandstanding.”

Cannon-Brookes founded Atlassian with friend Scott Farquhar. He’s now a self-made billionaire (he’s not even 40) and the company has a market capitalisation of more than $6 billion.

As someone who has created thousands of new jobs in both Australia and overseas, Cannon-Brookes knows that the tech industry needs better access to overseas talent, not worse.

“The biggest single thing we lack is senior technical talent with deep expertise in the volumes that we need for the industry to keep growing,” he said.

“Every single startup (in Australia) has very similar problems when they start to scale.”

The CEO of SafetyCulture, Luke Anear, agrees.

“It’s extremely difficult to find skilled workers in Australia,” he said.

“It’s much easier for us to work with local people if we can, but we are not producing enough of the skills needed for the biggest boom in history.”

Head of data and insights at StartUpAUS, Alex Gruszka, emphasises that while talent is important, it’s not everything.

“We need people with entrepreneurial skills and people with STEM skills, but also people with experience,” she said.

Ultimately, the government should consider that when the founder of one of the world’s most successful startups right now speaks, it’s probably a good idea to listen.

“…Any 457 restriction is bad for our tech industry, which by extension is bad for our economy,” Cannon-Brookes said.

“You could change 457 in the reverse direction; you could get 100,000 people coming here, rather than the 5000 currently.”