U-turn needed on skilled visas

By Mark Randall, WP Engine

Australia needs to open the door to tech talent. The economy desperately needs this but the current policies regarding employment visas are lethally short-sighted in a world where everything is going global.

We have more than 3000 customers in Australia, half of whom are web and digital agencies – the future of the economy. They are struggling to grow because they can’t get the talent they need.

There aren’t enough Australians with the right skills and enrolments in STEM are at their lowest in 20 years. Businesses need to source talent offshore. I hear this every week when speaking to different people in web design and development.

The changes to the skilled visa process have made this more difficult. The process is complex and time-consuming. The new temporary visas have fewer eligible job categories and much higher restrictions, such as labour market testing and language requirements. It will prevent Australian businesses from hiring the talent they need, as quickly as they need it.

As a result companies aren’t able to take advantage of the booming digital market. Young people are receptive and ready for new technologies and digital services, but our research identified that businesses need to move rapidly to keep up with Millennials and Gen Z. These groups demand personalisation, automation, cashless money – all strong areas for Australia’s start-up community if it can hire the talent to build solutions.

By stopping talented people coming to Australia, the government is creating jobs elsewhere and in the meantime Australian businesses face higher prices. A shortage in cybersecurity skills is putting the public and private sector at risk of attack.

Australia’s entire approach needs a U-turn. It shouldn’t be about visa categories. Instead, we should be looking at how we can encourage talent to come here while also nurturing local talent. Let’s allow companies to bring people in, and put a 5 per cent or 10 per cent tax on that to go towards educating people with the right skills locally – a “future education fund”. Or businesses could commit to a certain amount of local training for every person they bring in from overseas. This needs to be a public-private partnership with the government and the private sector doing its part.

People with in-demand tech skills are generally young, they’ve got plenty of taxpaying years ahead of them. They will be a net gain to the economy. If someone can come here and get a job, then let them come. It really should be that simple.

Mark Randall is WP Engine Australia country manager. WP Engine helps businesses build and run websites.

This article was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald