27 Jul

'Immigration the answer to ending turf war over workers' Andrew Hanson, Robert Walters

Whether Australia is going to be a driver or a passenger during the "fourth industrial revolution" triggered by technology is a moot question unless we reach a sustainable long-term solution to our skills crisis.

There is no question that employing local talent is the preferred option with innumerable benefits. However, with the skilled unemployment rate at 3 per cent (a level which is considered full employment), the need to entice skilled overseas professionals to Australia to ensure the long-term viability of the nation is paramount.

We need skilled migrants to foster growth.

The extent of the problem is dire. A survey of 200 hiring managers in Australia found that more than half (51 per cent) of organisations suffer from key skill shortages, while 74 per cent of tech hiring managers said a lack of suitable skilled candidates is their hardest recruitment challenge.

The issue is that we are just not producing skilled professionals quickly enough, and of the professionals we are producing, a large number are being lured away. Wages for artificial intelligence experts in the United States and China, for example, exceed $US300,000 ($406,000), almost double the amount they would be getting in Australia.

With a smaller pool and increasing demand, the perfect storm is completed that creates a state of origin turf war over talented professionals. In the past 12 months alone, demand for highly specialised information and communication technology roles such as system engineers in Western Australia and development operations roles in NSW and Victoria has increased wage growth in those roles to the tune of 25 per cent.

The strategies to address the problem, such as forcing businesses that employ large numbers of migrant workers to upskill Australian workers, are insufficient and fail to address the real problem.

The answer to long-term sustainability in order to support the skills crisis is to supplement the current talent pool with a larger pool of international candidates. By enhancing the talent pool the widening gap between supply and demand begins to close. While the debate about appropriate skilled worker numbers continues in Canberra, the answer and benefits are clear to those at the coal-face - 69 per cent of Australian hiring managers said that hiring international talent helped create a knowledge-based working environment fuelled by innovation.

Yet to sustain the level of growth forecast, we need to attract both professionals from around the globe and make them feel welcome, while encouraging home-grown talent.

To build home-grown talent, transferrable skills must be valued more readily while allowing candidates to transition from one industry into another. Organisations also need to come to the party and invest in their interview and assessment processes, to identify key skills and traits for a particular role rather than looking for the same profile. The current cookie-cutter, tick-a-box, pre-requisite skills and compliance approach to recruitment adopted by many companies just adds fuel to the flame.

There is always need for competition, but the debate about Australia's skills shortage is being played out with an unfair advantage and like a one-sided game, it is no longer fun to watch. The Australian labour market needs systemic changes to counter the boom and bust nature of our current skilled migrant intake, for the benefit of those here and overseas and even more for the sustainable growth of our great nation.

 

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