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​Why Australia must lead the world in tech talent

​Why Australia must lead the world in tech talent

Why Australia must start to produce a higher level of tech talent in greater numbers.

When people think about great technology companies, what usually comes to mind is the product - the piece of hardware, the app, or the software that the company makes.

But successful companies know it’s their people - their talent - that are the most impactful part of the business.

Our nation excels at producing high calibre professionals across a broad range of industries.

Our engineers, lawyers, managers and accountants have an international reputation for excellence and integrity, and that reputation helps us attract a huge number of overseas students each year.

Education is our fourth biggest export, eclipsed only by iron ore, coal and natural gas, and in 2014-15 education exports alone added more than $17 billion to the Australian economy.

Looking ahead, Australia must start to produce a higher level of tech talent in greater numbers.

We already have what it takes to become an international magnet for the best technology students and workers: some of the world’s most liveable cities; a top-tier lifestyle; a fast-growing commercial technology sector; privileged access to some of the world’s biggest markets; and, vitally, a world-class education system.

Overall, Australia is on the right track. This can be attributed in part to our excellent federal R&D Tax Incentive scheme. It encourages big companies to keep substantial engineering teams in Australia despite most of their customers being overseas, and it helps innovative startups build and develop new technology at a fraction of the cost.

We can also expect the re-gearing of school curriculum, with a stronger focus on core technology skills and digital literacy, to have a positive effect on home-grown talent in the years ahead.

Ways to lead the world in tech talent

International reports, such as Compass’ 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, consistently suggest Australia already produces high quality technology workers. But our demand is growing fast, and we aren’t yet the world leader on tech talent that we need to become.

To get there, we need to start producing more world-class science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates and instil in them an entrepreneurial spirit.

Our tertiary education system is equipped to handle it; we just need to encourage all students to legitimately consider joining or creating a start-up as a viable career path. That will require cultural change - in classrooms, lecture theatres, and living rooms.

We also need to make it even easier for top technology talent to move to Australia. That means continuing to reform our visa process so that the best and brightest can choose to relocate here.

But it also means thinking creatively about how we make it affordable for overseas workers to live in our big cities. Our cost of living is already high - and if you’re not Australian it’s even higher.

Skilled migration visa holders are not entitled to Medicare or free access to the public education system.

Skilled technology workers who move to Australia with their families pay the full Australian tax rate and thousands of dollars every year to send their children to the local public school. It's a real barrier, it's inequitable, and it's contrary to our best economic interests.

This is not a pipe-dream. We have a serious opportunity to promote and nurture the mindsets and skill sets that will be essential if we want to build and maintain a forward-looking economy for the decades to come.

We want to give young Australians the skills they need to access world-class jobs of the future. That's how we ensure our future prosperity, and theirs. It’s time to get to work creating a globally competitive, collaborative technology workforce.

Alex McCauley is CEO of StartupAUS, a not for profit organisation with a mission to transform Australia through technology entrepreneurship.

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