As the ICT skills shortage continues to bite, industry players are fighting to import qualified staff against an updated, complex visa regime with potentially high costs for employers.
Ten computing professional specialities - including Java, J2EE, Oracle, Siebel, network security, SAP and Sybase SQL Server - are on the Department of Immigration's top-priority occupations list.
However, most qualifying, skilled migrants still have to find a sponsor or pass the stringent points test, often both, under one of at least 46 visa sub-classes to gain entry. Channel partners and vendors surveyed by ARN said it was getting more difficult to hire staff with particular skills. Most had tried to fill roles by importing overseas staff - but many had found the time and expense involved discouraging.
Addax Business Solutions CEO, David Sankey, said finding and recruiting suitable personnel was the WA solution provider's biggest single problem. "We quadrupled the business in about three years," he said. "If we had been able to recruit the staff we wanted, it's quite possible we would have doubled in size again."
Sankey said Addax had struggled to meet demand for its services and, as a result, had stopped all sales and marketing activity. Instead, it had relied on referrals because it was unable to get the staff to upgrade operations. Meanwhile, Addax had applied to become a sponsor for the controversial 457 visas, so it could recruit from overseas. "We have had limited success, recruiting a few excellent people from the UK, Namibia and Pakistan," Sankey said. "The process is not particularly easy - although I would be concerned if the process of bringing in foreign personnel was too easy."
Sankey said a September amendment to the immigration laws had made employers excessively liable for overseas hires. It was fair enough giving employers some responsibility for airfares and the like, he said, but the amendment suggests employers may be liable even if, for example, an overseas hire commits a crime while in Australia. The cost of bringing somebody in can add up to several thousand dollars a head including visa application fees, according to the Immigration website. And then there's the cost of airfares, qualifications assessments, health insurance and the like - for which the employer may also be liable.
Sankey said one potential recruit, from Scotland, had made it as far as the compulsory medical in Australia, which ruled that he had a heart complaint. He flew back to Scotland promptly - only to discover that the problem was only a passing virus. Organising interviews, finding agencies that are prepared for the long recruitment cycle, managing the risk of engaging candidates sight unseen, and sorting through a lot of bogus applications from desperate people trying to get into Australia were also problems, Sankey said. Distribution Central marketing director, Nick Verykios, said it made commercial sense to hire people from overseas with skills that just don't exist here. "So going through the ridiculous bureaucratic process in these cases is obviously worth it. Outside of that, it creates a barrier to entry," he said.
Verykios said the distributor was just about to launch a new business unit but was struggling to fill three positions of the same calibre in its other units. However, the skills situation hadn't been that good overseas either in the areas it was looking to fill. Ultimately, it would be easier if the process for hiring from overseas was a little simpler.
"But I think there's a shortage [of skilled staff] everywhere so we just don't bother with overseas now - it's just too bloody difficult," Verykios said.
Symantec managing director, John Donovan - himself an overseas recruit - said the security vendor's local arm had experienced difficulty filling a variety of roles. "Not just the usual security or database expertise challenges," he said.
Relocation was always challenging, he said, but Symantec tended to ease the process for itself by relying on transfers from its overseas offi ces - which helped with ascertaining the recruit's capabilities.
"It's not so much the [bureaucratic] hoops - our biggest concern is cost. Relocations are tremendously expensive," Donovan said. Another industry player, who requested anonymity, said his company had also found life difficult but had relied on what he called "short term contracts" to bridge peak demand or a skill shortage. "We've considered hiring but often the costs become prohibitive for the benefits," he said.
NSC human resources manager, Michelle Natoli, said the integrator was constantly challenged in finding staff with the right niche IP telephony and contact centre skills. The company currently has six staff with 457 visas but uses an immigration consultant to help smooth the way. "The main challenge is the eight-week delay from the time you put the application in to when the visa approval comes through. If you are looking to fill a position quickly, hiring overseas is not the answer," she said.