On 18 April, the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, flagged plans to abolish the country’s subclass 457 visa program, which the IT industry has been leaning on heavily to recruit skilled workers from overseas.
As expected, then local IT industry has had some things to say about the move to abolish the program, saying that the 457 visa has been vital in bringing in talent for jobs within the tech sector that are in demand.
A recent study by SolarWinds found that Australian organisations are facing an IT skills gap and increased complexity driven by today’s hybrid IT environments, even as they are working build and expand cloud roles and skillsets for IT professionals.
Specifically, 48 per cent of those surveyed said they do not believe IT professionals entering the workforce now are equipped with the right skills to manage hybrid IT environments and 59 per cent said an IT skills gap was one of the five biggest challenges of managing cloud and hybrid IT.
In addition, 61 per cent of IT professionals indicated that hybrid IT has required them to acquire new skills, while 12 per cent say it has altered their career path, and 49 per cent also reported their organisations have either hired or reassigned (or plan to) IT personnel for the specific purpose of managing increasingly complex hybrid IT environments.
IT personnel entering Australia on a 457 visa help alleviate these problems.
Xero Australia managing director, Trent Innes, said the biggest risk facing Australia’s technology industry is a lack of talent and that abolishing the 457 visa has the potential to limit the opportunities of the world’s best and brightest tech workers, make Australian-based tech firms less competitive, and severely hinder the growth of the nation’s tech industry.
“If companies can find skilled, local engineers and developers, they’ll hire them. If we can’t train, locate or import the talent, skilled technology jobs are at risk of moving offshore,” he said.
Even with Xero committing to fostering local talent – through teaching kids to code, working with universities and government to help modernise policy and curriculums and retraining and upskilling Australians – Innes said being built on a global platform requires global talent.
“With more than 1,600 employees, including several hundred in Australia, and customers in more than 180 countries, our business success, like many others, is built on being a global platform.
“This requires the ability to bring in the best talent from around the world and have our employees work where they want and need to. If we’re going to build jobs for our kids, we need to build next generation companies at scale,” he added.
He also mentioned that wrapping jobs in red tape sends a message to the world that Australia isn’t open for business.
“Any move to limit the ability to attract world-class talent has the potential to not only impact the way we work, but also the values on which our business is built. It could lead to an exodus of jobs and talent - neither of which are good for the Australian economy.”
Gruden CEO, Tim Parker, said as a technology company, it has been heavily dependent on 457 visas to provide the “top quality, qualified talent” it needs to deliver digital transformation to its clients and that abolishing the 457 visa will impact Australia negatively.
“With a number of our staff on such visas we applaud the grandfathering of existing 457s, as we do the intent to provide training to nurture local talent. However given that many countries have been teaching coding in kindergarten for a decade or more, Australia is well behind in the tech talent stakes.
“Therefore, we will continue to require imported talent in the short-term, and hope the new arrangements recognise this need. Otherwise the imperative to offshore our software development could increase at the expense of the local economy,” Parker said.
The IT Professionals Association (ITPA) president, Robert Hudson, said the organisation has some concerns as there are some "serious anomalies in the IT industry" under the existing 457 visa system.
"For that reason, we think that the proposed changes don’t go far enough and we also feel that there is a need for much more transparency to be applied to the application process, the involvement of visa agents and the granting of visas to successful applicants."
He added that many IT jobs have now been removed from the list of roles that are eligible to apply for 457 visa, but there are still many that should also be removed, such as ICT customer support officer, network administrator and systems administrator.
"These roles are all tradition industry entry points for IT graduates many of whom are currently finding it hard to find work in the industry. Is the government seriously suggesting that it is not possible to source IT support officers and network managers in Australia?" he questioned.