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Are we losing our edge in the global economy?  It’s not just our recruitment metrics that are blowing out – visa changes may come at a much greater cost.

This article first appeared in The Australian, you can view the article here.

Kelly Quirk, (March 20, 2019)

It’s fair to say that navigating Australia’s immigration system has been challenging for most businesses.  Implemented with minimal consultation or collaboration with businesses, the new system introduced in March 2018 has fallen short in delivering the talent Australia desperately needs.

Whilst there is absolutely a need to regularly review immigration policy and ensure that we continue to create and protect work opportunities for Australians, when it comes to skilled migration, it could be argued recent legislation disregards the needs of many businesses.

Some believe that the abolition of the 457 visa program and reducing pathways to permanent residency has significantly increased time and cost to hire, and caused undue stress for employees whose futures in Australia are now in question.

But it’s not just our recruitment metrics that are blowing out, visa changes may come at a much greater cost.  Are we eroding our nation’s ability to be globally competitive in industries critical to our continued economic security and development?

Australian businesses have been at the mercy of fluctuating federal policy and inconsistent state-led initiatives that fail to understand that it’s not just about current talent availability in Australia. When it comes to labour market testing (LMT) for example, should it be mandatory for all roles?

We can surely all agree that for both moral and economic purposes, businesses should be committed to sourcing and developing home-grown talent.  From a purely commercial standpoint, it also makes absolute sense to do so; it’s simply quicker and more cost-effective to hire talent locally.  Taking into consideration lost productivity, advertising, time investment, on-boarding and training, some estimate the average cost per hire for a local job applicant is already as much as 50 per cent of the person’s first year salary.

We have critical shortages of skills that should be exempt and such classification – Government should not dictate to business when and who they can hire; presuming to know what skills and talent we need both now and in the future without collaboration.

Unless we hire experienced leaders in key fields from overseas markets, we will struggle to develop and execute the programs needed in education and workplace settings to build local talent pools.  Labour market testing for certain roles is counter-productive, adding an unnecessary step into an already lengthy and costly process that undermines our ability to be globally responsive and hire the talent our country needs.

Attracting top talent is a highly competitive business.  Where visa legislation does allow for it, our ability to source international talent is impacted by skills testing, complicated legislation and visa processing times.  Are we now further impeded by a lack of pathways to permanent residency?

Relocating overseas is a huge investment and, with potential employers unable to offer any assurance as to a long-term position, Australia is becoming a highly unattractive proposition for many job-seekers – particularly for highly skilled workers that are in demand globally.

Whilst there were always far more 457 visas granted than conversions to permanent residency, the new legislative framework needs to be better understood.  The lack of clarity around pathways to permanent residency and decisions about what roles and skills qualify, are hampering efforts to attract global talent, putting us at risk of future skills shortages and decreased competitiveness in critical growth industries.

Research suggests that Australia needs 200,000 IT workers, yet we only produce 5,000 IT graduates each year, most of whom will need years of work experience to fulfill skills gaps that we have right now.  I co-hosted a recent industry breakfast event with Absolute Immigration and similar experiences were noted in engineering, where our graduate intakes are now so low, we risk future strain on critical infrastructure and capital works projects.

In July last year, the Government announced a new Global Talent Scheme, billed as a way for start-ups and established businesses to access in-demand tech talent. As of January 2019, no visas had been granted to start-ups under the scheme.

Our current system is under strain and under-delivering.

We need collaboration between federal Government and the Australian business community, and a greater appreciation for the stresses felt by individuals and families whose lives are impacted by a poorly thought out visa change.

Significant cuts or changes to immigration programs such as those made in 2017 should not come as a surprise and should be balanced with grandfathered arrangements to allow for those who have established a life here, and those businesses that have invested considerably in hiring and training them, to make the necessary arrangements.

As talent leaders we also need to continue to invest in strategic sourcing, training and development initiatives.  We do have talent here in Australia, and many, many women who are underemployed.  Programs to support return to work, workplace flexibility and re-training would all support talented, capable people to be better aligned to future skills requirements.

I believe that to be competitive in the global talent industry and to attract the best minds in existing and emerging high-growth industries, we need clarity on pathways to permanent residency and allow for greater flexibility for businesses to build a case for individual roles or skills.

Whoever is successful in the next Federal election needs to collaborate with business leaders to understand how we can work together to source the talent Australia needs to continue thrive in highly competitive market and rapidly evolving global economy.

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To help our customers understand current impacts and highlight potential future change, Harrier Group this week co-hosted a panel discussion event with Absolute Immigration, the Hon Shayne Neumann MP, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and a panel of industry experts for a robust discussion on immigration policy.

During our  event, Mr Neumann announced a number of new Labour policy commitments, which you can  read here.

If you’re interested in finding out more, please feel free to email me, and you can register your interest in upcoming seminars and panel discussion events here.

About Harrier Group

Harrier develops and invests in a market leading group of companies that delivers our customers sustainable business improvement through human capital management. We are passionate about enabling employers in the Asia Pacific region to thrive by providing world class people, tailored talent solutions and innovative technologies.

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