Immigration key to ending war on workers

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 here to ensure the long-term viability of the nation is paramount.

The extent of the problem is dire. A survey of 200 hiring managers in Australia found 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 turf war over talented professionals. In the past 12 months, demand for highly specialised information and communication technology roles such as system engineers in WA 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 local workers, fail to address the real problem.

The answer to long-term sustainability in order to support the skills crisis is to supplement the 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.

To sustain the level of growth forecast, we need to attract professionals from around the globe while encouraging home-grown talent.

  • Andrew Hanson (pictured) managing director of Robert Walters Recruitment