Wednesday, 19 April 2017 11:26

457 abolition will hit tech industry growth: Xero chief Featured


The head of a well-known Australian accounting software company has slammed the government's move to get rid of the 457 temporary worker visa system, saying it could "severely hinder the growth of the nation’s tech industry".

Trent Innes, managing director of Xero Australia, said that abolishing the 457 visa had the potential to limit the opportunities of the world’s best and brightest tech workers and make Australian-based tech firms less competitive.

In announcing the end of the 457 visa system, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it would be replaced by one that was stricter. He also said that his policy would Australian jobs first.

But Innes, who has major clients both in Australia and abroad, was apparently not impressed by these arguments.

"The biggest risk facing Australia's technology industry is a lack of talent," he said. "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 that Xero was committed to fostering local talent. "We have programmes teaching kids to code, (we) are retraining and upskilling Australians — we even have a coder who was a truck driver — and we’re working with universities and government to help modernise policy and curriculums to keep up with the rapid changes happening in the tech sector."

Turnbull said in his announcement that there would be two kinds of visas under the new system: two years and four years, with the latter allowing holders to apply for permanent residence after three years, in contrast to the 457 which lasted for four years and included the possibility of permanent stay.

Innes said that Xero, with more than 1600 employees, including several hundred in Australia, and customers in more than 180 countries, had built its business success, like many others, 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," he said. "If we’re going to build jobs for our kids, we need to build next-generation companies at scale."

Wrapping jobs in red tape sent a message to the world that Australia wasn’t open for business, he claimed.

"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."

Rob Hango-Zada, a co-founder of Shippit, said that putting Australian jobs first was a great mantra, but questioned how it prevented jobs from being sent offshore.

"In the corporate world and more specifically in the tech space, off-shoring is a common practice and in recent times 457 visas have meant that at least offshoring for specialised jobs is minimised. The government needs to provide specific information about how this would impact key areas such as engineering and development," he said.

"It's good to see that skilled workers will still be catered for with the new 'Temporary work visa'. I would like to understand how the government can assist with recruiting for key areas with skill gaps.

"We need to establish Australia as a destination for skilled workers where Australia falls short in order for us to really own the innovation agenda on a global stage and prevent local brain-drain from Australia to the US and UK.

Nick La, co-founder of on-demand recruitment platform Weploy, said the 457 move was a great initiative as it could provide many more working opportunities to Australians who are looking to step into a career.

"From experience, typically 457 visa holders take the current lower-skill/labour-based temporary work purely because it's all that they're being accepted or considered for (which narrows job availability for Australians in this cohort)."

Weploy specialises in matching employers with temporary staff.

La added: "However, they would much prefer to be able to continue their expertise in temporary capacities, something that is difficult for them to do right now. By deploying skills to the right areas and addressing shortages, the change will free up more opportunities to our Australians, whether it be building up work experience or simply earning a living.

"By providing a temporary visa focused more on specialised skill sets, Australia will be able to attract international talent, ultimately bringing our global level of excellence higher and up-skilling where required. This will hopefully motivate Australians succeed even more and help to drive our innovation agenda by giving founders access to the right talent to grow start-ups."

Luke Anear, founder and chief executive of SafetyCulture, said: "It comes back to supply and demand. We need a significant amount of skilled workers in order to support not only tech but all industries going through technology's disruption. The 457 programme was a way for us to fill the gap between lack of skilled workers in Australia and finding experienced workers from overseas.

"The best option and cheapest option is to have suitably trained workforce in Australia from Australia and today we just don't have it yet. We need to be able to continue to meet the demand and also provide the labour force to meet Australia's current opportunity."

SafetyCulture employs 12 staff on 457 visas and has just over 100 staff working in Australia, the US and UK. More than four-fifths of them are in Australia.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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