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Friday, 04 November 2011 12:46

NBN may get mining sector's 457 skills program

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The Federal Government is considering a plan to extend a special 457 visa program designed for the resources sector to the telecommunications industry, to allow it to expedite the import of large numbers of skilled workers.


Large mining companies are able to sign special enterprise agreements with the Immigration department that enables them to bring in large numbers of skilled workers through the 457 long-stay visa program.

The arrangement was a recommendation of the National Resource Sector Employment Taskforce and adopted by the Gillard Government to give some assurances to big miners that their capital intensive projects would not be derailed by a lack of available skilled labour.

It is understood this resources sector program has been discussed within the Immigration department for possible extension to the telecommunications sector - specifically in reference to the National Broadband Network roll-out.

The eligibility for the mining sector program has very high thresholds. The companies projects must be worth $2 billion or more and employ 1,200 to 1,500 people.

The obvious telecommunications company that might meet this threshold is the 100 per cent Government-owned NBN Company.

Although the NBN Company is aware of the special 457 visa program available to the mining sector, the company says it has not asked for an extension to the telecommunications sector and at this stage does not plan to. But the availability of such a scheme has been discussed.

Despite the massive scale of the National Broadband Network roll-out, the NBN Co will not itself be a huge employer. The company currently employs about 1,200 staff, and at its peak - and when the network is fully operational - will likely to employ 2,500 to 3,000 people.

The great bulk of the work during the construction phase of the roll-out, from laying fibre to building satellite ground stations, is being performed by contracted companies.

But NBN Co has discussed the possibility of entering an enterprise agreement  with Immigration similar to the available to mining firmsas the "umbrella organisation" for the NBN project that would enable its contractors to more readily access skilled staff through the 457 long-stay visa program.

The construction of the National Broadband Network is not expected to generate demand for vast numbers of offshore skills - despite the nest-generation nature of the project - and the NBN Co is still assessing specific skills requirements.

But as the network comes online, demand for IT skills already in short supply - particularly developers and project managers - will spike, as business and government users of the network pull together applications and services that take advantage of the newly ubiquitous high-speed network.

 

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