James Riley
December 7, 2018

Access to talent is key: Perkins

Crossroads

Access to talent is key: Perkins

Melanie Perkins: Access to talent remains a key challenge for Australia's startup system

Access to talent remains the key to building a successful home-grown tech and innovation sector in Australia, according to one of the nation’s most successful technology entrepreneurs, Melanie Perkins.

The Canva co-founder and chief executive says urgent action is needed at both ends of the talent spectrum.

First, software engineering should be baked into the national curriculum in schools from the earliest years to build the pool of home-grown talent over the longer term.

And secondly, we must in the short-term use whatever competitive advantages we might have in Australia to attract world’s best talent, and to make it easier for them to come to this country.

Writing in the StartupAus 2018 Crossroads report, Ms Perkins says that ultimately the success or otherwise of the local industry will depend on the strength of the talent that is available to build it. This starts with a rethinking and redesign of schools.

“Many of the amazing engineers that now work at Canva started their coding careers at a young age, after stumbling into it more or less by luck,” Ms Perkins said.

“We need to remove chance from this equation and make software engineering a core part of our national curriculum.”

“A lot of the industries we are currently training our youth to work in through our schools and universities will be radically transformed in the next couple of decades,” she said.

“Australians can stand by and use the innovative products built by companies overseas – or we can get our act together and embed technology at the centre of our curriculum to give our students the inspiration and skills to be able to lead the charge themselves,”

Ms Perkins said the current political and visa climate in the US was an opportunity that Australia should be seen for what it is – a great chance to win talent from the big talent pools of the world.

And we have to be open to using an influx of global talent to upskill our own entrepreneur and engineering communities, and to accelerate the growth of our own industry. This skills transfer is real, and effective.

“Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of the product that eventually became Google Maps, was an expat who relocated to Sydney before his company was bought by Google in 2004,” Ms Perkins said.

“Because Lars chose to build his startup in Australia, many local talents such as Cameron Adams and Dave Hearnden were given exposure to the inner workings of a large-scale, global technology company.

“Cam and Dave eventually left Google to join Canva and have been critical in our success so far,” she said.

The list of things we should use to attract our share of the world’s best are our beautiful beaches, our weather and fines foods (“these aren’t just our national treasures, but significant competitive advantages”) and should be marketed to top talent from overseas.

The ability to attract this top talent must be the guiding principle for government when writing visa policies.

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