MC-B on tech talent shortfalls

James Riley
Editorial Director

Atlassian co-founder and co-chief executive Mike Cannon-Brookes has told a senate committee investigating the future of work and workers that Australia must get behind the local industry and called for more to be done to build local skills to keep the country globally competitive.

In his first ever appearance at a Senate committee hearing, Mr Cannon-Brookes spoke passionately about being a co-founder of an international tech company and wanting to continue to build and innovate in Australia to support the local workforce.

But he says based on Australia’s current attitude towards the technology sector, it’s becoming less feasible.

Mike Cannon-Brookes: Development of tech skills should be a national priority

“Technology as an industry is the biggest in the world, well past finance, and [Australians] have a pretty big decision to make if we want a seat on that rocketship or not,” Mr Cannon-Brookes told the committee.

“Do we want to be a primary manufacturer of technology, or just a consumer of it? Digital technologies are our modern day factories,” he says.

Mr Cannon-Brookes said Australia’s treatment of skilled migration – the scheme was recently tightened – is one factor that is preventing the country’s potential to thrive as a technology-first country.

“The lack of skilled migration is constraining the growth of Australia,” he said. “We think of skilled migration completely backwards.”

Specifically, he said changes to the recent 457 visa “damaged Australia’s reputation” and that Atlassian was “hurt” directly.

“It has suffocated our ability – is threatening Atlassian’s ability – to keep our headquarters here,” he said.

Mr Cannon-Brookes said while the changes of the 457 visa had a series of different impacts on the company, one of the main issues was that the cost to hire someone on the new visas versus what the company would have paid previously for someone to come on a 457 visa has significantly increased.

“Part of the rhetoric is we’re trying to import cheap labour. It’s already hard enough to fill a job and now its way harder, and you have to pay a lot to get them in.”

He also expressed his bewilderment concerning the skilled occupation list, which provides a four-year visa to a horse trainer, but only a two-year visa for an ICT trainer, despite the fact that the skill is in high demand.

The exclusion of people over the age of 45 on the new visa scheme was the third issue that Mr Cannon-Brookes found frustrating, saying people between 45 to 55-years-old are in the prime of their careers, and who can help local graduates.

He said while it might not be realised by many right now, the technology skills shortage will be an issue that touches all industries.

“It’s something everyone needs to know about because every company is becoming, or already is, a software company, which means more jobs are becoming more technology-related, and so it will become everyone else’s problem.”

Attracting international talent isn’t Australia’s only problem.

Mr Cannon-Brookes said Australia was increasingly losing local talent to international companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Uber, mainly because there aren’t nearly as many job opportunities in Australia as there are overseas.

“The quality of our graduates is fantastic, but problem is we lose them overseas,” he said.

Mr Cannon-Brookes suggested if long-term systemic changes are made to not only the education system to see technology skills taught across subjects, and not only just mathematics and science, it would likely help Australia become a “net exporter of products, not people”.

Mr Cannon-Brookes also took the opportunity to warn about the impact automation would have on the future workforce, and how necessary it is prepare for it.

“This is not science fiction and we must approach this disruptive future not with denial and hope,” he said.

He used the transport sector as an example and how it will soon be dominated by autonomous vehicles, which will not only create many new jobs, but many people will also lose their jobs.

“We need to think and plan ahead. There will be massive job disruptions,” he said.

“If you look at any big technological change we’ve been through, for example, the introduction of the steam engine in the UK came with massive job loss and job gain. But the jobs gains were not filled with people who lost their jobs.

“It was a hard transition that led to a lot of social unrest, and we can see that coming and we need to start planning.”

Mr Cannon-Brookes recommended three key changes need to happen to prepare for the major disruption technology will have on the future workforce:

  • Shift the view of education, and to think of it as ongoing need rather than an early process we do when we’re young;
  • Provide income support while people transition into new roles and skills; and
  • Grow post-disruption jobs locally through bipartisan support, democratic forums, and introducing new policies

The committee on the future of work and workers was set up in October 2017 to inquire and report on the impact of technological and other change on the future of work and workers in Australia.

The committee will report on or before 21 June 2018.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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