Skills policy is a top constraint

James Riley
Editorial Director

When the ASX-listed accounting giant MYOB set out its formal business plan for 2017, chief executive Tim Reed says the company identified access to skills as the single biggest risk to meeting its goals.

And that risk was identified before the complexity and confusion of the surprise changes to the 457 temporary visa program was thrown in to the mix.

Mr Reed says MYOB is “probably 100 people down on our target headcount, and this is simply because we can’t find enough people.”

Tim Reed: Uncertain access to skills was identified by MYOB as a top business risk

The shock of the Turnbull Government’s changes to temporary visas is still raw in the industry. The changes, which ditched the 457 visas and a host of skills categories in favour of a new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa, were announced suddenly last April.

An outcry from the industry saw government establish an Immigration Reform Policy Taskforce to seek further industry advice. But despite some initial tweaks to some jobs classifications, real damage had already been done.

“It’s tough, it’s very, very tough,” Mr Reed said of the current skills shortages, speaking an AFR conference on innovation last month. “Particularly for software engineers, for design-based capabilities.”

“The screwing-up with the 457s throughout the year did us no good at all, and did our brand as a nation no good in terms of bring talent to our shores,” he said.

“There is a real job that we’ve all go to own about talking to kids about the kinds of skills that they need going forward. It kills me when I look at the lack of skills coming through, and particularly among girls.”

“Overall it’s tough. The number one risk we identified in our business plan going into 2017 was our ability to find the skills to do all of the things we wanted to get done in our business,” Mr Reed said.

The Start Society founder and well-known tech eco-system advocate Pete Cooper says the skills issues are deeply concerning, and that the current discussion about how to fix them amounts only to tinkering at the edges.

A large part of the problem is that the skills classifications that the Immigration department relies on to grant visas does not accurately reflect the needs of the industry, and the Australian Computer Society – which is paid by government to provide a skills certification service – is not equipped to do the job.

Mr Cooper says the cycle for enabling the curriculum development and accreditation of in-demand skills is simply too slow.

The temporary visa scheme is “a well-intentioned but structurally narrow-minded program when the new economy is moving so fast.”

“A simple example: Advanced Javascript is one of the most widely used languages on the web, and the IOS and Android frameworks dominate mobile, yet most of these are not taught in Australian Universities certified by the ACS,” he said.

“Meanwhile big tech employers like Google and Apple and large software houses meanwhile have them in their induction courses.”

“The role of ACS has crept up into one of gatekeeper-for-a-fee doing skilled immigration certification. This is part of the problem, when the [ACS] board and senior teams have very few skills in the new economy, and have evolved [from] traditional IT,” Mr Cooper said.

“They have their place, but there is a growing chasm of skills they simply don’t represent and the cycle time to develop certification [and] university curriculums [is too long].”

“We need talent,” Mr Cooper said. “Our companies are starved for it.”

“The industry needs more support put behind the excellent Sydney Startup Hub and Fishburners and Stone & Chalk and The Start Society and TechSydney. Peer learning specialists that are hyper connected shoulder-to-shoulder is crucial to [achieve the] rate of learning required to grab this opportunity.”

Meanwhile, MYOB’s Tim Reed says Australian’s tend to debate ecosystem issues at a macro-level more than is probably healthy. As much as governments must set policies to create an environment to assist success, the responsibility for driving innovation outcomes rests with individuals and with business leaders.

“It’s almost like people in Australia feel that responsibility to innovate falls back to government,” Mr Reed said. “And I would challenge that.”

“The responsibility for innovation falls across all of us, but in particular it falls on business. Businesses need to ensure that they are thinking broadly about the strategies they are putting in place to remain at the top of their game,” he said.

And if that’s the way Australians and Australian business leaders view the world, “then I believe that we can continue to be a wealthy nation and to continue to provide for the needs of our overall community.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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