“There’s definitely areas where current business activity with a lot of growth like quantum computing lacks in skillsets … like quantum control engineering … but then there are questions of long-term strategic value and there we should think less about what business wants and more about academia.
“We need to be supporting long-term highly ambitious programs by world-leading scientists and researchers that are going to have an impact in the next 20-30 years.”
Dr Biercuk originally came to Australia from the US on a 457 visa in 2010. He said his start-up has had a role advertised on its jobs page for 18 months which has not received a single Australian applicant. His company was also one of the first to be approved to take part in the government’s Global Talent Employer Sponsored program (GTES), which progressed from a pilot to a permanent program last week.
Global talent officers are being deployed to find top talent to lure to Australia. Officials are already in Berlin and will soon be sent to Boston, Singapore, Shanghai and Dubai to promote the visa program.
Like Dr Biercuk, the chief executive of neobank Xinja, Eric Wilson, also came to Australia on a 457 visa and today runs his own company employing 90 people.
Mr Wilson decided to apply for his visa after a six-day work trip with his employer 20 years ago, Accenture, saying he immediately “couldn’t imagine living anywhere else”.
He said people who come to Australia under the new visa will have skills that aren’t available locally and will share their knowledge with colleagues, helping boost the whole tech sector.
“This will train Australians and build our talent pool here,” he said. “Often I’ve had to source overseas companies to do work for me because I can’t find the skills in Australia.
“We need deep, heavy computer engineering skills in financial services like banking platforms, payments platforms and building micro services and data layers. It’s hardcore technical engineering and we haven’t been able to find enough quantity of those resources.”
Like the start-ups, the Group of Eight (Go8) leading research-intensive universities also supported the visa program, saying more specialised experts were needed to foster the development of Australian talent.
While across the board the fast-tracked visas were supported by the sector, some founders said it did not go far enough, while others felt a stronger direction was needed around the future of the country and which sectors would be supported.
Work180 co-founder Gemma Lloyd said the 5000 people who will be fast-tracked were only a “drop in the ocean” compared to the number of foreign hires the country will require to be globally competitive.
“A recent study by organisational consulting firm Korn Ferry found that by 2020, Australia will have a shortage of 739,000 highly skilled workers, set to balloon to 2.2 million by 2030 if drastic action isn’t taken,” she said.
“The cyber-security industry alone needs to train 18,000 more people by 2026 to become effective.”
In the innovation capital, Silicon Valley, the proportion of foreign workers to local far outstrips the rest of the US. Data from the US Census Bureau for 2009-2013 indicated that of the working-age population, more than 45 per cent of the people in Silicon Valley were foreign born, compared to only 17 per cent of the overall US working-age population.
Nearmap chief executive Rob Newman said bringing in foreign talent helps grow local jobs, not take them away.
“One of the best things you can do to develop technical people is to have people of diverse backgrounds and skillsets … but if we bring people here, we have to remember to commercialise the technology here and build companies here, not just build the tech and licence it off.”
Co-founder of tech recruiter Think & Grow, Jonathan Jeffries, said the critical thing for the local ecosystem would be to bring people in at the executive level who were skilled managers and teachers who could train up local graduates.
“It’s not like we’re trying to bring in the founder of Facebook. We need executives who can nurture graduates through the ranks,” he said.
“(That) will let the ecosystem build up its own talent.”
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