Australia is missing out on the global tech boom and lagging behind the rest of the world because of an inability to retain and attract talent, Freelancer founder and chief executive Matt Barrie says.
Speaking at the Knowledge Nation conference on Thursday, Barrie outlined the difficulties he has faced in trying to hire for tech positions and the impact this is having on the wider startup and tech communities.
“There is an absolutely incredible opportunity before us right now,” Barrie says.
“We’re in the grips of a technology gold rush. I think by this stage quite a number of you are well aware of this gold rush. And you’re also well aware that Australia is completely missing out.”
Barrie points to Australia’s decreasing number of STEM and tech graduates, especially women.
“All this is in the middle of a historic boom in technology,” he says.
“This situation is an absolute crisis. If there is one thing and one thing only that you do to fix this industry it’s get more people into it.”
Barrie says there is a lack of talented software developers and engineers in Australia.
He says Freelancer is looking to hire as many software developers as they can, but are “lucky to get one good application per day”. In contrast, he says a job ad for an office manager received 350 applications in just two days.
And he says it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract overseas workers to Australia.
When trying to recruit a Silicon Valley tech talent for a “very highly paid top role”, he says a recruiter told him that Australia is now a “backwater” for tech jobs and nobody wants to move here anymore.
“Nobody from Silicon Valley wants to come to Australia for any role,” the recruiter told Barrie.
“We used to think maybe someone would move for a lifestyle thing but they don’t want to do that anymore.”
And he says this is symptomatic of the wider problem facing the Australian tech sector.
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“This is what it is like trying to attract, incentivise and retain talent in a technology company in Australia,” Barrie says.
Along with a lack of STEM and engineering graduates, Barrie says culture also plays an important part in this problem, pointing to the recent controversies surrounding Sydney’s lock out laws.
“If you’re trying to attract young smart people to come back to Australia it’s a bit hard when the hashtag ‘nanny state’ is trending on Twitter,” he says.
“It’s a bit hard to build a technology industry when every second 20-year-old wants to leave because you’ve turned the place into a bumpkin country town.
“Sydney will never be a technology hub if all the young people want to flee overseas.”
A common argument from the government is that these talented individuals that relocate overseas to follow their tech dreams will eventually return to Australia with experience and knowledge to share with the community, but Barrie says this is incorrect.
“You’re kidding yourself if you think they are going to come back one day,” he says.
“In the last 15 years that I have been running technology companies in Australia, out of the scores that have left I’d estimate that less than 10% come back.”