Freelancer chief Matt Barrie on the “absolute crisis” facing the Australia tech industry: “Nobody wants to come here anymore”

Matt Barrie

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.

“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.”

This article was first published at StartupSmart. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn and SoundCloud.


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Vaughn Dumas
5 years ago

I think that there is a number of things that can be done to help the situation.
1. Get more girls into tech. This would start at school level by encouraging girls to do STEM subjects. The government might even want to reward schools for STEM programs.
2. You’ll need to get your hands dirty and apply some sort of affirmative action to get more women into tech jobs. I know this goes against the so called “discrimination” laws, but if you want to solve the problem, this is what you’re going to have to do.
3. Allow more companies to sponsor immigrants. There are actually many people from all over the world that want to come to Australia (South Africa is one). Help these folks to get here, easier and cheaper than currently done.
4. Is there something that can be do to get more of the Indigenous folks into STEM? Perhaps another kind of AA is required here.
5. For Canberra. For God’s sake, drop that infatuation you have with security clearance. It’s preventing so many people from getting jobs.

Above are 5 ideas. Now let’s see what reasons people can get for NOT doing it. These are not impossible things to achieve if you just have a can-do attitude.

David Markus
5 years ago

I would have to agree with Matt on this one. We have no less than 5 open positions for our small business at Combo and cannot find quality applicants. Advertising brings us a flood of poor quality applicants that take us time to wade through and the recruiters are struggling to add value to the shortlisting process either. The pool of IT talent in Australia is shrinking and many of the internal IT staff who have not had training in years are an obsolete bunch who have become part of the legacy systems, actively resisting change.

It is not just better education that is needed, it is respect for the skills and rewards offered. Since the “Tech Wreck” of 2001 the perception has been that IT jobs are not as well paid as others and I believe this is influencing peoples choices of career. Cheap labour with 457 Visas has helped to further damage the employment options and we are now suffering the consequences of this cycle and short term planning on education.

Lindy Sollinger
Lindy Sollinger
5 years ago
Reply to  David Markus

Hi David

Hope you don’t think I am too cheeky replying to your comment….

I am the director of one of SA’s leading IT recruitment agencies.

Due to the political situation here a lot of our candidates are keen to explore opportunities in Australia. We have partnered up with an
Australian immigration company who handles all the work permits and related admin.

Would it interest you at all to see some CVs from SA? There is a very large IT industry here with a lot of international companies having development centers in SA to leverage off the weak rand and lower salaries. As a result we have a lot of very competent and well trained developers, systems analysts, PM’s, BA’s etc
If you would like to get hold of my email address is [email protected].

Once again I apologize if you feel this is inappropriate but you have a demand and we can supply.

I look forward to hearing from you
Lindy Sollinger
27 82 924 7544 (cell)
27 87 351 0713

stuart hudson
stuart hudson
5 years ago

stuart hudson, australia is just far too expensive to do business here and companies find it far too expensive to set up business here. the government needs to help business more so that they can employ locals instead of selling everything off to china and having the chinese run everything!!!