Startup Advice

Startup employee wages ‘unsustainably’ high as government migration policies stymie tech talent

Lincoln Benbow /

What a month for Australian business. According to findings from the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne, the latest in a series of migration cuts — making scarce tech talent even harder to find— would deprive the country of up to 6.8 million workers by 2050.

On the one hand, the tech arena could face serious stagnation if the country is unwilling to commit to a more generous annual migration intake.

On the other, the federal government’s plan to send new migrants to locations outside Sydney and Melbourne for up to five years may prove a blessing in disguise for many businesses, especially in the technology sector, where tech talent is a growing scarcity as the number of available jobs outstrips demand for them.

In January this year alone, the technology sector had the second highest hiring volume of any industry, inducing more than 11,000 new recruits into the space. Despite this, almost 74,000 roles remained unfulfilled across the tech industry.

Earlier this year, a report by Deloitte and Australian Computer Society (ACS) highlighted the need for Australia to find an additional 200,000 technology workers in the next five years, or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant as a digital economy.

As it stands, the talent deficit is driving businesses to go to increasingly greater monetary lengths to entice top performers, driving up wage growth in the tech space at the cost of innovation.

Our recent polling of over 2185 tech professionals from across Australia, NZ and Singapore found the growing demand for skilled IT workers is contributing toward an unsustainable ripple in wage growth and pricing many businesses out of the market, with almost half of IT workers commanding salaries more than $120k a year.

What this tells us is businesses need greater access to specialised workers to compete in the digital economy, not red tape. Albeit unintentionally, Australia’s ongoing migration battle is driving unsustainable wage growth for tech workers, pricing many businesses out of the market and leaving the country’s tech industry vulnerable to creative stagnation.

What is more interesting, however, was to most tech workers, money wasn’t the most important thing — flexibility, respect and good leadership were. This means businesses need to start getting more creative about what they can offer talent beyond just a salary.

Crucial to this new business culture is an open, agile mindset. Take, for example, the government’s policy on sending new migrants into rural Australia. Yes, businesses ideally want to have all staff on deck and under one roof, however, technology has for years now made remote working a reality.

All it takes is a shift in thinking, and a business is able to instantly expand its options when it comes to hiring the right people, who may end up living in Wonthaggi, and not near the head office in Sydney.

Another tip? Invest in your talent. People are resourceful and can learn new skills at any point in time, so writing off your older workers, for example, is not only unethical but also limiting your business growth potential.

If you don’t know when your next great hire will come through, it makes sense to throw everything at retaining a great skill base, which means educating, training and giving people time to grow into roles as they emerge.

Forming strategic partnerships that will help your organisation carry the load is also something every business should look into. In this freelance economy, there are many great contractors worth their weight in gold. If, as a business, you can tap into that resource, it will carry you through the hard times.

A final point: employers need to abandon the command and control management methodology that’s been employed across most industries for the last century, and adopt the new workplace culture of high performance and collaboration.

Central to this is trusting your employees to do the right thing when unsupervised, something which may become a reality under the new remote living policy. At the end of the day, the candidate pool in Australia is not getting bigger and competition is getting stronger.

By making considered changes to their definition and approach to the best tech professionals for their business, savvy businesses stand to make considerable gains in building sustainable, satisfied and effective tech teams.

NOW READ: Visa troubles for Aussie startups persist as Global Talent Scheme pilot delayed for months

NOW READ: Job search activity shows Aussie startups were hit hard by 457 visa changes

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Lincoln Benbow

Lincoln Benbow is the director and co-founder of Halcyon Knights, an executive search and recruitment firm dedicated exclusively to the technology sector.

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