Startup News & Analysis

Mike Cannon-Brookes’ “radical” idea for fixing Australia’s tech skills shortage that Steve Baxter thinks is one the best he’s heard

Dominic Powell /

457 visa

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes. Source: Supplied.

According to Queensland’s chief entrepreneur Steve Baxter, one of the best proposals for fixing Australia’s current concerns around tech skills and short-term visas like the 457 came from the mouth of Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes three years ago.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Baxter says he, Cannon-Brookes, and former trade minister Andrew Robb once met for dinner to discuss Australian inbound investment visas, when the Atlassian co-founder aired his views on what would be a solution to get more skilled tech workers locally.

“He said we should pick the top 50 universities in the world, and tell their graduates if they have good enough grades, they’re in, come to Australia,” Baxter says.

“And I agree, we need something radical like that, especially with American immigration policy moving back at this stage. We need to say ‘we’re open for business’, and we need to get adventurous about how we attract talent.”

Cannon-Brookes told StartupSmart the idea was one of many he had at the time on the topic, with his main point being focused on Australia being “open for business”.

“The government needs more radical, aggressive ways to attract the world’s best talent,” he says.

Baxter and Cannon-Brookes echo the sentiments of many other Australian startup founders in saying current challenges around talent acquisition and attracting skilled international workers are the biggest things holding back local innovation, with Baxter saying the amount of talent coming out of local unis doesn’t cut it.

“We lack the feedstock of smart young people for tech startups here currently. The uni sector doesn’t produce enough talent in term of graduates for the requirement in Australia. We need to be bringing more smart people from all around the world,” he says.

“Unfortunately it’s populist for governments not to do that at the moment, which is a shame. The proposed 457 visa changes went too far, we need smart and skilled immigration.”

Google weighs in on ongoing debate

Towards the end of last year, the discussion on the proposed changes to Australia’s 457 visa policies was renewed ahead of a new report from Australia’s Department of Immigration reportedly being released in November, after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton called for consultation on the issue in the middle of last year.

However, international tech giant Google has used another avenue to express its displeasure at the government’s proposed changes, outlining the impact in a submission to the upcoming Digital Economy Strategy.

In the company’s recommendations for the government’s focus on economic growth, it suggested fixing Australia’s skilled migration policy could boost local companies and encourage local job creation.

“Our Australian workforce has grown from a handful of people in a Sydney apartment in 2002 to more than 1,300 people in 2017, including one of Australia’s largest computer science workforces. As a result of the government’s changes to Australia’s skilled migration visa system in 2017, Google Australia has had to revise its Australian recruitment plans,” the company said.

“Business-critical skills have been excluded from the longer term visa categories that are necessary to attract workers with the knowledge and experience required to train younger Australian employees.”

Google continued to criticise the exclusion of a number of startup-critical worker roles from the longer-term visa options, including product managers, UX specialists, and system administrators.

Immigration lawyer Glenn Pereira told StartupSmart last year the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) system was archaic and in need of an overhaul, not being flexible enough for the current startup job landscape.

“One of the problems with a lot of jobs we’re talking about on these visas is that as far as the Australian Bureau of Statistics is concerned, they’re not classically jobs. These are things like digital growth consultants, UX/UI designers and the like,” he said at the time.

Google says that a redefinition of these roles and an assessment of which ones fall into the longer term visa category is imperative for helping local companies attract highly-skilled workers.

“Uprooting a family to move across the world is a significant decision, and although Australia offers a high standard of living, the nation’s current visa scheme does not provide the stability required for senior workers with families and children if their role falls into a short-term skill category,” it said.

StartupSmart contacted the Department of Home Affairs for an update on the 457 visa consultation and was directed to its summary page of the public consultations, which can be viewed here. 

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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  • Malcolm Turncoat

    once the 457 visa came along wages for tech workers has declined. there is more money to made in other fields and your skills aren’t obsolete in 5 years

  • Angus M Robinson

    Why stop at Universities; Australia needs skilled technologists and engineers with substantive industry experience.

  • Outrider

    Something very hinky with the fundamentals. At this stage 457 imported linesmen (cablers) mostly with forged credentials work for next to nothing – playing the longer term game of getting residence. I can’t help thinking why are we taking in linesmen when it is a simple 6 week training course for locals that are desperate for jobs ….. How does this scale to all other categories ? Are there training funds set aside by both government and industry ?

  • Dennis Levy

    The idea might work, but it is extremely unethical. Especially third-world countries need their skilled people to stay. Pilfering their best skilled people to make the already wealthy Australia even wealthier is so unethical it is shameful. If course, there is another issue when they get here – many highly skilled immigrants are only offered jobs as manual labourers and taxi drivers because of the “Australian experience” networking thing. In Australia most people get jobs because of networking and being a nice guy, and not because of skills. Immigrants get the jobs that no self-respecting Australian wants to do.

  • Why don’t organisations just learn how work effectively remote-first

  • Troy Best

    Here is a novel idea, hire Australians and train them? “Google Australia has had to revise its Australian recruitment plans” Give me a break, they have more money than god. They produce billions of dollars of revenue in Australia. If Universities are not producing grads with the skills, then how about Google and Atlassian provide jobs and training to boost the skills of local Australians? That’s how it used to work in industry.

  • Link

    Here is an innovative idea!

    Instead of trying to recruit from overseas how about putting the money and effort to develop local Australians. Or is that too difficult an idea to come up with?

  • Garry

    I’ve got an even more innovative idea!
    I know all too many senior IE 20+ yrs experience across the full spectrum of IT that find it almost impossible to get work in Australia because recruiters & HR people are either too bamboozled by the array of skills a “GOOD” IT person develops through their career and therefore can’t assess their suitability for the job on offer OR because recruiters get to greedy when operating as labour hire companies and refuse to pay the rates that the senior people require.
    Couple that with employers becoming more accepting of people working remotely from home and suddenly our so called IT shortage could be largely knocked on the head with not a 457 visa to be found.

  • Andrew Jones

    Maybe Atlassian could start by contributing to the education budget of Australia by paying some local taxes – instead they gleefully take employees in Sydney that have been educated in Australia, incorporated in the UK and pay zero company tax. I am sick of hearing about what Bowles has got to say – his opinion is tainted by hypocrisy.

  • Helen Drousas

    And what about all the unemployed IT migrants already here who can’t get work because they don’t have any ‘local experience’. Perhaps another solution is educating local employers and in particular recruitment agencies on how to value overseas experience.