Talent shortage remains top concern for tech and startup communities amid change of government

tech startups

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

With Ed Husic taking office as Minister for Industry and Science, the startup and tech community has spoken up about the most pressing needs of the industry and what the new government can do to address them. 

Top of the wishlist — as a number of industry experts have pointed out — is alleviating acute labour shortages.

General manager of FinTech Australia, Rehan D’Almeida, told SmartCompany that among the pressing issues affecting the tech sector is talent.

“While the Labor government has committed to training more tech talent, the industry will be calling for a more immediate solution in the form of talent migration policies,” D’Almeida said. 

This shortage of talent, Ross McDonald — country manager of Perkbox and former Google and Expedia executive — says, goes beyond Australian tech startups.

“It has much broader effects on innovation,” he said.

“[It will] deter overseas companies from launching in this market and bringing talent and fresh thinking with them. Perkbox launched in Australia in 2019, at the height of Australia’s tech boom. Had we not launched then, it would be difficult to justify launching now, given the severe difficulty all companies are facing with hiring tech talent.” 

“Like most, we welcome the new government’s commitment to train tech talent in Australia. But a more immediate solution is needed in the form of skilled migration reform. We only hope the industry is making this clear enough for the government that it intervenes,” McDonald added.

A similar sentiment was echoed by Benjamin Chong, partner at Right Click Capital, who told SmartCompany that it was imperative the talent shortage was addressed by allowing for more skilled migration.

“We need to ensure there’s great ability for great talent to come to Australia for them to be able to benefit from the lifestyle and opportunities we offer.” 

Adding to this, David Burt, director of entrepreneurship UNSW, noted that shortening waiting times on visa processing would greatly alleviate the current skill shortages. Having worked with many students, he points to uncertainty long processing times have created and how many startups supported by UNSW founders have been reporting talent shortages across the board, particularly in tech.

This shortage doesn’t extend to software alone, but also hardware engineering skills, particularly experienced firmware engineers. 

“I’m not an immigration expert, but it would be great if we had someone who understands startups making sure the skilled occupations list is up to date and reflects the skills in demand,” he said, adding that reducing visa waiting periods and the uncertainty would go a long way. 

“The Global Talent Visa is great,” he said. “But we could do with more of what’s already working. It should be expanded.”  

A growing list

Talent isn’t the only pressing concern highlighted. D’Almeida notes other key priorities like the rollout of Customer Data Right (CRD) and the regulation of cryptocurrency. 

“With the CDR, we believe there is too much emphasis on privacy control which will ultimately detract from its impact, weakening its ability to drive competition and improve consumer outcomes,” D’Almeida said. 

“The crypto sector is seeking assurances regarding regulation in order to scale reliability in Australia,” he said on the topic of crypto regulations.

“This largely revolves around how crypto interactions are taxed in Australia. Understanding the new government’s stance on these points will be a good starting point for discussion. 

“FinTech Australia is also looking forward to working closely with the Treasury to ensure that important work to roll out Payment Regulation Recommendations does not lose momentum. This regulation, in conjunction with the CDR work, will lay the foundation for fintechs in the space for many years to come.” 

D’Almeida also hopes to continue discussions with Canberra on “debanking, capital raising, and attracting international fintechs to Australia by improving access to the regulatory sandbox”. 

Likewise, Chong pointed to the research and development tax incentive and hoped it would increase and create more opportunities and further funding for research and development.

Breaking down barriers

While there are a number of pressing concerns the tech and startup industries as a whole, there are gendered issues that also need addressing. 

Sarah Moran, co-founder of Girl Geek Academy, told SmartCompany there are a number of barriers that need to be broken down for more women to benefit from the tech boom. She points to the rules around sophisticated investments, which only allows those who earn more than $250,000 to invest. 

“To be an investor at all, you have to be rich enough already, but it also cuts a lot of women out from being investors,” she said, adding that there are a number of avenues but they all involve skirting around sophisticated investor rules.

“This is how hard we have to fight to be able to support each other as women and we shouldn’t have to. A gendered lens over access to being an investor in Australia would rapidly shift our investment in women. Globally, less than 3% of venture capital goes to women, with even less for women in colour. Let’s look at the laws that are locking us out.” 

Moran also added that there’s a possibility Australia would swing in the direction of San Francisco — which would mean a drastic increase in inequality, with many rich people living alongside large pockets of homelessness and inequality. 

“I’m hoping that the new government will honour calls made to increase the daily job seeker rate. Before we talk about what support people need to take on the technology boom, we need to make sure it’s equitable and we don’t end up being a country of really amazing tech companies living alongside great poverty.” 

This is particularly important, Moran points out, given that the highest demographic of homelessness is among women over 50.

“This affects our parents and has knock-on effects. By making sure we have a safety net will make sure we can grow above and beyond and live in a rich Australia not just economically but also socially.” 

Moran pointed to the limitations of the Boosting Female Founders Initiative, starting with the emphasis on the word “female”, which, as Moran notes, is trans exclusionary.

“It may sound alliterative, but it’s not okay,” she said.

She also notes that the program had been “handled woefully.” 

“It has not incorporated women’s feedback,” she said. “We need more meaningful support, not something tokenistic. We are well due for a shakeup.”

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