Startup Opinion

What skill shortage? Why Aussie startups should invest in university talent

Dean Nathanson /

university talent

StartUp Link president Dean Nathanson.

It all started at the Blackbird Sunrise Venture Capital Conference last year where HostPlus chief information officer Sam Sicilia spoke about one thing the US has got right. Startups.

He said: “In the US, so much of the young top talent flock to Silicon Valley in order to truly contribute to advancing innovation, working at the likes of Apple, Google, all the way down to the smallest startup.”

He shed light on the raw hunger of many young US graduates wanting nothing more than to contribute to a culture of innovation.

This sits in stark contrast to Australia.

Down Under, top talent almost blindly competes for those few corporate jobs, despite the fact after two years, many leave anyway, saying ‘it’s just not for me’.

So why does this happen?

Many in the corporate world feel disenchanted by the feeling of insignificance. Being another cog in the system. This feeling is attributed to a culture of following orders and structure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the corporate world, but it’s just not for everyone.

Steve Jobs famously said: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

This is where the startup world passes with flying colours. Being part of a startup is being part of a mission, a vision. It’s about a group of individuals that share a common purpose. This heightened sense of purpose in work is what today’s graduates in America are flocking to, and what we are hoping tomorrow’s graduates of Australia will find.

That’s where StartUp Link (a UNSW student-run society) steps in, determined to find the best way to expose university students to the startup ecosystem and get them involved early on. We are here to make a difference. And this is why we decided to organise the first-ever startup careers fair, run by students, for students.

The Startup Link careers fair. Source: Supplied.

The vision

To get 20 of Australia’s top startups and 75 hand-picked (from 200 applicants across NSW), top-quality university students in a room. A melting pot for innovation, passion, entrepreneurship and success.

Additionally, the requirement we pushed for most of the startups was that they needed to offer part-time internships for university students. This meant the bulk of the evening was a sophisticated speed-dating component, where students had multiple rounds to speak to representatives from the top startups to actually land jobs.

This was not your average show-and-tell corporate careers fair, this was a careers fair with a purpose.

The rationale

If you get university students excited about startups and actually working for one part-time during their degree, they are much more likely to seriously consider this as a legitimate grad job. The process de-risks the often mythical status of startups that pushes people away. This event was about driving real change, a meaningful change.

The outcome

The initial sell to startups was tough. We were met with rejection left, right and centre upon organising the event.

However, by the time the event swung around, we had a fantastic line-up. We had sold the vision, and what a vision it turned out to be. We have subsequently received phenomenal feedback from startups, with many surprised at the sheer calibre of talent on show.

It has come the time where our Aussie startups need to look at local young talent. This, of course, will be no easy feat. Startups are less structured than corporates, and have less money and resources. And yes, startups often fail. There is more risk.

But with risk comes a return. Students have a wealth of hands-on practical knowledge to gain from the startup way of doing things.

It’s going to take a culture shift in Australia to begin taking startups seriously, but it’s a culture shift that will make all the difference. Startups need to invest in university graduates and build them into the next generation of hackers, hustlers and hipsters.

NOW READ: Unnecessary requirements: Why startups aren’t utilising the Global Talent Scheme visa

NOW READ: To attract top talent, look no further than your own backyard

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Dean Nathanson

Dean is the co-president of StartUp Link, a student-run society that aims to be the bridge connecting students with startups.

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