Reliance on 457 visa staff small but critical
• BY:NICK TATE
• From: The Australian
• March 19, 2013 12:00AM
THERE has been significant debate in recent days on 457 visas for IT professionals; much of it is ill-informed and we have seen far more heat than light.
There have been allegations that this sub-class of visas is being rorted to support the migration of information technology professionals for jobs that could or should have been available for the existing workforce.
No credible evidence has been offered to support these claims. Let us look at the facts instead. Read more . . . . .
457 visas for IT professionals account for only 7.2 per cent of all such visas, and it is not even the most popular category, ranking below cooks, doctors and marketing specialists.
Last year, the number of 457 visas issued to cooks increased by 283.9 per cent while those issued to software developers dropped by 18.6 per cent.
Other ICT categories either stayed the same or went up by much smaller amounts.
From July last year until now, the Australian economy has generated an additional 12,300 jobs in information technology.
The ICT statistical compendium, published annually by the Australian Computer Society, successfully predicted that there would be 14,000 jobs generated in the 2012-13 financial year and predicts that a further 21,000 ICT jobs will be generated in 2013-14.
The additional jobs are over and above those that must be filled through retirement or people leaving the sector.
ICT is an important part of the economy, accounting for about 8 per cent of GDP, which is just a little lower than the mining sector.
Where do we get the people to fill these newly generated jobs in such an important part of the economy?
There are about 4500 domestic students graduating in ICT each year, from all our universities in Australia, and not all of these go into ICT roles. Clearly, this goes nowhere near filling demand.
There are a number of Vocational Education Sector students who graduate with ICT qualifications although, sadly, as with universities, this number has declined in recent years.
There are also between 8000 and 9000 international students graduating with ICT qualifications from Australian universities, but of course many of these will return to their home countries.
We cannot meet the demand for ICT professionals from those whom we train here and the inevitable consequence is that there is a need for skilled professionals from elsewhere to come to Australia.
457 visas are simply a way of allowing some skilled ICT professionals to work in Australia for a limited period.
If the new ICT roles cannot be filled then companies may need to offshore more jobs or curtail their growth in Australia.
The real issues for the ICT industry and the ICT profession are a consistent lack of focus on attracting young people into ICT through well-thought-out programs in schools and poor levels of support for those in universities and TAFEs who are doing their best to produce more domestic ICT graduates.
It does not take a great leap of understanding to see that increasing the number of domestic ICT graduates is likely to reduce demand for 457 visas.
It is clear from recent speeches that government ministers have been poorly served by their advisers.
The ACS is more than happy to provide accurate data about the real state of the ICT profession and the ICT industry to ministers and others at any time and to work constructively with government and industry on solutions to the ICT skills crisis in Australia.
Dr Nick Tate is president of the ACS and director of a project to develop a national research storage service. He is based at the University of Queensland, where he is also an adjunct professor of IT and electrical engineering.