A/NZ tech migrations

Published on the 13/03/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

A/NZ tech migrations

The migrant conundrum…

Tech migrants to Australia are finding ‘fulfilling’ roles in IT, but the jobs they’re finding are often below their skill level and they’re facing plenty of issues along the way, while in New Zealand, an initiative to attract new migrant ICT workers to the country has ended.

The Australian Computer Society’s Skilled Journeys: Navigating IT Migration in Australia report is drawn from a longitudinal study of more than 2,300 ICT-skilled migrants. It says skilled migration is helping to plug the gaps in the tech workforce.

“What they need is experience and training.”

Almost 60 percent of Australia’s ICT professionals were born overseas.

The report found that 90 percent of skilled migrants had found employment in Australia, with 80 percent finding jobs in ICT.

“Given the shortage of skilled IT workers in Australia and the high number of employer-sponsored visa for software and applications programmers (1,492 in 2021-22 versus 782 in 2018-19) it is evident that the local industry is soaking up supply,” the report says.

ACS chief growth officer Siobhan O’Sullivan says the findings run counter to the popular narrative that gig economy work is the inevitable outcome of Australia’s skilled migration system and says  that ‘the vast majority are finding fulfilling roles’ in the right fields.

But while a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Ceda) report found that a quarter of skilled migrants across the whole economy work in a job below their skill level, the ACS reports paints an even grimmer picture for ICT migrants, with one-third saying they’re working in jobs below their skill level. Many spent up to a year searching for a role locally, something ACS says suggests a need for greater focus on targeted job placement programs and employer incentives to hire recent migrants and enhancing recognition of international experience to mitigate local experience preferences.

There have been plenty of calls on both sides of the Tasman for ‘alternative’ pathways to building the IT workforce.

The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) Digital State of the Nation 2023 report highlighted severe IT skills shortages, with the skills deficit ‘the most significant handbrake on sector growth’. It noted that VET and university grads weren’t job-ready.

Across in New Zealand, a spokesperson for New Zealand Story – an initiative to promote the Kiwi brand and help New Zealand businesses tell their story to the world – says the current tough economic climate has seen many businesses choosing not to hire.

Last June it launched a government funded See Tomorrow First campaign to attract tech talent to New Zealand under the Digital Industry Transformation Plan (ITP).

Recruitment Storyteller racked up 2,000 global IT applicants in its first month, but had just 20-30 jobs from seven companies on offer. Updated figures weren’t available this week, and the National-led government has since closed the ITPs.

“Our Recruitment Storyteller content is still available free for businesses to use in their international recruitment efforts, however the current centralised recruitment platform managed by Haines Attract for this campaign is being finalised at the end of April,” the NZ Story spokesperson told iStart this week.

“While it’s disappointing, the positive news is that any applications via the Recruitment Storyteller campaign will be merged into Haines Attract’s wider database.”

The Tuanz (Telecommunications Users Association of NZ) Digital Priorities 2023 report released late last year ahead of the general election also called for whoever made up the new government to develop pathways to attract diverse talent.

Tuanz CEO Craig Young said at the time that while offshore labour taps were flowing again the number of returning Kiwis and skilled migrants wasn’t as high as anticipated.

Tuanz called for a more comprehensive and holistic approach to the problem – a call that has been made numerous times by different industry bodies across New Zealand.

ACS’ O’Sullivan says the Australian report is proof positive of the valuable contribution skilled migrants are making, helping to fill the critical shortage of IT professionals in Australia, especially at a time when the sector is facing ‘unprecedented demand’ for skilled talent.

“The latest survey… illustrated the opportunity for regional employers at a time when skills shortages are deeply affecting local economies and businesses. Skilled migrants can fill a critical gap in the workforce and we’d like to help employers embrace that.”

According to the report, 27 percent of the skilled ICT migrants surveyed are residing outside of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. But just 43 percent say they’ll remain in a regional area for more than five years.

The report also highlights issues for the wider sector to overcome in its acceptance of migrants in the workforce.

Many of those in the Australian study reported negative experiences with employers who were not always favourable towards visa holders – 55 percent said their visa rights were a hindrance in finding a job – and in some cases (28 percent) feelings of discrimination due to their migrant status. Issues with the complexity of the migration process were also noted.

Despite that most of the migrants said migrating to Australia was a good decision.

The way in which the migrants are arriving is also in flux, with a shift from offshore to onshore applications.

Compared to 2017, more ICT-skilled migrants are arriving in Australia to study or fill work placements and then seeking permanent residency than migrants apply for permanent residency while overseas.

The report notes that migrants are spending more time in Australia before they start work and generally hold locally gained higher qualifications, with more recent migrants having postgraduate degrees, mainly Masters.

“What they need is experience and training.

“These shifts and the survey’s findings inform how the Australian government, industry and organisations like ACS can better support ICT-skilled migrants and how the skilled migration system can evolve for better outcomes for people, communities and the Australian economy,” the report says.

“Overall, the best opportunities to improve migrant outcomes may lie in setting expectations – salary, job prospects, etc – and helping employers understand the opportunities they can realise when hiring ICT-skilled migrants.”

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