A Tech Council of Australia representative has said the organisation wants to see more investment in skilled migration, mid-career tech transitions and critical technologies to support sustainability.
Vincent Zhang is a data and policy intern at the Tech Council of Australia, who we caught up with at Blackbird’s Sunrise startup festival in Sydney.
While the atmosphere of the festival was energetic and jovial, it was difficult to ignore the ongoing turbulence in the tech sector, particularly with the major layoffs at both Meta and Twitter this week.
“I think one thing that we need to be clear on is separating what’s happening in the US,” Zhang says.
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That’s certainly true. And in Australia there is currently a markup on salaries across the tech sector, particularly for engineers. But even so, we haven’t escaped layoffs. The likes of Klarna, Airtasker, Shopify and Brighte have all laid off staff this year. Just this week Zendesk even shaved 300 from its head count.
But that’s just one of the issues facing the Australian tech sector, with skill shortages being a particular area of concern.
More investment in skilled migration and technology needed to tackle climate change
Last week the Department of Home Affairs abandoned the Coalition’s Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL). According to the federal government, this will be in favour of a refreshed visa process. However, concern has been raised over the removal of tech and cybersecurity occupations from the priority list.
The Tech Council of Australia considers skill migration one of its key pillars. It wants to see an improvement in the availability of the Global Talent Employer Sponsored (GTES) visa, as well as re-evaluating the process for the allocation of Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visas.
“We really want tech jobs to be prioritised as much as [the government] is prioritising health care and other parts of the economy,” Zhang told SmartCompany.
“We see tech as the main driver of productivity across the economy. It improves outcomes for all Australians.”
The same goes for electric vehicles, which received more airtime in Labor’s federal budget than ever before. While the council supports this, it would like to see more for the general tech sector, while also acknowledging that the government is trying to tackle inflation and the cost of living at the present time.
“It’s really encouraging to see the government take more proactive approach towards EVs and that greater goal of accelerating the climate transition. That’s very important,” Zhang says.
“What we want to see more of from the government is recognising that tackling the climate crisis is intimately involved with technology critical technologies. And they do have policy such as the critical technologies list and so on.
“Investing in EVs is perfectly great, but what we need to think about more broadly is the enabling technologies of that transition. How can we maximise the impact of our solutions to those issues? By supporting investment.”
Mid-career transitions a priority
The organisation is also passionate about career transitions into the tech sector, especially for women.
“One personal example I can give is my mum. She previously had an accounting background but didn’t really have much professional work experience,” Zhang says.
“Now she is a stay-at-home mum but loves programming, coding and learning about artificial intelligence.
“If we could provide those opportunities for people who looks like my mum… imagine the opportunities that could generate for the rest of Australia.”
Unfortunately, this is another area that has been affected by the recent federal budget. While $5.8 million over five years will be invested in the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program, $3.9 million over two years has been removed from the ‘Supporting Women’s Mid-Career Transition into the Tech Workforce’ component of the previous government’s Digital Economy Strategy.
“$3.9 million dollars in the grand scheme of the country might not seem like that much. It’s not so much the money, but it’s what it signifies,” Zhang says.
“It indicates that the government might not necessarily be prioritising this as much of an issue compared to others. But the tech industry has a diversity problem.”
Zhang also makes the point that tech doesn’t have to mean a technical barrier to entry. You don’t have to have a computer science degree to work in the sector.
“You can be from any background and find a tech job that really suits you.”