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Liven co-founder suggests training subsidy to offset start-up impacts of the 457 visa reform

The 457 visa changes continue to divide the business community as to whether they represent an opportunity or a challenge to overcome. For David Ballerini, co-founder of Melbourne start-up Liven – a restaurant discovery app – a key concern is the potential for increased development costs. 

“Occupations to be dropped from the replacement programs include ICT support and test engineers, technicians and web developers – roles that are critical to the tech sector,” he said.

“When we began our business, we were bootstrapping. Finding affordable talent was a major challenge. In the end, it was our ability to attract a foreign developer through the 457 visa program that allowed us to build our minimum viable product (MVP) and then successfully raise seed funding.

Ballerini said Liven, which recently completed a series A funding round, has employed staff on 457 visas, primarily in technology and product development roles, due to a ‘shortage of relevant skills/experience from the local market’.

“While we haven’t hired anyone under an occupation that has been ‘removed’ from the list so far, those removed positions will become more relevant in the near future for us, so it is disappointing to see them removed from the list,” he said.

“Testing, for example, is a big part of our product development cycle and is being removed from the list of approved occupations. A big question for us now is: how will we hire from the local market and find relevant test experience in the future in this area specifically? It’s difficult to fnd test engineers locally who have the relevant experience. We met a couple of young gun during some of our meet-ups but as soon as they turned 21/22, they were snatched away by some of the big overseas tech companies.” 

Local experts ‘far and few between’

Despite acknowledging the merit in saving jobs for Australian-born developers, Ballerini points out the local community is small and technical specialists are few and far between.

“When it comes to tackling the hardest challenges to complete highly specialised work, there may simply not be developers in Australia with the relevant experience,” he said.

“Under the 457 visa program, Australia was able to attract (and retain) developers of an extremely high quality who may now be unable to gain permanent residency through that channel. The end result of the change will be a reduction in international talent flowing to Australia and, thus, slowed growth in an Australian start-up scene which is really still in its adolescence. While a focus on training Australians to fill our own labour market needs is important, skilled migrants are often best positioned to be educating the next generation of Australian workers – such as when working together with junior developers within the same companies, for example. While we wait for more details on the new program to be released, we will remain hopeful that the changes made do not restrict the options available to start-ups.”

The risk of a start-up exodus 

Ballerini believes the government must do more to offset the impact of the changes on the start-up ecosystem so that start-ups don’t have to resort to out-sourcing more or relocating to other more ‘start-up friendly’ countries.

“If the government is going to restrict our hiring ability, then they should consider providing robust training or subsidising start-ups for spending money and time in training local hires,” he said.

“This may involve start-ups engaging contractors/professional trainers to skill up the local workforce, which would increase the operational costs. If the government’s long-term goal is to cultivate the local workforce, then they should do more by encouraging the hiring of inexperienced developers that are trained by their employers.”

An opportunity to upskill locals

In related news, James Hyett – Partner at McLean Delmo Bentleys and a registered migration agent – told Dynamic Business that while changes to the 457 program will, at least initially, impact a number of industries, they also present an opportunity for businesses to take a greater role in training and upskilling staff to the benefit of the broader economy.

“The main concern is the potential creation of a skills gap particularly in sectors that rely on skilled workers such as the retail, hospitality, and hair and beauty industries,” he said.

“The question is, ‘will the revised program adequately deal with shortages for particular occupations?’ Where there are genuine shortages in particular occupations, then it may in some cases take two or more years for our local training organisations to produce persons with these skills to address the shortage.  By that time, the demand for that occupation may have passed, and the opportunity for Australian business to deploy a skilled person may have been missed.

“For businesses and employers, the short-term focus will be to identify the immediate impacts on business from changes in the occupation list, impacts to pending applications and whether changes will need to be made to how the business uses the program.

“While there may be initial challenges, the real opportunity is that this change bolsters the employment prospects made available to Australians as businesses begin to assess the capability of the domestic workforce with a longer-term perspective to meet staffing requirements and even looking at training and upskilling staff to fill particular roles”.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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