Atlassian has an 'unrealistic plan' for solving the skills gap

Mike Cannon-Brookes. Photo: supplied.

A couple of days ago Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar told Lateline’s Emma Alberici that Australia is facing a skills gap. Farquhar said that Atlassian would be hiring about 75 grads in the next year, but they were suffering from a lack of senior talent. And the ones they could hire came from overseas.

Atlassian is Austrlia’s most successful startup, the only company to be counted amongst the world’s tech unicorns. This is why they can hire tech grads from afar.

Other Australian startups, ones without the cash or reputation of Atlassian aren’t as lucky. And the entire sector is suffering from it.

Now, in a Reddit AMA, Mike Cannon-Brookes, the other Atlassian co-founder has doubled down on this sentiment. When asked what one thing he would want the federal government to deliver on, if they could he only deliver one thing, he had this to say:

“One thing? I’ll give you two depending on whether I need to have a realistic, compliant answer.

Realistic? Put innovation to the top of the national conversation. Create and pursue the vision of a smart, technologically competitive nation. Scare the shit out of all of us that if we don’t get there, we will be disrupted as a country, our standard of living will slip relative to other nations. We must get to that point – and we have all the smarts, research, invention culture and people to get there.

Unrealistic? Here’s a crazy idea (that is in no way costed). Experienced people is our biggest problem. If we have a truckload, all manner of amazing things would happen. Think about the instant change of conversation when you step off the plane in SFO. How do we attack that in a crazy ambitious way, as a startup would attack it’s most difficult problem? Turn the dial to 11.
Set a goal of importing 250,000 STEM graduates of top 100 universities in the world to Australia (who have at least two years work experience) in the next 5 years. Yup – that fast.
The more work experience they have, the more incentive they get. For example, if you have 10 years experience working in STEM fields at good companies, you get a huge tax deduction in Australia for 10 years – and a permanent residency path etc. If you have 2 years experience, maybe you get the benefits that LAFHA used to have and put you on a path to getting to PR.
(These folks are likely young, will contribute to the economy by staying + paying tax for many years, by helping build an industry of the future which itself will support our country, and sharing their experience and history with the 2 in 5 other Australian workers who will have STEM related jobs by 2030)
(And yes – this is why I wouldn’t make a good politician. Such plans would be shot down I imagine by so many special interest groups as to never happen – despite the fact I think the outcomes for the nation as a whole would be incredible).”

Considering that 250,000 is close to the number of total immigrants Australia already accepts per year, this idea seems like a non-starter.

But assuming it did, there are a number of other quibbles. Are there enough established or soon to be established companies to absorb this many graduates? What would this influx of graduates do to other areas of the economy – think property prices? Are tax breaks and residency enough to overcome the glamour and agglomeration that the likes of Silicon Valley have to offer?

And on top of all of that, for a country already struggling with a budget deficit, the cost of giving 250,000 high earners huge tax breaks is going to be a huge hit.

As Business Insider’s Paul Colgan pointed out earlier this week, this issue will “a critical challenge for public policy, and for Malcolm Turnbull, who will need to convince the public of the need to import skills over a significant period of time to ensure Australian entrepreneurs can get the staffing and expertise they require to build their businesses”.

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