Atlassian’s Scott Farquhar explains Australia’s skills gap with devastating simplicity

Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar. Image: Supplied.

New prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been clear that he wants Australia to develop a more agile economy and embrace the opportunities from the global disruption of business through emerging digital channels.

But there are enormous challenges with this, especially with Australia’s current skills mix in the existing labour force.

Atlassian, the Australian-born global project management solutions company, is the nation’s most successful tech startup. One of its co-founders, Scott Farquhar, explained to Emma Alberici on ABC’s Lateline that his company simply could not find the skills it needs in Australia to help grow its business.

Here’s Farquhar:

We do a lot for the local industry here. We have about 75 grads coming in next year to Atlassian. But we just can’t find the senior talent that we need in Australia. And so we recruit them from all around the world to come and work in Sydney…. Developers, product managers, designers, people in the technology industry with five and 10 years’ experience – we don’t have them in Sydney in the numbers that we need.

Mostly we get people from Silicon Valley, from Europe, and bring them to Sydney.

Farquhar explained that this was largely because the industry was still growing in Australia, and a decade ago “didn’t exist”.

“I’m hoping in 10 years’ time it will exist, but at the moment, it’s just too nascent here,” he said.

This is just the experience of one company.

To have a burgeoning tech sector where there are several dozen key players will require attracting thousands and thousands of people to come to Australia to work.

This is 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.

The other side of the skills squeeze for Australian tech companies – talent leaving for overseas – was a theme raised by founder Matt Barrie, another of Australia’s tech leaders, who told Business Insider earlier this month that “anyone mildly interesting with a brain is fleeing the city to go overseas”.

Barrie said, hours before Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott for the leadership, that there was “a much greater chance of support for the technology industry if Malcolm Turnbull takes over leadership”.