Some Australian tech workers are less interested in working for legacy businesses — and it’s helping exacerbate the sector’s skill shortage

Some Australian tech workers are less interested in working for legacy businesses — and it’s helping exacerbate the sector’s skill shortage
  • Legacy businesses like Telstra are struggling to recruit tech talent, pointing to border closures and the creation of more tech jobs as the cause.
  • Some Australian businesses, like Xero, have resorted to recruiting overseas to fill the gap.
  • Some in the industry say preference has become a largely overlooked part of the discussion, as specialists flock to opportunities to work on the “future of the internet” instead of legacy businesses.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

As companies try to fill thousands of tech-adjacent roles with a labour supply that was already stretched before the pandemic, legacy businesses are finding it harder than ever to recruit talent, as Australian tech workers flock to work with buzzier startups and companies on the “future of the internet”. 

Some business leaders have pointed to border closures as the main driver of Australia’s tech talent supply shortage, while others say salaries for specialist roles like developers have risen to exorbitant levels, as talent feeder programs and universities fail to produce enough graduates to fill supply.

Earlier this week, some of Australia’s biggest tech startups told the market they were struggling to fill specialist tech roles. Culture AMP, the workplace survey startup valued at $2.05 billion, said it has some 100 roles to fill. 

Employment Hero, a HR tech startup, said it had 50 jobs going, while Marketplacer said it was looking for 25 more staff. Telstra, meanwhile, said that it was struggling to fill as many as 1,000 new tech jobs, as it looks to accelerate its own digital transformation. 

But other industry leaders say that preference has come to play a prominent role in the struggle to lock down Australian tech workers. 

Legacy Australian businesses, like Telstra, have come to compete with newer businesses that are happy to pay rising wages, and can offer specialists the opportunity to work on emerging tech-native projects, like the metaverse, or Web 3.0, along with blockchain technology, DeFi and NFTs.

Lachlan Feeney, founder and CEO of blockchain firms, Labrys, told Business Insider Australia that businesses across all industries are feeling the squeeze because companies like his are becoming the more attractive growth option for Australian tech workers.

“I think this is a really interesting point, right? That basically all companies are becoming tech companies,” Feeney said. 

“We’re kind of passing the point where you can get away without any sort of tech people — whether in IT, whether they’re functional or technical — you need them in your business,” he said. 

“There’s definitely an aspect where, if you’re given the option to work at a blockchain company working on [things like] Web 3.0, the future of the internet, or going and working at some traditional sort of boring legacy company that just needs some websites built — that’s definitely there.”

While preference has become an overlooked variable in the discussion of Australia’s tech skills shortage, Feeney said the talent pool is still far too small.

“The shortage is definitely real,” he said. “There are companies like ours, which maybe get the better side of the shortage or can be a bit more comparatively attractive — the other guys are definitely doing it tougher than us — but that’s not to say it’s easy for us either.”

Joseph Lyons, managing director at accounting software provider Xero, told Business Insider Australia that their approach to plugging the labour gap has been one centred around flexibility, allowing them to look overseas highly sought after technical specialists. 

Even still, he said Xero has “hundreds of open roles”. 

“We’re not necessarily [intent on] roles needing to be in a specific city or location. Our employees and products and tech teams can choose whether they would like to work from one of our offices or work remotely, or work in a hybrid model, or a combination of office and home,” Lyons said. 

“I think given that because we’re a global organisation, and we do have product and engineers working in other geographies around the world, and the fact that we do now have a fully remote and flexible arrangement, it just gives us an opportunity to tap into additional talent pools beyond the shores of where we’ve traditionally looked in New Zealand and Australia,” he said. 

For Feeney, cross-border talent hunting isn’t as much of an option, as Australia has become a world leader in the space. He said that Labrys has instead resorted to investing more time and energy into training junior workers straight out of university.

“So our company works with some pretty big name clients around the world, and yet they source power from Australia, because we do have that reputation of delivering high quality software, particularly in the blockchain space, particularly in DeFi, these sorts of things, where quality is so important,” he said. 

Feeney said much of the industry is still self-taught, a decade after the emergence of bitcoin, which means Australia’s tertiary institutions could be doing more to fill the local talent pool to relieve some of the baseline educative burden shouldered by the industry. 

“Pretty much anyone in Australia who’s already educated [on blockchain] is basically self-taught, which is a problem,” he said.  

“And we try to get those people out when we can find them, but they’re pretty rare. So we’ve got to try and train a lot of talent in house, which is difficult to do. The education system and the industry and everything else basically gets people with zero experience in our industry, we have to do it all ourselves.”

“It also doesn’t make it easier as well when, just generally, the whole [developer] space is very hot, very sought after. So you’re competing on that level, too.”