New Visa scheme requires ‘aggressive changes’ to help early-stage startups: Slingshot’s CEO


Unveiled this week, the Global Talent Scheme represents a softening of the Government’s stance on skilled immigration. Dynamic Business spoke with a cohort of business leaders from across the tech, recruitment and startup sectors to gauge whether they believe the 457 Visa replacement scheme will satisfy the needs of SMBs for highly-skilled foreign workers. 

[Related: Startups to have easier access to global talent under new scheme being piloted by government and  If employers can’t import critical talent on visas, they’ll consider overseas hires, says CEO]

Skills transfer

Tim Bos, co-founder of ShareRing described the Global Talent Scheme as a great opportunity for his blockchain-powered sharing economy startup to engage highly-skilled global talent and have them play a role in upskilling junior staff, fresh out of university.

He added, “An issue we face is in finding people with a lot of experience in the areas of blockchain, telematics and sensors. So, if we have the option to hire this talent from overseas, it would be hugely beneficial to our knowledge growth and overall business prosperity”.

Tech destination

Noting that tech talent is more globally mobile than ever before, Nick Byrne, CEO of blockchain venture studio Typehuman, said the Global Talent Scheme was a “step in the right direction” when it comes to positioning Australia as an “easy and attractive destination for tech talent”.

By comparison, he said the 457 Visa scheme was “costly and overly restrictive”. Specifically, he said it made it difficult for startups to justify their requirement for generalist skillsets, and this “resulted in stories of co-founders and CTOs being denied visas”.

Byrne said he hoped the Global Talent Scheme meant the government was taking a broader view on what constitutes an eligible individual for a visa. He added, “A hard stance on migration becomes costly to enforce and doesn’t deliver what industry needs. The government’s softer response has likely come from the startup sector being quite vocal about the need to make it easier to bring in specific technology skills, but also a recognition that we need a flexible migration policy that delivers what industry needs.”

SMBs ignored

Ryan Murtagh, founder and CEO of retail management platform Neto is concerned the Global Talent Scheme supports the top and bottom end of town but ignores SMBs.

He explained, “The beneficiaries of the scheme will only be the larger tech companies or start-ups. The businesses stuck in between, the SMBs, will likely struggle with the $180K threshold. From our experience, there are many, great people globally who are willing to earn a lot less than $180K per annum to enjoy the lifestyle opportunity that Australia offers. This program does not support the SMB sector which makes up the large majority of the Australian business landscape.”

Murtagh’s concerns were echoed by Ben Thompson, founder and CEO of HR tech startup Employment Hero: “The $180,000 salary threshold, administration, additional cost and limitations on visa numbers, may not work for smaller Australian businesses who are often working with limited resources.”

Nevertheless, Thompson said the new scheme “goes part of the way” to addressing the need amongst businesses for highly-skilled global talent, in circumstances where they are fulfilling a genuine need. He added that the new scheme, in providing a pathway to permanent residency, will ensure Australia remains an attractive option.

Aggressive changes

According to Karen Lawson, CEO of corporate accelerator Slingshot, the Global Talent Scheme “focuses on too narrow a band of growth companies”

“The [scheme] will not help early stage businesses move into scaleup phase,” she said. “Many startups focus on growth, not revenue or profitability, it could be years before their revenue hits these levels. Also, the wages of early startup teams are often below market rate with equity forming a large part of the value of someone’s employment contract. Again, they have failed to understand the dynamics. Startups need access to great talent from the beginning, so we need more aggressive changes to broaden the scope of The Global Talent Scheme.”

Multi-faceted approach

David Jones, Senior Managing Director Robert Half Asia Pacific said that while the Global Talent Scheme is a great step towards reducing the ongoing IT skills shortage, it needs to be part of a “multi-faceted approach” by government

“A comprehensive approach to combating the IT skills shortage where education providers work alongside the wider business community and potentially supported by government initiatives is key in order to successfully tackle the talent shortage. A career in IT and technology needs to be ‘marketed’ and promoted as an attractive career path.

On the educational side where education providers can provide a steady stream of skilled talent into the employment market, they need to ensure their STEM qualifications, courses and degrees evolve  at a similar speed technology does.

Contract and temporary workers are also an invaluable asset to IT teams looking to increase their efficiency on short-term projects without having the added cost of increasing headcount.