Mining is the main game in the Australian economy at the moment and as Western Australia gears up to add an extra 30,000 jobs over the next two years, the demand is rising for workers from abroad. Despite upwards pressure on Australia’s unemployment rate, the chief executive of the Australian arm of mining giant Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh, has warned that skilled labour shortages are one of the greatest challenges facing the mining giant’s expansion plans.
“We need to ensure we’re an attractive proposition for job seekers,” Walsh told a Perth conference in March. To that end, the federal government has made the path easier for workers on employer-sponsored 457 visas to become permanent residents. It also streamlined Australia’s six different permanent employer-sponsored visas into two new visas. The Australian Industry Group has lauded the move as sensible. However, Ai Group is cautious that another change, consolidating Australia’s three sponsored occupation lists into one could lead to a “narrowing of eligibility”, according to Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox.
Lynne Beggs, a regional director at recruiter Hays and the head of Hays GlobaLink, says that after the flurry of recruiting from overseas before the global financial crisis, companies became very cautious, and it is only in the past six months that demand has really picked up again, albeit mostly in the mining and engineering sectors.
Who is coming?
The UK has traditionally been the largest source of migrants coming to Australia, however, this is changing and in 2010-11 China crept ahead of the UK as the main source of new Australians.
Melbourne resident Justin Farmer made the move from London in 2010 after he was headhunted by civil engineering consultancy Meinhardt Group. Within a month of offering the 38-year-old the job, Meinhardt arranged a 457 visa and had Farmer and his partner on the ground in Melbourne.
A connected world
Technology is playing its role in attracting – and keeping – skilled workers to Australia.
As technology brings the world closer, Australia has become a more viable base to set up global businesses, which is attractive for skilled migrants who want to branch out on their own. Chris Jones has an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and has worked in marketing roles for a host of Fortune 500 companies in the US. He followed his wife to Australia, first working for Virgin Mobile, and is now involved in several start-ups including daily deals websites JigoCity and Codengo.
Fellow American expat Elizabeth Ta moved to Australia to live with her husband Matthew Bywater, who runs promotional goods company 4Promote. Ta, a Vietnamese-American, migrated with her teenage son. “It was probably less of a cultural adjustment for [my son than me],” she says.
Dealing with difference
One thing Ta has had to adjust to is Australia’s relaxed attitude, which she says permeates everything from customer service from suppliers to payment times from customers. “In the States it is more about ‘the customer is always right’ and it’s all about the customer. Whereas here it’s more about the relationship.”
Dina McMillan is a skilled migrant who arrived in Australia seven years ago, first with sponsorship from an employer, and later with a Distinguished Talent Visa. McMillan is an African-American with a PhD in social psychology from the prestigious Stanford University. Her focus is on studies in interpersonal relationships and she is an expert in domestic violence prevention.
McMillan decided to move to Australia to escape the cultural stereotypes she found in her own country: “I kept being told that I could only discuss what happens in black relationships – and that wasn’t my training, that wasn’t my interest and I was getting very frustrated.”
McMillan, who writes regularly for women’s magazines on the subject of relationships and violence prevention, found a country where the colour of her skin wasn’t an impediment.
Norwegian expat Helene Johansen is settled in Australia, but her visa wasn’t won without jumping through what she sees as some unnecessary hoops.
“I even had to go and take an English test and prove that I could speak English, although I had studied communication and journalism for three years at [Queensland’s] Griffith University,” she says.
Johansen’s language skills also cropped up again during a round of interviews for jobs in public relations in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast.
“They would ask how long I was planning to stay, what sort of visa I was on, and if I felt that I could speak proper English,” she says.
A year ago, the 25-year-old landed a role with SSKB strata managers as a marketing and public relations assistant. She is keen to stay in Australia and cites lifestyle as the key reason.