Our post-covid economic recovery depends on our ability to lure Australia’s top talent home once and for all.
With estimates suggesting that Australia will experience a loss of 1.1 million people over the next decade, due to curbed migration as a consequence of Covid-19, the resulting slowdown of economic growth is likely to hit 4 per cent by 2025 which will reduce economic activity by an eye-watering $80 billion.
The knock-on effect of curbed migration has highlighted the dramatic shortage in talent, which is prompting fierce bidding wars among companies who are looking to secure top talent for their roles.
Unfortunately, a huge number of our most talented professionals are still languishing overseas due to the rolling international border restrictions that have stretched on for more than a year, and are set to remain in place after the Federal Government recently signalled that border closures will continue until at least mid-2022.
With so many members of our highly skilled workforce remaining stuck overseas, and leading companies facing a severe lack of talent in the local market, businesses are having to resort to paying top dollar to secure skilled immigrant professionals with the necessary skills. For smart, future focused businesses, turning to the Australian diaspora makes great business sense.
Despite having to pay exorbitant travel costs ($30,000+ for a one-way ticket is all too common at present) which add up even further with associated COVID and skilled visa fees, the benefits of bringing back our talented Australia diaspora more than make up for the initial outlay.
Firstly, there are no Visa costs associated with our Aussie expats, saving at least $20,000 on this aspect. Secondly, Australia benefits from the perspective of re-population growth, not to mention the economic and cultural growth that comes from bringing their families back home. And to top it off, they bring with them their diaspora capital in the form of international experience, knowledge and innovation taken from life and professional experiences abroad. This is capital that is worth its weight in gold!
Yet in 2020, only one in five skilled expats came home, meaning a big slice are still abroad. Of those who came home, 30 per cent say they are here to stay, yet 21 per cent will leave the moment borders open and 33 per cent plan to move back home at a later date.
Australia desperately needs more returning skilled Australians and their families to come back to our shores, businesses need to be well and truly rolling out the welcome mat. This is no truer than in our construction and infrastructure sector, which the Morrison Government is pumping in $110 billion for an infrastructure led recovery designed to propel our nation forward economically into the next decade, and the $270 billion to defence spending over the next 10 years which is a sector that requires Australian nationals only to work within.
When it comes to the construction and engineering sectors, industry leaders publicly lament the problems, pointing out that it is peppered with woeful inefficiencies, insolvencies and poor mental health, which could delay or derail the recovery efforts. However, the cost of doing nothing, or not doing it right, is too great.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg recently highlighted the need for economic reform in the latest Intergenerational Report, where he hinted that the government could fly in immigrant workers to satisfy the most urgent skills shortages.
But why should we be making business pay the added costs of bringing in immigrant workers when we have top Australian talent ready, waiting and desperate to come home who can fill these roles easily?
Most of our Australian diaspora are at the pinnacle of their careers in significant international positions, and this class of highly skilled professionals, or so-called ‘gold collar workers’ are key to driving economic growth onshore and leading Australian into the recovery we all want to see.
According to the foreign affairs department, on any given day, there are approximately one million Australians outside the country.
Smart companies have started tapping into this melting pot of talent, rolling out the welcome mat and providing a first-class onboarding experience. By taking a holistic approach, these companies are looking at the big picture. In viewing the ex-pat applicant from a personal, professional and family perspective, they are creating a hiring culture around ‘’we need, value and want you home. You belong in our organisation, and we need your skilled and international professional experience to help us in growing and moving our business forward.”
So is our Government and current immigration policy doing enough to entice employers to engage the Australian diaspora home?
Viewed through the lens of our construction and engineering sector, it would seem they aren’t. Our nation is crying out for a range of key skills to deliver economic growth through infrastructure spend. As a nation, we have critical shortages in a range of sectors. Thousands of construction project managers, civil engineers (an entire array of civil engineers across all the sectors), and contract / commercial professionals are urgently needed, and that’s just the start.
Yet overseas, these talented Australians have walked into plum roles in the best and brightest organisations around the world. Many want to come home – particularly amid the pandemic – for the right job. But talent of this calibre doesn’t settle in a company with a mediocre culture or that doesn’t prioritise innovation.
They’re at the top of their game, and in a tight labour market, they’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to expecting to walk into a job, and country, that values their worth.
The fact is, that if our nation’s leaders want to tackle the crippling skills shortage, it’s time for an immediate and radical rethink or we will risk losing the best of Australia’s expat talent to other overseas nations who already have well developed plans afoot.
Case in point, Australian talent are presently working and contributing to countries 9 places ahead of us on the Global Talent Competitive Index. Which isn’t surprising seeing statistics from an Advance survey that found 83 per cent of local HR respondents were reluctant or cautious about recommending returning Australians for local roles.
Which is extraordinary since according to reports, nearly three quarters of respondents (71 per cent) reported a positive experience from hiring a returned expat, while almost three in five (57 per cent) of recruiters identified that recruiting returned Australians has a longer-term strategic benefit.
And on the employee front, 65 per cent of those surveyed believe Australian businesses are creating an environment that discourages Australians working overseas from returning.
This clearly highlights that many businesses and HR professionals need to do better and reassess the way in which they view Australian talent based overseas.
The solution is obvious – the benefits and attributes of ‘Diaspora Capital’ needs visiting and fast. Homeland investment needs to be expended on those expats with highly valued skills who want to get home. We need to be welcoming them with open arms and expressing our excitement in having them back.
The United States, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Finland and Singapore, all have different ways of targeting talent, combined with innovative recruitment programs for their own diaspora first and foremost, followed by talent from other nations.
If we aren’t fast off the blocks in this regard, we risk losing our own people to other countries which will see Australian businesses having to recruit migrants, rather than expats, once borders open. And this will be at a far greater cost to employers in terms of costs and delays. It’s a cost and time impact the industry can’t afford if we are to grow and develop as a nation post-COVID.
Another Solution is giving home grown and permanent resident immigrants (and their returning family members) faster and higher travel exceptions for those individuals skilled in critical job sectors or with critical skills as per the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List, and can show they have job offers from Australian based companies and can start immediately to work in the critical sector.
To do this, employers and recruitment agencies need to start engaging with overseas Australian’s and permanent resident immigrants, offering them greater opportunities and pathways to employment and actively attracting them home, thus solving the skills gap we are experiencing right now and into the future.
It’s well and truly time that Australia rolls out the green and gold carpet to our returning professionals, their families and welcomes them home – extra baggage and all. Afterall, it’s the Aussie thing to do, to welcome your mates home.
By Gearoid (Gerry) Considine,
Gearoid (Gerry) Considine is a Civil Engineer and founder of BrightSide Consultants, who came to Australia 4 years ago as a Skilled Immigrant. He has lived on three continents and experienced the good, the bad and ugly of corporate welcomes when working as an engineer on major Infrastructure projects. This prompted him start his own recruitment consultancy firm specialising in representing and presenting national and international construction & engineering talent, serving his fellow colleagues making their decision, experience and journey home to Australia as seamless as possible by representing them to the best employers in Australia.