The ongoing skills shortage is stifling growth and development, according to industry representatives. Now the ICT recruitment industry's largest association is calling for a new industry Labour Agreement to ensure local organizations can continue to tap into international talent.
According to the Information Technology Contractors and Recruitment Association (ITCRA), tougher local training provisions introduced by the late Howard Government in October have prevented technology recruiters from bringing temporary skilled personnel into the country via the 457 visa.
For ITCRA, the lack of imported talent is heightening the current skills crunch and making it increasingly difficult to complete ICT-based infrastructure projects. Last month, the association submitted a draft agreement to the Government in a bid to recognise access to overseas skilled workers as key to ICT development.
According to ITCRA executive director, Norman Lacy, about 5 per cent of all on-hire staff came through the 457 visa program. This equates to about 300 people each month. Since the introduction of the new Labour Agreement five months ago, he claimed no recruitment group had been able to bring in overseas workers - representing a loss of 1500 qualified hands.
Under ITCRA's proposed terms, a new agreement would approve importing skills from overseas using the 457 visa in instances where there are insufficient numbers of qualified Australian workers available.
"Five per cent is not huge but it's a critical proportion of workers - these people are highly skilled and much in demand globally," Lacy said. "The impact of not having access to these people is huge. If we don't do the work here, there's no skills transference between the workers from overseas and Australians who learn on the job."
Lacy claimed the current 'one size fits all' approach is unworkable and disregards industry-specific variables. He said stringent local training criteria were particularly prejudicial to smaller professional organisations.
"I see this having the opposite effect to the original intention - it's actually limiting our ability to train local people," he said. "Most of the best skills are not obtained through university degrees - it's training on the job and undertaking high level requirements on projects that we need."
The lack of an ICT-specific Labour Agreement also had an immediate and far-reaching impact on Australian business and the domestic economy, Lacy said.