How staff on 457 visas helped a Wollongong IT company expand globally and grow jobs in the Illawarra

Visa growth: When Michael David, of Canada, came to Wollongong to work at new IT business Internetrix he did so on a 457 visa. He and others like him have helped it expand globally and grow IT jobs in the Illawarra. Pic: Sylvia Liber.
Visa growth: When Michael David, of Canada, came to Wollongong to work at new IT business Internetrix he did so on a 457 visa. He and others like him have helped it expand globally and grow IT jobs in the Illawarra. Pic: Sylvia Liber.

When Michael David started working in Australia at Internetrix in 1999 he did so on a 457 visa. Now he is a director of the Wollongong IT business that has broken into the global market and is president of ICT Illawarra.

The independent industry association has some concerns about the impacts of changes to the present 457 visa program that is helping grow ICT jobs in the region. 

“Talking to our members and other ICT businesses the key concerns are access to resources. Attracting skilled talent to the region and keeping it in the region is important. We have the uni which is great. It is producing excellent graduates. Some do stay but there is a knowledge drain with so many jumping on a train to Sydney every day looking at the greater breadth of opportunities you get in a large city.”

Mr David said the problem is getting people with mid-career experience or specialised talents. And that was where bringing people in on 457 visas and attracting skills to the region was important. As was providing opportunities to local people. He does not think the best policy for the IT industry is any move that reduces the talent pool.

“I understand what they are trying to achieve with the tightening. I completely agree with `Aussie first’. Locals hiring locals and taking care of the local community is what ICT is here for. We want to see the Illawarra grow but the problem is it really does reduce the talent pool in regional areas. As a business we aim local first. At ICTI our goal is ICT growth in the region. But it is difficult to attract skilled and experienced talent to really support the inexperienced talent.”

It is why initiatives that attract such people are so important.

“That is what ICT Illawarra wants. Our key goal is to make ICT a significant industry which will also help grow the Illawarra. To do that we need bodies. We want graduates and we want sea changers. 457 allows us to have greater access to a pool of people coming from overseas mid career who aren’t necessarily looking for the big city”. Such people bring global knowledge that can help the graduates fast track their skills. Internetrix presently has two people on 457 visas. And some Chinese nationals on staff several years ago helped the IT business to make a foray into China and grow its international market. That has helped grow jobs for Illawarra people. Mr David said looking at the changes to the 457 visa there would be a number of local ICT businesses impacted.

Illawarra Business Chamber’s Chris Lamont said other industries were likely to be affected but changes were timely and should assist in highlighting the importance of addressing skilled labour shortages and promoting measures to support greater employment participation.