Business leaders are urging the major parties against politicising Australia’s migration intake, with the country set to rely on large numbers of foreign workers if it is to have a chance of filling 880,000 roles in industries including health, housing, engineering and technology.
The technology sector faces chronic shortages and says if federal Labor can come close to meeting its own target of 1.2 million tech workers, more than 160,000 overseas candidates are needed per year.
Other key industries have tens of thousands of shortages as well, including in engineering, construction, medicine and aged care.
Australia faces acute skills shortages, with overseas migration required to fill strategic gaps. Dion Georgopoulos
The warning comes as the record migration boom following COVID-19 appears to have peaked, with the number of foreign visa holders expected to decline by more than 160,000 as visas expire, and stricter rules cut the number of new arrivals.
Immigration is shaping as a key battleground for the next federal election, as overseas arrivals drive a sharp rise in rents and cop blame for congested roads and infrastructure.
Tech Council of Australia president Kate Pounder told The Australian Financial Review federal Labor’s 1.2 million tech jobs target for 2030 meant an additional 43,000 skilled migrants were needed above current rates of 119,000 per year.
“It’s high-wage, high-skill, globally in demand people, in critical jobs across the economy. In practice, we’re talking about a few thousand people per year who will qualify under those conditions,” she said.
“What the debate is missing at the moment is that it’s quality, not just quantity, that really matters. One example of a job you might fill is a chief information officer, or chief security officer. Cybersecurity attacks are up 23 per cent in the last year in Australia and they’re costing businesses $10,000 or $15,000 per attack, but we are underweight in Australia.”
Engineers Australia group executive Damian Ogden said that by 2040, Australia was expected to have a shortage of 200,000 engineers, potentially undermining infrastructure and construction projects and sapping economic growth.
More than 60 per cent of the profession is overseas born, and Infrastructure Australia estimates more than 40,000 additional engineers are needed to meet the country’s infrastructure pipeline.
“We need to consider how we manage the pipeline of engineers in Australia more effectively to ensure we strike the right balance of migrant engineers to meet the demand while also developing our talent locally,” he said.
“Migrant engineers in Australia need to be valued for the experience they bring.”
Already 36 per cent of occupations have experienced worker shortages in the past year, including acute shortages in health, construction, technology and infrastructure.
Scope to add more people into the workforce could be limited, as the proportion of the population in paid employment has already jumped to a record high 64.5 per cent, even as the population ages.
Since January 2022, more than 27,000 internationally trained medical practitioners have been registered to work in Australia. Before the pandemic, about 18 per cent of all registered nurses and 32 per cent of medical practitioners were overseas trained.
Australian Medical Association vice president Danielle McMullen said overseas-trained doctors were often the bulk of the workforce in regional areas.
“We certainly have challenges in distribution of our locally trained workforce, and one of the mechanisms government uses is sending international graduates out there,” she said.
Housing Industry Association chief executive for industry and policy Simon Croft said there were acute shortages in the building trades.
“This skill shortage will only become more acute as part of the industry building the 1.2 million homes as outlined in the National Housing Accord Commitment and emphasises the need for a well-designed and targeted skilled migration program to assist in building these much-needed homes.”
The National Electrical and Communications Association said Jobs and Skills Australia modelling showed 32,000 additional electricians would be needed in the next seven years, as well as about 53,000 new clean energy supply workers.
Other industries have strong demand as well.
The Australian Tourism Export Council told the government as many as 74,000 potential working holidaymakers overseas hold a valid visa to come to Australia, but have not travelled here despite workforce shortages.
Hotels and hospitality groups say there are more than 80,000 vacancies in their industry, including 20,000 barista positions, 11,000 for bartenders and 10,000 for kitchen hands.
Ms Pounder said the debate about migration should be mature.
“Most of the jobs that come in this country are going to be filled by Australians, and that’s the right answer.
“There’ll be occasional jobs where there’s a particular global experience required or we have an area of shortage in our economy. If we’re not drawing on the world’s best talent, we’re actually putting all of those people and our economy at a disadvantage.”
Mr Croft said political and business leaders should think of the big picture.
“HIA sees value in the creation of stable migration settings that allow industry, government and most importantly, potential migrants, to clearly understand the opportunities both temporary and permanent migration to Australia can bring.”
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