Solution to Australia's skills shortage could be found closer to home
Australia's move to boost skilled migration to tackle workforce shortages fails to address a broader issue within the nation's labour market, a Deakin University academic says.
Professor Ly Tran, an international education expert within Deakin's School of Education, said the policy, while well-intentioned, failed to recognise thousands of skilled international graduates already live on shore who can fill these positions.
International university graduates hold post-graduation work visas ranging from two to four years but are routinely overlooked by employers due to their temporary work visa status or other prejudices.
A joint Deakin and University of Adelaide survey of 1156 international graduates from 35 Australian universities shows just 36 per cent of those who stayed in Australia gained full-time employment in their field of study after completing their course.
The project also includes 50 interviews with employers, graduates, and other stakeholders.
Professor Tran said research showed perceived post-graduation work opportunities were a big drawcard for international students opting to study overseas, including in destinations such as Australia.
While the skilled migration policy was a good opportunity for some international graduates to gain permanent residency in Australia, she said it didn’t resolve the persisting systematic issues faced by thousands of others looking for work after finishing their course.
"Part of the allure for students coming to Australia, as well as earning a high-quality education, is the perception they will have a chance to get relevant work experience in their host country after they graduate," Professor Tran said.
"These university graduates have experience living in Australia and know Australian culture. They also have an Australian qualification, multilingual capabilities, and transnational experiences and networks. It is time businesses, policy makers and the government recognised they are an untapped resource that could help to solve our labour shortage problem."
Federal Labor MP and Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O'Connor announced last month Australia would consider increasing its permanent migration cap from 160,000 to 200,000 to address the nation's skills shortage.
Australia's skilled migration program is also expected to increase from a cap of 79,600 to 109,900 in 2022-23.
Information Technology (IT) graduates were most likely to find work than their peers from other degrees, according to the Deakin-led study.
This was due to big demand for employees in this sector, with domestic IT businesses willing to offer international graduates short-term contracts to fit their visa requirements.
But Professor Tran said better policies were needed to create further work opportunities for international graduates from other disciplines. Information programs were also needed to better educate employers about international graduates’ work rights and their value to local businesses.
"If we do not address this, the impact on Australia's economy could be dire. Education is consistently ranked among Australia’s most lucrative exports. But if international students feel they are unlikely to find professional work once they finish their course on their post-study work visa, they will consider studying elsewhere," Professor Tran said.
"Aside from helping to boost our economy through education, tourism, accommodation and retail expenditure, these students make a valuable cultural and social contribution to Australian society. It’s time we showed them we valued them and their skills by creating more opportunities for them to participate in our workforce in a meaningful way."
The study, International graduates on temporary post-graduation visas in Australia: Employment experiences and outcomes, was published this month by the journal Population, Space and Place.
Co-authors include Huyen Bui, Mark Rahimi (Deakin University) and George Tan (University of Adelaide).