The government has added four new ICT jobs to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL).

‘Multimedia specialists’, ‘analyst programmers’, ‘software and applications programmers’, and ‘ICT security specialists’ are now on the list of 41 occupations that will receive priority immigration processing as Australia continues tight control of international arrivals.

The PMSOL was introduced last September to help address local skills shortages that had been exacerbated by COVID-19.

It initially included just 22 occupations with ‘developer programmer’ and ‘software engineer’ being the only two ICT roles.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the list update was in line with what the business community needs.

“Government has received valuable feedback from Australian business stakeholders on critical skill vacancies, which has been considered together with data from the National Skills Commission,” he said in a short statement.

The occupation titles are defined by the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) which contain some vagaries and anachronisms.

The ‘multimedia specialist’ occupation, for example, is broad enough to include video game developers, graphic designers, and video content creates and specifies making content for “CD-ROMs” in its definition.

With the new PMSOL update, four out of five occupations in the ‘software and applications programmers’ ANZSCO group will be eligible for priority processing.

These are the six ICT occupations currently on the PMSOL (ANZSCO code number in brackets):

  • Software engineer (261313)
  • Developer programmer (261312)
  • Multimedia Specialist (261211)
  • Analyst Programmer (261311)
  • Software and Applications Programmers (261399)
  • ICT Security Specialist (262112)

Band-aid solution

Industry was generally welcoming of the PMSOL changes but is aware that it will only act as a short-term solution to a larger skills shortage.

Georgia Higgins, CEO of Australian data analytics company itus, said the PMSOL changes are “a step in the right direction” but is concerned small business will keep missing out on the best talent unless more changes are made.

“Hiring remote programmers has become a norm for small and medium businesses,” Higgins said.

“These skill sets are limited in Australia and the large companies snap up the skilled programmers quickly, pricing everyone else out so smaller businesses have no other option.”

Tim Hill, founder of social media analytics company Social Status operating out of ACS’ River City Labs in Brisbane, agreed that the lack of local tech expertise has a negative effect on scaleups.

“There isn’t a big enough talent pool of software engineers and developers which forces people out to sites like Freelancer and Upwork and they end up spinning their wheels a bit, because it can quite hard to find good talent on these kinds of marketplaces,” he told Information Age.

Hill’s experience running a startup has meant he sees the values in the research and development tax incentive scheme but wants to see it continue with more certainty.

“That was a really big incentive to not hire outsourced offshore team. We hired locally knowing we would be paying more but it was okay with the tax offset,” he said.

“It seems like every budget there’s questions about whether it will be reduced or cut in some way. I want to see a long-term commitment to that so we can invest in local talent knowing the incentives will continue.”

Jon Lang, CEO of corporate IT training firm DDLS, said the government should do more to address what he called a “lack of homegrown talent”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proved why relying on international sources of labour and materials is not always a favourable approach,” Lang said.

“In the long run, it will ultimately be far better for Australia’s economic recovery if we focus on boosting our own digital skills pipeline and creating a solid pool of homegrown talent.”

ACS, which provides skills assessment services for the government, welcomed the extra PMSOL occupations but pointed out the ongoing gap in local talent.

“Our 2021 Digital Pulse report highlighted the technology skills shortages faced by the Australian economy, forecasting that current trends indicate shortfall of 60,000 technology workers per annum over the next five years,” a spokesperson said.

“However, skilled migration is only part of the solution to the shortage and, with just 7,000 domestic IT degree graduates, encouraging students to study and boosting reskilling of existing workers will also be essential to meet Australia’s ICT needs.”