For years now, government, industry, and recruitment agencies have been claiming there is a technology skills shortage.

But what is the real story behind the skills shortage? And what needs to change to improve the Australia’s IT workforce?

In part three of this four-part series, Information Age takes a look at those who have come from overseas to study and work in IT, only to find themselves shut out.

Last year, Mourita graduated with a Bachelor of Computer Science from an established Melbourne university.

Despite majoring in in cyber security – a field we are told has high market demand – she still hasn’t found a full-time job.

The problem, she told Information Age, is that most ‘entry level’ job postings say they require a few years of experience – something she doesn’t yet have.

“I don’t dare apply for half the jobs that are supposed to be ‘entry level’ because of the unrealistic experience they require,” she said.

“The ones I do apply for don’t even take the time to respond and tell me what is wrong with my application. Is it my resume, my skills, or that I don’t have prior experience?

“How much experience should I need for an entry level job anyway?”

Of course, there’s always graduate positions; internships that provide extra workforce training, a new network of contacts, references, and valuable experience.

“But when I look online and see these roles, I find I don’t fit the eligibility criteria because applicants need to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident.”

Mourita came to Australia from Bangladesh in 2018 after finishing high school. She was one of nearly 400,000 international students who were enrolled in a higher education program that year.

International students pay a lot of money for the privilege of studying at an Australian university.

At the university from which Mourita graduated, an international student pays nearly four times that of eligible domestic students (who can defer their contributions through low interest HECS-HELP loans).

When Information Age spoke to Mourita, she was clearly frustrated.

Why was her expensive university degree not enough to land a job? And what ever happened to the skills shortage?

“I’m at a stage where if I don’t find a job I might not be able to stay here for long,” Mourita said.

“When you’re in that situation, your skills don’t matter because you just have find something to get by, maybe that’s job at McDonald’s or driving Uber.”

She wants to see more Australian organisations take a chance on IT applicants who may not have a picture-perfect resume.

“I want people to have have faith in these Australian universities, trust that that we have gained the skills, if not the experience, and take the time to have a one-on-one conversation,” she said.

“The tech is always going to change, so don’t look for the skills, look for the people; train the right people and they will get the skills in time – but you have to give them time.”

Migrant story

Aravind has found himself in a similar situation. He also completed his bachelor’s in ICT last year but hasn’t been able to get a job. Like Mourita, he has neither the requisite experience to get a job, nor the requisite paperwork to get a graduate role.

“Companies see interns as an asset, people they can train up and keep around for years afterward,” Aravind told Information Age.

“But when you are an international student like me, they can’t take you because there’s no guarantee that you will stay in the country, no matter what you say.

“It’s really hard. You need some kickstart to get into the IT field in Australia so you can have the experience and apply for jobs.”

Once enthusiastic about his prospects as a business analyst, Aravind said his rate of job applications has slowed to a crawl in recent months. His will has been gradually broken down after countless silent rejections at a time when, by all accounts, organisations are desperate for people with his skills, qualifications, and desire to work.

It was Aravind’s parents who recommend he study abroad after high school. Looking through his options in the Anglosphere, Aravind ruled out Canada and the UK (for being too cold) and the US (for being too dangerous), before finally settling on Australia.

Like many migrants, Aravind faced some significant cultural differences – especially when it came to different modes of learning – but he completed his undergraduate course and is keen to carve a life for himself in the land down under.

“What motivates me is the friends I studied with back in India have all finished their studies, placements, and have started with different companies.

“So, if they can do it, so can I.”

Aravind’s career pathway has changed dramatically in the past twelve months. He now has his sights set on generalised IT positions, just to get his foot in the door.

“I’ve messaged the manager of my current job’s IT department, told them I have completed my qualifications and asked if they can help me get an internship,” he said.

“I don’t care if it’s paid or unpaid. I just want to get some general experience so I can make a start.”

His workplace recently agreed to let Aravind take on a internship – unpaid, and part-time to fit around his work schedule, but with a small allowance for travel and food.

Now he’s just waiting to finalise the arrangement.

From IT professional to cleaner

Like Aravind and Mourita, Jonas initially struggled to find work in Australia. He was an established IT professional in Brazil and initially travelled to Australia to learn English.

Despite previously working in business administration at a major Brazilian telecommunications company, Jonas’s first couple of years in Australia saw him working as a cleaner, dishwasher, and waiter.

“It’s pretty challenging for your mindset coming from a position as a professional to washing dishes, but because of language I had to start a new life, get new skills, and the right visa before I could work full time,” Jonas told Information Age.

“I was growing a lot and gained more life understanding. But I knew my time would come so I kept living and embraced the process.”

Jonas has a profound respect for education that he says come from being brought up in a poor community where organised criminals ran amok.

After discovering that five months wasn’t enough time to learn English, he decided to stick around for nine more.

An avid learning, Jonas then wanted to add a second master’s degree to his repertoire, this time in enterprise resource planning.

Confident his career experience would eventually pay dividends in Australia, Jonas was patient and persistent in his efforts at getting a local job.

His skills were needed, he knew that, he just needed to find an employer willing to take him on – in the end, that employer was a South African migrant who had been in his shoes 15 years earlier.

“I’m lucky because of my profile as a billing analyst and I was able to find a company that was desperate for someone with my skills,” Jonas said.

“They had been looking for a long time before coming across me, and I was easily able to understand what they needed and develop the right processes.

“In Brazil, the technology level was actually higher than in that job. There, it was paperless but not here.

“With my skill level and experience back home, it was easy to demonstrate I was a great asset and I was offered a full-time position after six months as a contractor.”

Jonas now works for one of Australia’s largest retailers and lectures at Victoria University in Sydney.

He said migrant workers and international students can often find themselves in a difficult cycle: unable to get permanent residency because they can’t get a job relevant to their skills, and unable to get a relevant job because they don’t have permanent residency.

“A lot of my students ask about finding a job here and I tell them it’s going to be difficult,” Jonas said.

“Finding your first job in Australia is really difficult. But if you persist through you will find you are a big fish in the market.

"After that first job, life is so much easier.”

In the final part of this series, we'll look at people who have taken different approaches to IT and what the skills shortage means for them.