Tasmanians need better training opportunities when 457 visas are cut

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement on limiting the ability for foreign workers to come to Australia this week had the unlikely whiff of Donald Trump.

Although solving the problems and rorts associated with 457 visas was something that needed to be done, the underlying tone of border protection and maintaining Australian values was off-putting.

Still, it was maintained that the plan would put Australians first in line for job vacancies in 214 professions as varied as medical professional to goat herder.

"We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first," the PM proclaimed during his Facebook announcement.

“We are an immigration nation but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.

“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

And while the 457 visa abolition was no great cause for alarm in Tasmania, news and commentary circulated nationally revealed a common thread.

If the government wants to stop skilled migrants taking up the positions that Australians cannot take up, then the government is going to have to equip locals for the jobs.

It was reported later in the week that the May federal budget is likely to contain a $300 million training fund in vocational areas for the young and retrenched.

But rather than simply throwing money at training, it needs to be targeted.

Training centres need to be working in sync with the labour market, anticipating emerging growth areas and working quickly to plug gaps that exist.

The ongoing issue with chef and cook shortages, particularly in regional Tasmania, immediately springs to mind – as does the future needs of the aged care sector where an estimated 5000 new jobs are needed in the next five years.

The unemployed and underutilised in Tasmania, and particularly regional Tasmania, can be genuine beneficiaries of meaningful employment and career paths should training and employment needs marry seamlessly. 

We already have some of the right ideas and organisations.

The Beacon Foundation gets kids into workplaces while they are in school and our state government is modestly investing in jobseeker and development programs tied to industry.

But for maximum impact, there needs to be maximum bucks and it’s the federal government that needs to take the lead and ultimate responsibility here.

And more needs to be done to incentivise and encourage employers themselves to investment in training up and developing workers.

In abandoning 457 visas in favour of two stricter other types of visas, the government needs to be careful not to stop needed talent, particularly in the information-technology and medical fields, from contributing to Australian businesses.

Making it harder for migrants to come to Tasmania for work, or placing further restrictions on them, could do unintended damage to local commerce, population growth, and stymie community diversity.

And in Tasmania, care must be taken to ensure that overseas locums can still plug gaps in the state’s hospitals, that top lecturers can still be attracted to the state’s university campuses, and chefs and cooks can work in regional areas with a burgeoning tourism industry.