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Our next government can do more to support Australia’s tech industry

Zeller co-founder and chief executive Ben Pfisterer. SOURCE: supplied.

Despite advances over the past several years through challenging macro and economic conditions, there are big opportunities for our next government to continue to strengthen Australia’s position as a global leader in technology and innovation.

Addressing critical tech skills shortages and close the talent gap

The most pressing issue we face is the skilled worker shortage in engineering, a challenge that has been amplified in recent years with border closures during the height of the pandemic. The Tech Council of Australia tells us that more than half of those studying Australian ICT degrees will leave the country as soon as they are trained, posing a significant problem for the future of our homegrown tech industry.

While Zeller has been privileged to grow our product and engineering team by 183% in the past 12 months, many Australian-based technology startups have battled competitive recruiting conditions to secure local talent.

We can start by incentivizing people to study degrees that build pathways into the technology sector. During this election campaign, Labor announced a policy that would see students who achieve an ATAR over 80 and choose to study teaching rewarded with $10,000 cash for each year of study.

A similar incentive could be applied to software engineering degrees to increase adoption rates and funnel more talent into the local industry.

To recruit global talent, the processes businesses undertake to hire skilled workers from overseas continue to be lengthy, prohibitive, and complex.

There is scope for our new government to expand the application of a number of our sponsorship and skills-based visas to attract more talent to Australia, and reduce barriers for local companies to attract these workers.

Beyond process simplification, as a country, we need to increase the level to which we proactively chase talented workers to come to Australia. We are an incredibly attractive country to work in, yet we need to promote it more to ensure we are not only retaining talent yet becoming net positive in bringing in additional talent.

Expanding employee share options programs

To position Australia’s tech sector as a viable career pathway for young talent, it’s been positive to see the progress made in improving the employee share options scheme. Reducing complexity around this benefit helps to attract local talent into the tech sector for the long term, and builds greater commitment to their organisation. In the most recent budget, the federal government removed the cap on the number of shares that can be issued by a company to their employees alongside increasing the cap on the value of the shares given.

Looking for opportunities to broaden these programs will encourage skilled workers to stay in Australia, rather than move overseas where these programs have traditionally been more lucrative. These programs also increase the appeal for people to consider a career in the technology industry, compared to a more traditional salaried corporate position.

Encouraging growth and competition in fintech and neobanking

To bolster the economy throughout our COVID-19 recovery, the new government can identify ways to support the growth and increase competition within the Australian banking and financial services industry, by reducing red tape to drive more entries to the market from fintechs and neobanks — helping to increase competition and consumer choice beyond the big four banks.

Although the small business company tax rate is a positive policy, I’d also like to see a further reduction in tax rates for the first one to two years of a new business’ life. Supporting emerging Australian startups in their early make-or-break years is critical to improving their cash flow, and impacts their ability to survive and grow.

Motivate tech businesses to support regional Australia

Regional Australia has experienced a mass exit from the banks in the past few years, with data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority showing banks, building societies and credit unions closed 575 branches in regional Australia between June 2017 and June 2021. 42% of Zeller’s merchants are from non-metro areas demonstrating that many regional business owners are seeking alternative financial services providers as a result of the gap driven by the ‘Big 4’.

This adoption of fintech regionally is only viable if we continue to improve connectivity infrastructure within regional and rural areas. It is unacceptable that many Australians still suffer from an intermittent internet connection, putting their businesses behind and unable to compete with metro businesses in an increasingly digital landscape.

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