Despite the fact that many experts believe the Australian economy will eventually slow down, after outperforming the worldwide economy since the 2008 US mortgage crisis, demand for US skilled workers still continues to grow. The Australian government is making a major player for construction workers from the US as a means of filling gaps in the employment market and in particular the large scale mining projects underway in Western Australia.
Why is Australia targeting the US workforce?
If you take a step back and look at the situation from a distance, it is no surprise that the Australian government is looking to target skilled US construction workers. The US economy continues to struggle, unemployment in America is higher than the government is comfortable with and the inflow of expats from America to Australia continues to grow. In many ways we are talking of skills and experience in the workforce which would take years to instil into the Australian domestic workforce, although there is still a need for the Australian government to invest in training in the longer term.
Why not invest in the Australian workforce to fill the gap?
The sensible approach would be, on paper at least, to invest in the domestic Australian workforce today so that the skills and experience which are in short supply will emerge tomorrow. The problem there is that apprenticeships of this nature take many years to fulfil, are not cheap and in the meantime there is a direct impact upon efficiency and ultimately return on investment. The fact that the vast majority of major mining projects are expected to come online in the next 3 to 5 years means that after this “3 to 5 year window of opportunity” demand could fall significantly and many workers would end up unemployed.
The ideal situation with skilled workers from overseas is that they can “hit the ground running” and ultimately when all said and done, if they are employed on a project by project basis, it will be relatively inexpensive to dispose of their services. Indeed, many expat workers with specific skills are looking for relatively large incomes and will ultimately return to their former homelands where perhaps their families are waiting for them. In many ways this type of arrangement is a perfect short-term solution although it does leave the long-term situation somewhat exposed.
Expats in Australia
While the expat community in Australia is dominated by the likes of UK expats there is no doubt that there are a significant number of US expats. The relationship between the US government and the Austrian government has improved dramatically over the years and indeed immigration Minister Chris Bowen hosted a number of US based skills exhibitions towards the end of 2012. The Australian government is adamant that increased investment in resources, energy and infrastructure will continue for the foreseeable future. This offers a perfect opportunity to balance the employment and unemployment situations in both countries.
For many years now Australia has been seen as the “poor cousin” of North America and Europe and indeed has been sidelined with regards to a number of major international agreements and projects. However, since the 2008 US mortgage crisis, which ultimately led to the worldwide economic downturn, Australia has grown in stature and grown in economic strength. The very close ties with China and India have led to significant investment in the mining and resources sector which has left the country short of specific skills and experiences for this industry. The perfect solution seemed to arise when the US economy failed to respond to fiscal stimulus programs and indeed the unemployment rate remained at uncomfortably high levels. The opportunity to “pinch” skilled and experienced US workers in the construction industry, and use their abilities in the Australian mining and resources sector, seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
Whether or not these US skilled workers remain in Australia in the longer term remains to be seen but the fact is they are the perfect solution to a short-term problem with official data suggesting a peak in construction skills and experiences requirements over the next 3 to 5 year