An Australian perspective on the globalisation of talent

Last night, I attended an excellent event organised by University of Sydney on the theme of ‘Global Talent Search & Challenge’.  Overall, for me, two things stood out. First, while everyone else is preoccupied with short-term issues related to the downturn, in the long-term Australia face major workforce challenges, many dictated by global forces. Secondly, the movement of talent across national borders is happening with gusto.

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor, opened the night proceedings with a declaration on how Australia can be a smart country by attracting the best talent from all over the world. Commenting on the mobility of talent, Dr Michael illustrated how fifteen years ago, law graduates have to first prove their mettle locally before they can hope for an overseas posting. Today, 30% of university law students are directly hired by overseas firms. “It is no longer enough to be the best in Sydney or Australia. Competition for talent is global and employers need to wake up to the new reality”, he added. Citing the University’s own example, Dr Michael talked about how important it is to have a flexible employment arrangement to compete for talent.

The keynote speaker of the night, Andrew Banks, MD, Talent2, offered a big picture view of the global trends contributing to the movement of talent.  Drawing on the experiences of Talent2, Andrew illustrated the challenges faced by countries, employers, educators and individuals in a rapidly evolving global work environment. He believes that the Australian workforce is increasingly separated into two  – those supporting the local economy and a growing group who are part of the global supply chain. He concluded with a note on talent  “it is easy to find, hard to land”.

Professor Lesleyanne Hawthorne, Associate Dean International & Director, University of Melbourne presented data upon data around the flow of talent in and out of Australia. An authority on migration with particular emphasis on health professionals, professor Lesleyanne succinctly illustrated the drivers of cross border talent flow, and where Australia stands in the scheme of things. Drawing from her research, Lesleyanne presented eye-opening statistics on the changing make-up of the Australian workforce. As high as 52% of the engineering workforce in Australia are born overseas. Similar trend runs in white collared sectors like computing, accountancy and medicine.  I met professor Lesleyanne briefly, and I will try and get hold of her presentation slides.

Professor Bruce Robinson, Dean, Faculty of Medicine is in charge of recruiting faculty members. Australia’s policies, he believes, borders on ‘arrogance and protectionism’ when it comes to recognising overseas trained talent. He also cites the unique example of losing out on talent because the university was ill equipped to recruit couples (e.g A North American professor will only relocate if the university can find a job for his wife, a musician).

SydneyTalent (Co sponsors of the event) offers an interesting business model, possibly a threat to traditional recruitment service providers. Whereas traditional recruiters concentrate on the fee paying clients, SydneyTalent seems to give equal weight to both the clients and the candidates. By facilitating deeper connection, SydneyTalent assists students (a move highly attractive to future students) and at the same time offer a screened talent pool to employers. Manned and operated like any other recruitment firm, SydneyTalent offers a compelling story. I met CEO Anne Moore briefly and I hope to explore more about their model in the coming days.

Lots of new insights, rich data, new perspectives on offer, a very fruitful night. Hopefully the organisers will put up the presentation slides for public access.

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