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Friday, 09 December 2011 11:48

Europe's woes may bring IT skills to Australia


The sense that today is crunch time for Europe has the financial markets on a knife edge; but it could also open the doors for IT skills as expats and Europeans concerned at the situation in the Northern Hemisphere look to the apparently more benign Australian market for jobs in 2012.


How long that market might remain benign however is moot. Yesterday the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported a slight uptick in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 5.3 per cent with the number of people employed dropping by 6,300 to around 11.5 million in November.

Australian IT recruiters meanwhile point to a slowdown in demand for IT skills, as is usual at this time of the year. However for some months, analysis of supply and demand for IT skills have pointed to a pretty balanced market.

That balance however could be challenged if a flood of ex-pats or Europeans looking for work land back in Australia in the new year.

Some local companies say they are already being approached. Jim McKerlie, executive chairman of the Bullseye group said that in the last few months the company had experienced; 'A pretty constant source of inquiries from expats who have lost their jobs, or their budgets have tightened and the business is doing it tough.'

Mr McKerlie said that the company now used social networks to make sure news that it was hiring reached Europe. 'It's happened over the last 12 months. We started to see this in the GFC, but the trend is now strengthening.'

Ian Hodge, managing director of Quest Software said that he was also seeing a number of enquiries, mainly from Quest subsidiaries, and largely from the UK, about the opportunities to work in Australia. 'I've had several of them and I've never struck it before,' said Mr Hodge who said that it was clearly the economy in Europe that was prompting the trend.

And it's not just ex-pats coming home. Mr McKerlie said Bullseye had around 20 people on 457 visas and 75 per cent of them were European or North American. He said salary expectations had also modified as a result of the international economic conditions.

'You can offer then an Australian salary and that's perfectly acceptable - if you went back five years ago when the pound was strong it would be another story. In the past you had to offer them the top end to attract them - that's not the case now we are getting a lot of inquiries particularly from the UK.'

That's not borne out at some of the bigger organisations however. Deloitte for example says that it has not seen much in the way of overseas candidates cold calling for jobs and Simon Millett, the director of banking at CSC Australia said that even in the financial sector, where there were potentially tens of thousands of jobs at risk in the Northern Hemisphere, potential job candidates weren't yet arriving looking for work in Australia.

That's possibly just as well because according to Peter Acheson the chief executive of IT recruitment firm Peoplebank the Australian IT jobs market began softening in September. Although the market conditions are 'not like the GFC where it dropped off a cliff overnight' demand was quieter in the lead up to Christmas.

He said that Peoplebank had not yet seen many overseas job candidates emerge out of Europe's downturn, although this had happened in 2008 post the GFC. 'So, not yet but it's a likely outcome if there is a prolonged period of economic uncertainty,' said Mr Acheson.

Julie Mills chief executive officer of Itcra (the IT Contract and Recruitment Association) said that members hadn't seen too much activity in terms of returning IT professionals as yet, but the market in Australia was very cautious about hiring going into 2012.

In a media release issued this week by Itcra, vice president Duncan Thomson,  also general manager of The Finite Group, said that; 'With many businesses reluctant to hire permanent employees during these difficult times, we're seeing a rise in contracting positions, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. There is also a trend towards offshoring Australian ICT work to lower-cost Asian development centres.'


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