Blog, Swinburne University

Schools, STEM and Startups

By DELIA SCALES

8th May 2019

Are you an overseas student studying technology courses in Australia?

Or are you interested in Australian education, particularly in the technology sector?

If the answer is yes, then this article will definitely interest you.

Swinburne University has a Student Services Unit that holds regular public events. These are informative talks about how to bridge the gaps between being a student and finding work.

The event on the 8th May was called –

Melbourne Startup Scene for International Students.

A panel of four speakers shared their experiences about employment, particularly as it relates to student graduates and the technology sector.

Topics included networking, volunteer work, paid employment and starting your own business.

Melbourne entrepreneurs share their experiences

The organiser of this event was Olivia Doyle, coordinator of resources for overseas students at Swinburne. Olivia works hard, running regular events for international students, and distributing a range of information about resources including work rights and responsibilities.

The evening was introduced by Geetan Rathod, a current master of entrepreneur and innovation student.

The other panel members were –

• Bambi Price – a long term software developer, serial entrepreneur, Deputy Chair of the Australian Information Industry Association, founder of Tron Systems, Student Partnerships and Senior Entrepreneurs.

• Dina Goebel – manager of Swinburne Centre for Innovation, consultant for businesses, change management

• Domenic Saporito – co founder of InternMatch and Outcome Life, serial entrepreneur and active supporter of overseas students.

"Networking and volunteer work is the most important thing. Employers hire the people they already know."
"Think about being an entrepreneur yourself. Look for problems that you think you can really solve, then have a go."
"Look you are already ahead of the pack, by the virtue of having travelled to a new country and enrolled in a course. Just keep being brave."

The point points that the audience learned

About seventy people turned up, all overseas students, mostly from India and Asia.

Topics discussed were –

• The need to get out of the student social group and start network with the working world. As Dom and Bambi pointed out, just doing courses won’t get you a job. People employ people they know. Networking and personal contacts is an essential part of job seeking.

• The importance of work experience programs. There is a world of difference between passive study of abstract academic subjects and the hard and fast pace of the workforce. Resources available to Swinburne students include Capstone projects (supervised projects solving a problem for a small business or community group with a small group of other students) and Internships (short term unpaid work experience).

• Being proud of the courage in coming to another country. Doing courses and mixing with people from a different culture is hard work. Many Australians don’t do as well as overseas students, due to lack of motivation and determination.

• Considering working in a startup rather than the corporate environment. Startups off a more fluid structure approach to bureaucracy and are more open to international cultures.

Questions and answers

After the panel spoke, the audience asked questions –

• How to write on their Linkedin profile, what to put in and what to leave out (leave out your work experience at McDonalds but include your unpaid experience at a local co working space).

• Where to find meetups and co working spaces. How to communicate with other people there and finding the line between being pushy and being assertive.

• Working out problems with constantly changing work visa status and getting past over anxious HR departments.

• Figuring out what sort of skills employers actually looking for. It’s one thing to pass generic computer courses but quite another to create a specific solution to a technology problem using a range of different software solutions.

The evening was a great success.

After the event, students rushed up to the speakers, keen to learn how to network in Australia find employment and make a success of their young lives. They were all motivated and eager to learn.

Reflections about Australian's lack of technology skilled workers

Many of these overseas educated people will stay and start up their own businesses. Currently 35% of people founding a startup in Australia were born overseas. That number is expected to rise to 40% soon.

When I interview health tech startup founders, I often find they were born overseas. They were schooled in a disciplined environment, expected to learn the hard subjects like STEM then pushed to become self sufficient.

The startup scene is desperate to find skilled workers and welcomes overseas tech workers with open arms.

Startup founders are vocal about the challenges that they face trying to run a tech based business in Australia.

Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer criticizes Australian policy makers

Matt Barrie the CEO of Freelancer, has complained that Australia can’t even get experienced technology staff to consider working in Australia because it would be such a backward step for their career. Matt has told interviewers that employment agents won’t even lodge jobs for Senior IT workers in Australia.

He says that his company has trained young Australians in technology “by the metric ton” but eventually they move overseas.

Matt has challenged Australian policy makers for their lack of vision, living in the past days of easy money from farm exports and failure to support the technology industry.

He wrote a wildly popular article on Linked In in 2017 called Australia’s Economy is a House of Cards.

“The lack of access to talent is the single biggest factor draining the growth of the tech industry in Australia”.

Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, co founders of Atlassian challenge the new visa laws

Both co founders of Atlassian Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes have gone public with their calls to overturn the Australian government’s proposed changes to 457 visas. They have even suggested approaching the top 50 universities in the world and telling their graduates, if their grades are good enough, they can emigrate to Australia.

They also talked about the need to reform Australia’s old fashion education system.

“We need to shift the opinion on education from something we do when we’re young to something we do for our entire life.”

Googles submission to the government on changes to visa status

Google Australia has also raised the issues of visa restrictions for overseas students.

In its’ submission to the Australian Government’s Digital Strategy the company stated –

“Our Australian workforce has grown from a handful of people in a Sydney apartment in 2002 to more than 1,300 people in 2017, including one of Australia’s largest computer science workforces. As a result of the government’s changes to Australia’s skilled migration visa system in 2017, Google Australia has had to revise its Australian recruitment plans.”

Asking tough questions about the lack of Australian born technology graduates

There are some hard questions that Australians need to ask themselves.

Why are we not able to produce our own technology workers to meet the needs of our startup scene?

Given that technology will become the main source of employment and economic growth in the near future, are we making the appropriate changes to our education, employment and tax sectors?

And are well ensuring the best opportunities to grow small, agile, tech based companies in Australia?

The answer I’m afraid, is no, no and no.

“Australian teenagers’ reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.”

International ratings show Australia at the bottom of the education scores

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development regularly publishes international comparisons of school education results from around the world.

Australia’s ratings for key metrics like classroom discipline and standards in tough subjects like maths and science are frankly, appalling.

At least one in three Australian students are falling below the national baseline level for reading and science.

Violent, disrespectful classrooms are more common in Australia than overseas.

Students studying STEM subjects is continuously dropping.

How some overseas students view Australians education system

I currently work with several overseas students at my co working space. I admire their technical skills and am saddened by the frustrations they face over difficulty finding work.

They have raise the issues of restrictive work visas with me, and the difficulty they face finding work in large companies with over cautious HR departments.

However other issues of concern are the ‘dumbed down’ nature of their Australian peers workload, compared to similar course requirements in India.

There is a painful (if undiscussed) awareness of Australian students doing the same course at Australian universities but paying half the price.

And finally there is frustration with disappointing standards of some Australian teachers.

What will happen if we don't plan for the technology driven future?

Behind the financial success story of Australia’s overseas University education program, there is a growing shadow of a failed local school system.

If we don’t improve the primary education of Australian students then we cannot grow our digital economy, prepare for the technology revolution or provide quality teachers for future university students.

The overseas students who do have great skills in technology need should be supported and appreciated.

Not caught up in continuous visa changes sparked by shallow debates about ‘overseas people taking local jobs’.

"I am from Ahmedabad, India and I come from a family where I have always been encouraged to pursue what I liked. I decided to come to Melbourne after finishing my bachelor’s in computer engineering as there are much better learning opportunities and job prospects as compared to my hometown as well as my brother also lives in Melbourne. I have since completed my Master’s Degree from Swinburne, but one of the thing which I realized was how hard it is for an international student to find a job in Australia."
Rushabh Bhagat
Masters in Engineering

References

1 thought on “Schools, STEM and Startups”

  1. Rushabh Bhagat

    A very well-written article, Delia. Thanks for highlighting the issues and the impact faced by international students.

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