Australia may no longer be the dream destination it was for Irish people seeking work abroad but it still has lots to offer offer – and not just the glorious weather. The economy grew at its fastest pace in four years in the first quarter of 2016, due to a surge in exports, and it celebrated 25 years without recession.
But the employment market has changed dramatically in recent years and anyone thinking of making the move now is advised to do a lot of research before leaving, and preferably have a job lined up in advance.
Unemployment hit a 12-year high of 6.4 per cent in 2015, though it fell back to 5.7 per cent in mid-2016. A government report shows that recently-arrived migrants have a higher unemployment rate than those who have been in Australia for some years. Rates vary but in the 12 months to August 2016, the unemployment rate for those from northwest Europe was 3.9 per cent, and for southern and eastern Europe was 4.9 per cent.
Australia is still the most popular destination outside the UK for emigrants from Ireland but the numbers are falling. Between May 2008 and April 2014, 78,500 Irish people moved from Ireland to Australia. In the 12 months to June 2015, however, just 5,221 Irish citizens were granted their first year working holiday visa – down from a peak of 19,492 in 2012. According to the Central Statistics Office, just 6,200 people moved from Ireland to Australia in the 12 months to April 2016.
While beautiful beaches, endless sunshine and the laidback lifestyle continue to be a huge draw, one of the main reasons Australia has attracted so many Irish (aside from the ready availability of working holiday visas) was its booming economy. Some of the industries that provided most of the work, however, have suffered in recent years.
The formerly booming mining industry has weakened as a result of a decline in demand from China and mining engineers (excluding petroleum) have now been taken off the Skilled Occupations list. There have been reports of Irish workers, especially in Western Australia, being laid off by employers with little notice. Those on employer-sponsored 457 visas are under pressure to find another sponsored job within 28 days, otherwise they have to leave the country, often with their families in tow.
The good news is that there are still almost 200 occupations on the
Skilled Occupations List
. Each state or territory will also have its own list of skills which are in particular demand in that region. Checking these lists is a good way to judge your chances of finding a job.
The bad news is that even among the occupations on these lists, opportunities have diminished. A
report by the Department of Education and Employment
found the number of occupations in shortage across the country was at a “historical low” in 2014, and the number of positions advertised has been falling steadily. Competition for jobs is now much tougher, especially in ICT, engineering and accountancy, which each attract more than 35 candidates per vacancy.
Vacancies in actuarial, sales and technical IT positions are the most difficult to fill out of all advertised positions across Australia. There is now an “adequate supply” of technicians and tradesmen, according to the Department of Employment, but there are national shortages for some occupations including: air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics; electrical lines workers; landscape architects; automotive electricians, motor mechanics, small engine mechanics and panel beaters; chefs; sheetmetal trades workers; locksmiths; stonemasons, solid plasterers and roof plumbers.
In the 12 months to August 2016, the largest increases in trend employment occurred in accommodation and food services, construction, public administration and safety, and health care and social assistance.
Farming work in regional areas of Australia, which can form part of the three months’ work in regional areas required for working holiday visa holders to extend their stay from one year to two, is also becoming harder to secure.
The turnaround in the mining and resources industry in Western Australia and the Northern Territory has been particularly stark. Vacancies in these industries were the hardest to fill in 2012-13, but in 2013-14 they were the easiest. The reason for this is the contraction in the industry, and the increase in the number of foreign workers drafted in on 457 visas to plug the skills gap.
Competition for these jobs, which pay very high salaries, has increased considerably. Irish immigrants are now more likely to enter trades upon emigrating to Australia.
(It should also be noted that the majority of positions in mining are on a fly-in-fly-out (known as FIFO) basis, which means workers spend a few weeks working in regional areas every month before flying back to an urban centre where their family may be living.)
The Australian healthcare system is experiencing a shortage of nurses and midwives, with a predicted shortfall of more than 110,000 positions by 2025. Applicants must have at least two years’ experience, preferably with a specialty, with those willing to work in regional areas in highest demand. Experienced doctors are also sought, with a shortage of 2,700 predicted by 2025.
Finding a job
The majority of workers applying for a visa for Australia (other than the working holiday visa) will need to have a job offer lined up in advance of moving. Several jobs fairs are held throughout the year around Ireland, where employers (especially in construction, resources, healthcare and education) and government representatives from Australia (as well as Canada and New Zealand) will often interview on the spot. The biggest fairs are the
Working Abroad Expo
Working International Expo
International recruitment agencies such as Manpower, Hays or Adecco have offices around Australia, and can help to find jobs across a range of industries for both tradespeople and professionals.
Income tax rates in Australia are lower than they are in Ireland, so compare the net income rather than the gross salary when considering the wage on offer. Hays has a useful
salary comparison section
, which gives the average salary per industry or role based on jobs advertised on their site.
If you are travelling to Australia on a working holiday visa or a non-sponsored skilled workers visa and want to work straight away, it is best to start searching online before you go.
is a government-run jobs database with tens of thousands of positions listed by location, by occupation, and by industry.
are some of the most popular commercial job sites. If you have decided where you want to live, local branches of international recruitment agencies such as Hays and Manpower will be helpful.
In a report by the Clinton Institute in University College Dublin, welfare organisations working with Irish people in the main cities all identified young, unprepared Irish people arriving on working-holiday visas as those most in need of support.
The conditions of the visa mean the worker cannot stay in one job or area for more than six months, and some struggle to relocate or find employers willing to give them work for such a short period. To stay for a second year they must do 88 days of “regional work” in agriculture or construction in a rural area. These jobs are often for food and board only, leaving workers financially strapped when the placements finish.
Advice for professionals
Young graduates increasingly see a stint in Australia as a stepping stone on a career path that will eventually lead them back to Ireland. More and more events and associations for Irish professionals are developing around the country, helping new arrivals to network with more established, successful businesspeople.
The east of the country, especially the cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, is the destination of choice for white-collar professionals “seeking cosmopolitan lifestyles”, according to the Clinton Institute report, as well as for backpacker groups looking for short-term work in the service industry.
For Barry Corr, director of HR consultancy Luminant Talent Consulting and chief executive of the
Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce
, preparation is key to making a successful move to Australia.
“You can never do enough research,” he says. “When we speak with candidates for prospective jobs with our clients, those who show an awareness of the marketplace and how they can transition from Ireland to Australia go to the top of the list.”
The chamber, which now has about 7,000 members, runs a popular mentoring programme to partner young professionals with senior business people who are established in Australia, and information and networking events.
There are significant opportunities still to be had in Australia, but the market is competitive and employers expect people to make a significant contribution to the business.