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Someone tell immigration, we have a reputation to protect

25 Jun 2013

The Weekend Australian

By Will Harvey and Dimitria Groutsis

Australia relies heavily on skilled migration and the federal government has been one of the world leaders in attracting global talent. But what is it that causes so many skilled workers to want to move to Australia?

Australia relies heavily on skilled migration and the federal government has been one of the world leaders in attracting global talent. But what is it that causes so many skilled workers to want to move to Australia?

Our research on attracting and retaining talent across the Asia Pacific finds that reputation holds the key answer. Reputation is the collective perceptions of people, organizations or countries. It is an intangible asset because it is not something that we can see, but it can hold tremendous value, and culminate in both positive and negative consequences.

Our research finds that different forms of reputation determine where talent moves. With country reputation, talent is attracted by particular factors, with work, education and lifestyle being the dominating factors. The US, for example, holds a strong reputation for professional opportunities, the UK for its schools and universities, and Australia for its quality of living. Some countries even hold reputations for producing and exporting talent.

The Philippines, for example, is well-known for training nurses who are deployed in developed countries across the world. India has gained such a strong reputation for the education and development of its software developers that companies such as Samsung directly source its software talent from India.

Talent is not only attracted by a country's reputation, but also by a city's reputation. The Economist's liveability ranking and Mercer's quality of living survey are two of the most popular and where Australian cities such as Melbourne, Perth and Sydney have ranked highly.

That said, a city's reputation for quality of living is not everything and many talented workers move to destinations in order to gain experience in major financial centres such as New York, London and Hong Kong, or in emerging economy cities such as Shanghai or Mumbai, or in regions with highly specialized reputations such as Silicon Valley, Bangalore or Zhongguancun.

Company reputation also plays a crucial role in attracting talent with most workers wanting to work for firms which are well-known and hold positive reputations. The reputation of firms such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG in South Korea, or Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda in Japan, for instance, have historically been a critical driver for attracting global talent to both countries.

In many cases, talent will be attracted by multiple reputations, for example to work for Apple Inc. or Google because of their consistently high company reputations and because these organisations are located in the world's most reputable IT cluster, Silicon Valley.

Finally, talent may also move to places because of particular individuals. It is well-known that people want to work for 'celebrity CEOs' such as Richard Branson, but this is also true of reputable employees across all areas of organisations. Evidence from the management literature suggests that as talent gains more experience, they tend to become less interested in working for reputable organisations and more interested in working for reputable individuals or in reputable teams.

So what does all of this mean for Australia? At present, the country has the reputation for an immigration system which is open to talent, but at what cost? Currently, the Australian Government is signaling through its 18 page 'consolidated sponsor occupation list' that it is open for business in a wide range of skills, with bakers, drainers, general gardeners and sports coaches all eligible under its general skilled migration visa.

We do not question the need for these workers, but why such a broad-brushed approach to talent when, with a little collaboration with businesses and universities, many of these jobs could be sourced locally?

Such broad definitions of talent send ambiguous and erroneous signals about the reputation of Australia's talent.

First published in The Weekend Australian

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