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Making a run for the sun

PrintWeek

Dreary British industrial estate or sun-kissed Australian beach? For an increasing number of print expats, the choice is a no-brainer, as Joanne Gardner discovers

They were once known only as ‘Ten Pound Poms’, but 50 years later Brits transferring their skills Down Under have to pay a fraction more visa fees – not to mention the non-monetary costs of leaving loved ones and, well, the motherland.

Yet it seems this is precisely the sacrifice that more and more UK print industry workers are prepared to make, and the Aussies waiting at the other end of the long-haul flight are, by all accounts, extremely grateful, because Australian print is experiencing a dire skills shortage.

Martin Lennard is one jet-lagged example of this skills transfer. He started his new sales job at Australian print giant Chippendale late last month, and is happy with his lot so far. He rents an apartment with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is enjoying a peculiarly hot January while former colleagues brave the cold in London.

For Mike Corcoran, another Chippendale sales executive, who arrived here with his wife and two children in 2005, there are no regrets (except that he says his daughters have developed a rather annoying Aussie twang).

UK print recruitment specialist Harrison Scott placed eight people in Australia in 2006, and more than 10 in 2007. After a quick chat with Australia’s BPIF equivalent, the Printing Industries Association of Australia, it becomes clear why these numbers are increasing. The skills shortage in Australia is so severe that the recently ousted Liberal government led an initiative across the worst hit industries to provide assistance with overseas recruitment. Migration adviser Peter Lovell has been contracted to work with the Australian print association to help its members – mostly small-to medium-sized businesses – manage visa applications. (The task of recruiting overseas talent is an onerous one for the employer, as companies have to prove they can’t employ locally first.)

“For SMEs, the process is intimidating,” says Lovell. “Companies need to have a fully documented staff training record and prove the position does not fall into the semi-skilled category.”

With Sydney creeping up the ranks of most expensive city and property prices enjoying an all-time high, the draw card is seldom monetary for Brits, although Perth, Brisbane and Tasmania remain competitive with most UK cities. Printing Industries Association of Australia’s communications manager Joe Kowalewski credits the recent upsurge on a rise in wages caused by the skills shortage – plus the additional extras. “Add this to what is, arguably, a better lifestyle, and it’s a pretty attractive package. And then there’s the weather,” he says.

A popular move

Irish press minder Joe Farrell made the move from Dublin a year ago. He landed a job at Chippendale, and soon became foreman of the offset department. He and his wife, who “couldn’t be happier”, had their third child in Australia and, just before Christmas, bought their first Australian home.

“There’s been a big influx of foreign workers here,” Farrell says. “We all have different ideas, but we can mix them up. I suppose with the print industry the way it is – either side of the world – you’ve got to broaden your horizons when is comes to recruiting the right staff.”

From the employer’s point of view, British workers are as safe a bet as they could hope for. “We’re a long way from each other, but our cultures are similar enough to fuse together nicely.”

Desperate to recruit another “decent” sales executive, Chippendale’s general manager Allan Carr called Harrison Scott, who lined up Lennard. Chippendale agreed to sponsor him for a ‘temporary’ four-year visa, with an indefinite extension if the arrangement worked out. The process took around six months.

“We’ve had to make a commitment with Martin as he’s probably not going to make us money for 12 months while he builds up leads. It’s a long-term proposition,” says Carr.

By the same token, Carr adds, the commitment made by the employee says more than an impressive CV ever could.

“People like Martin stand out because they’re taking a risk – he had a good job in London. Now, to be completely alienated with his wife in a foreign land – it’s almost like he has to make this work. He’s got a lot more to lose than I have.”

Chippendale chose the temporary visa route because the permanent visa was “just too hard to obtain”. As Lovell explains: “Getting a permanent skilled working visa is a much more complex process, involving a full medical and police checks. Companies usually want to recruit quicker than that.”

This quick fix for business does come with a rapidly muttered disclaimer: a recruit on a temporary visa has no legal obligation to remain with the sponsoring company if a rival poaches him/her (conversely, permanent skilled visas come with a three-year contract), which could equate to losses in recruitment and training costs. Salary incentives are therefore vital and, although Lennard was sheepish about his, the home he shares with his wife – just metres from the prime minister’s – speaks volumes.

“We tried to make the sponsorship as easy as possible for Lennard,” Carr says. “And he’s got six months to decide whether he really likes it.”

What’s not to like? Corcoran, who has been in Australia for two years now, fell in love with the country while on holiday, a scenario that Lovell says is common, The former Southampton resident approached the plan with due diligence because he had a young family, choosing the permanent skilled migrant route whereby he had to accumulate 120 ‘points’ according to Australian government’s requirements. “It took us a year and a half to accumulate the points as the required number kept going up. We got to the point where we couldn’t rack up any more, so we sold the house to gain the extra points you get from having £100k in a government bond.”

Settling in

The risk has since paid dividends and, now working for an industry “big gun”, Corcoran finally feels at home.

“Things are similar here,” he says. “But I think there’s a more relaxed culture. I’ll do more business over a coffee now, whereas in the UK it was more boardrooms with tie and collar. I think Aussies are very sly, though – they make you think they’re laid back, but they actually work very hard. I work a 45-hour week.”

Any extra hours are compensated by longer days of sun at weekends, and Londoner Lennard doesn’t miss the daily commute. “You’re not sitting for an hour in traffic trying to cross London – the whole set-up is so much better,” he says.

In turn, the Australian print industry has so far been satisfied with British workers.

A report by Australian print magazine Print 21 found that the ability of employees needed to reflect that “success is gained by not only operating a printing process”, but by being skilled across other areas of the business including finance, sales and marketing, and technology. Many British printers have already achieved this broader skills base, and this is evidently invaluable on Australian soil.

The decades-long love-hate relationship between Britain and Australia reaches further afield than just sport, and the friendly rivalry echoes across print factories, While Carr admits “Brits are better, on the whole, than those from Europe and the US as far as their ability, attitude, tenacity and work ethic”, he wouldn’t go so far as to say they were better than Australians.

“I’d say Aussies are the best. But I’m always open to [Brits] proving me wrong”, he says. “Especially if that means they make the company more money.”

While the Brits versus Aussies debate is becoming a little tired, the fact of the matter is that Brits are making the move, and making an indelible impression as they go

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