Sunday 27 March 2011 - Australia, the lazy country ? Will it ever be a big country ?
Last week, I had a discussion with my immigration lawyer. She is French naturalised Australian, now living in Singapore. We were discussing about how life is when you get out of Australia and I told her my perceptions of the aussie worklife. I told her that it feels like a constant holiday. She agreed on this and said that Australia is a particular place which doesn´t exist anywhere else in the world. One of the rare places where the people benefit from some sort of wealth and are much more relax about their work (well there are always exception like audit, consulting, etc, etc ...). She said "Do you remember when you arrived ? People said to you ´Wow, Sydney is the busiest city, they are more in a hurry than anyone else in Australia´ What did you think at that time ? Something like ´You´re kidding me ? You have never been to Paris or London ? It is like a regional city for me. Things are closer to slowl than fast´ but now you got used to it and your brain is working half or quarter of your previous speed. But I can tell you than in Singapore, the shock was violent. It is work, work, work. And the future is that. So if you can get the aussie passport, go for it. There is no other place than Australia for lifestyle. And who knows how long it´s gonna last ?"
And it is true that amoung Europeans we do feel the aussie work experience is not as valuable as work experience in North America or Europe. Why ? Below some suggestions toward this idea:
1/ Shortage of skilled people. We have that saying in French "Au royaume des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois"/"In the kingdom of blind people, one-eyed people are kings". And recruiters say the same. It was reading the Financial Time the other day and there was an article about it saying ´Beware of the overseas workforce. For a position, with 6 resumes, 2 from North America, 2 from Europe and 2 Australia. The weakest are always the Australians´ The recruiter was in the IT industry but I wouldn´t be surprised it is the same for other industries like mining, finance, engineering and other technical fields requiring master degrees
2/ Australia is 22 million people. It is three times less than France or UK, fourteen times less than the U.S. So obviously the aussie makret and therefore aussie projects and budgets are proportionately smaller and less complex. You don´t the opportunity to come accross global projects as you could get in Europe or North America, which makes you less grow as a professional
3/ Australia main income is commodity. The ecomomy is like the US in the 30´s. The day Australia would have sold every piece of valuable soil (i.e nickel, iron, coal, gold...), what would Australia sell ? Tourism ? Education ? As long as long as Australia would have not diversified his main source of exports, Australia may be facing challenges to remain in the race
4/ There is no emphasis on high education. I don´t have official numbers so it may be a total hoax, but in Australia, it is OK to have a Bachelor only. For example, in France, I cannot pretend to be an engineer because I completed a Bachelor of Electronics, even if I did work as software programmer and so on. But in Australia, it is totally admitted a Bacherlor equals an engineer status and they have that superiority feeling that they are engineers therefore they can do whatever the other guys can do (i.e Marketing, Finance, Quality...) because the others guys don´t know what the engineers do. In a sense, it is good because you can start from the bottom and climb the social ladder and you don´t get the elitist stigma, which is prevalent in France or UK. The other side of coin is that people tend to redo the wheel and are not necessarily looking for other peers who may have already found something more useful and proof, something they could also contribute improving for.
5/ Tall Poppy Syndrom. Humility is one of the first thing I really appreciate about Australia. But I have to admit it desserves sometimes the best ones because they cannot be as succesful as they would like to be if they stay in Australia. You grow because you get competition. You look to improve yourself if you face challenges. In a place where the better are always cut down, there is no place for growth and success recognition. If everybody have to stay on the same page then it may mean, everybody has to pretend to be on a certain level of intelligence... So if you want to have the opportunity to expand (generally the hard way), you have to go. I strongly believe there is an Aussie diaspora overseas.
6/ Conflict management and constructive feedback. Depending where you work and who your management is, I found that you can stay in that limbo state of mind. I was talking the other day with my Australian cousin-in-law who is herself a manager. She was asking about the work differences between France and Australia for the same job. I told her that in audit, if you want to be promoted, you have to be good at your level, then you get promoted. In Australia, you have to do your job and the job of your N+1. But I found people tended to lose the focus on their current and ended up doing badly both jobs. The other question is ´How do know this person is gonna be fit for the promotion if they don´t demonstrate proefficiency in the next position and in their current position ?´. She admitted that in the aussie workplace it was hard to get constructive feedback and also to have people receiving it in a professsional manner (i.e do not take personal). The way you know you are bad is by lack of management support (they say they will do it but nothing happens) or absence of promotion.
7/ Retention of brains
I was talking to that university professional (UNSW) and he complained about the cost of PhD and post-PhD programs and the lack of will from the government to retain these people they were training. The reason being is that a lot of them are foreigners and can´t get the visa to become permanent resident. But how would expect to create new technologies and new companies when you don´t retain the brains which are capable to finding those things ? Australie does spend money on education on a very high level but other countries are actually beneficiating from it.
Of course they are mutilple reasons why a country grows or not, and I am no economist or qualified academic, but if someone hear about a study about how Australia can be a big country or why it isn´t yet, please me leave a comment. Any divergent opinions are welcome. I´m French, I like the debate and I don´t call it argument.
Update 26/05/2011: The Economist made an article about the promises of Australia, they draw the same ideas. Australia looks like California 30 years ago with a bonanza based on its commodities sold to Asia, but fails to shine on an international scale due to political mismanagement. They say Australia should invest in tertiary education and new technologies such as desalination plants, but if you look closer, Australian universities never score in the top 15 (refer to ARWU, Times-QS and Webometrics), the USA and UK are still by far the reference for academics and the like... And for desalination industries, the technology was mainly brought up by foreign companies... They also mention that Australia should have more self-belief...