Aussie Aussie Aussie, Hai Hai Hai!

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 12:19 AM EDT

Look around your workplace. Does one in three look foreign? If not, you might be missing out.
The latest migration statistics from the ABS show that 29.3 percent of all people of working age (for this purpose calculated as aged 20-64) were born overseas. Add people with at least one parent born overseas and the figure is up to around half the population. That should mean your workplace is a melting pot of cultures. Let's hope so, because if you sell to the domestic market, your customer base is that same melting pot.

There's no doubt there are advantages to ethnic diversity in the workplace. If you understand foreign cultures, you'll know how to sell to them and Asia is our closest market. There's also the argument that diversity of any sort also brings new ways of fixing problems and coming up with bright ideas.

But migrants to Australia come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Many, myself included, come in the form of pale white poms, with a culture very close to mainstream Australia. There are lots of us, we make up 21 percent of all working age migrants and 6 percent of the total working-age population, but we probably don't add too much in terms of diversity.

The real difference comes from those with a non-English-speaking background, who make up two-thirds of all migrants now of working age in Australia. In Victoria and NSW it's as high as 75 percent. In those states if you look at a CV and shun a foreign sounding name you're ignoring a quarter of the population.


Asia, of course, accounts for a lot of our migrants. A quarter of working-age migrants from non-English-speaking countries come from China, Vietnam and India; 78 percent of them live in Victoria and NSW, yet only 14 percent have settled in WA and Queensland.

And herein lies a big issue: if migration is to constitute a big part of the country's growth, we need to embrace all nationalities. But, for whatever reason, WA , SA and Queensland seem to have attracted mainly English-speaking newcomers. You have to wonder how Queensland expects to service Asian markets if only 11 percent of the workforce were born in a non-English speaking country?

There's been a lot of talk about migration programs forcing newcomers to spend some time living in the bush, desperately searching for a job. Perhaps a better approach is to insist they spend a few years in Brisbane or Perth, helping the economy to expand. Or a less dictatorial approach would be to find out why ethnicity hasn't spread northwards and westwards to the same extent it has elsewhere and try and fix the issue.

Read more By The Numbers articles by Phil Dobbie here.

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