It was Labour Day Weekend 2020, I’m by the Grampians at a festival and there was not a single care in the world. I remember some talk of a virus circulating in Australia by that point, but – so what? Nothing crazy like lockdowns ever really happened though… They only happened in the movies… right?

Wrong, oh so wrong! Just 2 weeks later, the borders were shut and Australians were being told to come home and that commercial travel was coming to a halt. Anyways, the rest is history and the pages are still being written today.

Though that is not what brings you here: If you are reading this, you are most likely within my immediate/2nd degree network and it is even likelier that you are in Melbourne and in the tech sector.

I’m going to make another bet and say you are likely feeling what I call: “The Great Tech Talent Squeeze”. If you are hiring tech talent in Australia at the moment, there is a chance you are left clutching at straws, left wondering why recruiting engineers is just not as simple as it was before.

In this article I am keen to explore some possibilities and understand why it’s so tough when it comes to “Hiring Engineering Talent in Australia: It’s a candidate-short(er) market. Why?”

Closed Borders

Since coronavirus has run rampant globally, many countries including our own have shut its borders. Our tech scene along with many other industries have a heavy reliance upon immigration as well as international students who graduate from our esteemed universities.

It is reported that 1.9 million people in Australia were recent migrants or temporary residents with 70% being employed. Furthermore, the federal budget reported that in 2019/20 Australia had a net inflow of 154,000 migrants and in 2020/21 we reported that 72,000 would be leaving the country.

Many of those in our technology sector are indeed migrants from countries with larger populations and a greater IT sector. With the Skilled Migrant Visa coming under Criticism as being outdated and not keeping up with technology trends – it is no wonder that we are not seeing anywhere near as many skilled migrants filling roles in Tech.

Mind you, this is not a recent issue – the pandemic has only exacerbated a problem that has been prevalent for a while now, with reports of up to 200,000 vacancies in the tech sector back in 2019.

Investment into digital

In my world at least, everyone and their auntie has secured a raise to help their startup grow! Tell you what, I remember a time when the phrase ‘scaleup’ used to be cool, now everyone is scaling! According to a KPMG report, in 2020, Australia hit a record year for Startups investment at AUD$2.1Bn in 2020, up by 0.1 Billion from the year before.

Josh Frydenberg recently uttered the words: “COVID-19 has significantly accelerated the pace of technology adoption, business digitalisation, and is changing the way we work, we communicate, and we shop.” In summary, he followed it up by stating the Liberal Governments plan to significantly increase investment and add onto the $2Bn R&D incentive for digital/technological growth.

Even before Covid was a thing, according to Digi’s 2019 report: Australia’s Tech Sector was responsible for contributing $122Bn (7% of GDP) per year to the economy and could potentially reach $207Bn per year in less than a decade.

Guess what that means for hiring? I’m not sure there is much of a need to cite any sources, as one can easily deduce the fact: you need to hire to fulfil that investment and grow. ahhh.. capitalism, what a wonderful thing!

Graduates/Entry Level

We have lots of IT graduates actually, Australia ranks highly on measures of computing graduates. Credit is due to the govt. for implementing a number of measures to equip students for technology-based careers.

In the long term, tech graduates will be the saving grace for Australia – boosting us to compete with global leaders. However, according to an article by John Davidson on AFR, many Tech CEO’s and leaders stated that the issue was in the immediate term.

You need senior staff to train up your juniors, plain and simple! Juniors can only become seniors from experience, experience can only come after some time and the issue is, is that we don’t really have time!

Why don’t we have seniors? Well, hopefully by now I am starting to paint the picture a little…

Foreign companies are hiring Australians remotely:

To briefly touch on this final point, Australia has some good people – in fact, some of the best IT talent are here on this island.

Covid has opened the doors to remote work and companies with a workforce operating intercontinentally and in totally different time zones. This has meant American companies- swooping in and hiring with competitive salaries that local organisations just cannot compete with. We have seen this first hand a number of times in recruitment, with candidates getting offers of $30k – $50k more.. AND with equity!

Conclusion & trends we are seeing as a result:

All the points above clearly indicate that there is a squeeze happening and the data is going to lag behind this, but salaries are quite simply skyrocketing.

It is estimated that in Australia, 40% of those in tech received some kind of a pay rise in 20/21 and salaries for software engineers for example were jumping up by 30%. This is purely down to supply & demand, in that there is far more demand than supply of senior engineering talent.
This is forcing some companies to begin hiring offshore teams in Asia to save costs on Australian salaries.

It is not just the trend of salary that will continue to rise due to the current landscape, but also other benefits.

We have seen companies compete on benefits like we’ve never seen before. Employers are offering more leave; RDO days; stock equity options; greater learning packages and the list goes on. I actually wrote a status on this not too long ago, urging clients to stay competitive even if you can’t compete financially.
This is an interesting time and I am super excited to watch how the market will unfold as vaccinations roll out and Australia opens up.


High salaries are here to stay, though they may not grow too much more than we are already seeing (assuming borders open)- so you better have adjusted your budgets accordingly and consider increasing the pay or benefits for your devs (seriously)!

With increasing investment and the trend toward digital growth like never before, we simply need to allow more skilled migrants in and open up the borders. It does not help contradicting ourselves when increasing investment into tech, but our govt. simultaneously cut 4000 places on our “Global Talent Visa”, designed to attract the hard-to-finds.

The Business Insider explains that these factors will likely have an adverse impact on the economy long term and actually have businesses turn their tech investments away from Australia in a bid to attract more talent to scale their business.

Though I personally think we will have no choice but to allow tech talented migrants in and Australia’s IT scene will flourish far greater than it ever has.

Have you invested in your people and HR? If you’re struggling on tips, we will be running a meetup featuring technology leaders talking about some of the recruitment strategies they have been doing to stand out from the pack!

Keep a lookout on my LinkedIn page for more details 🙂

Thanks for reading!
Sami Wareeth – Engineering; Product & Design Recruitment Consultant @AllSquares