For all the talk about Australia’s digital and cyber skills gap, Melbourne and Sydney rank far ahead of comparable cities when it comes to availability of talent – yet with salaries lagging world leaders, our well-qualified workforce could be particularly vulnerable to poaching.

The newly released Local Talent Index, compiled by remote-work enablement firm WorkMotion, ranked Melbourne 21st and Sydney 35th out of 100 cities worldwide in terms of access to junior and senior developer talent, relative salaries, ease of remote-working compliance, and other factors.

Melbourne scored 91.56 out of 100 (a benchmark set by London) in terms of access to junior talent, but just 63.46 in terms of access to senior talent – suggesting that the city’s universities and training institutions are producing many qualified developers, but that they are heading elsewhere to develop their careers.

Money is likely an explanation for the exodus, with the survey finding Melbourne salaries are some 7.26 per cent lower overall than those offered in the top 25 GDP countries.

Junior developers make an average $38,392 and senior staff $85,347 on average (all figures are in $US to facilitate comparisons) in Melbourne, while Sydney developers were making 6.05 per cent above that average salary – with junior and senior developers averaging $43,860 and $97,692, respectively.

New Zealand developers were even more underpaid, with talent in 49th-ranked Auckland earning 10.73 per cent below global means and 52nd-ranked Wellington earning 15.35 per cent less.

Top-ranked Seoul, South Korea scored well over 90 in terms of access to both junior and senior talent – although salaries were half those of the top 25 GDP countries – while second-ranked Bangalore, India had the highest ranking of senior staff (100.00) but overall salaries 85.66 per cent below the mean.

Tbilisi, Georgia was ranked 84th with middling talent availability scores and the lowest salaries – ranking 94.14 per cent below the mean – while developers in Tel Aviv, Israel were paid 166.8 per cent of the top-25 GDP averages.

Other highly-paid cities included Pittsburgh, USA (135.3 per cent above the top 25 GDP mean), San Francisco (90.8 per cent), Hong Kong (89.71 per cent), and Boston (65.64 per cent).

Talent is a double-edged sword

The positions of Sydney and Melbourne in the top 35 cities might validate local skills-development efforts, but they also mean well-qualified staff in both cities are likely to be targeted with big pay cheques by companies in other countries that see them as a source of good, less-expensive talent.

Both cities were ranked extremely high – 98.60 out of 100 – in terms of the ability of their infrastructure to support remote working, although this could become a competitive threat as it also means companies in other parts of the world can easily recruit those employees to work from home.

“The new normal constitutes a radical change in cities’ priorities, given that local talent is now the fastest and most effective means for economic growth,” said WorkMotion co-founder and managing director Carsten Lebtig in announcing the new study.

“Cities with a competitive workforce will now have access to the economic benefits of high-paid jobs… without having to create them locally.”

Significantly, Melbourne and Sydney ranked higher in cybersecurity – 17th and 22nd, respectively – but salaries were even further behind global averages, at 15.49 per cent and 8.6 per cent below global averages.

Yet salaries for data scientists and analytics professionals were just a few percentage points above the average and access to senior talent scores in both cities were dismal – 52.19 in Melbourne and 51.64 in Sydney – suggesting that analytics experts are leaving Australia in droves as they become more senior.

Salary disparities could trigger yet more brain drain from Australia’s biggest cities, exacerbating Australian skills gaps and talent mismatch issues that have long dragged on local innovation in areas such as cyber security and threaten emerging fields like quantum computing.

Interestingly, digital marketing managers are particularly well paid in Australia, with mean salaries more than 30 per cent above global averages – as are human resources managers, who are paid more than 26 per cent above global averages in both cities.

Video game developers, by contrast, were underpaid by 25 per cent in Melbourne despite the city being a hotbed of development talent that is desperately in need of even more skilled workers.