CIOs are prepared to pay an average 30 per cent premium to attract workers with the right analytics talent, recruitment firm Robert Half has reported as the ongoing tight labour market prompts desperate executives to pull out their chequebooks.

With 49 per cent of Australian CIOs planning to increase their headcount and just 2 per cent expecting to cut staff, the latest update to the firm’s 2022 Salary Guide found net growth in demand for staff is challenging them to find and attract the talent they need.

And for all the talk about the appeal of intangibles like remote working and corporate culture, in increasingly difficult economic times it seems cold, hard cash still resonates for many job applicants – and the surveyed CIOs were more than ready to pay up.

Cyber security expertise was the top of their priority list, with 65 per cent of the 300 surveyed hiring managers – including 100 CIOs – reporting that cyber is a “must-have” and willing, on average, to pay a 22 per cent premium to secure adequate cyber staff.

The paucity of cyber staff is leaving many companies exposed to cyberattacks, with a new RMIT University survey of Melbourne businesses finding that 70 per cent do not have enough cyber security staff – and 45 per cent admitting their organisation doesn’t have the digital skills they require.

Cloud computing skills were also in high demand among respondents to the Robert Half study, cited as a must-have by 61 per cent of respondents who would pay an average 29 per cent salary premium for them.

Other priority roles included software engineering, programming, software development, business analysis, and data science – all of which CIOs were willing to pay at least a 25 per cent premium for.

Just 36 per cent of CIOs consider blockchain as a must-have – but those that do want blockchain skills are willing to pay a 29 per cent premium to get them.

“Despite signs of an economic easing, and international talent contractions in the tech space setting off alarm bells for Australian employers, our employment landscape tells a different story,” said Robert Half Australia managing director David Jones as the newly updated figures were announced.

“Australia’s current labour conditions point to an exceptionally strong position from which to navigate potentially more challenging conditions ahead…. Increased hiring activity and rising turnover, alongside an ever-shrinking active job seeker market, means the competition for talent is growing fiercer.”

Clawing back from the abyss

That competition will remain a defining feature of the next decade as Australia struggles to staff the critical technology-driven roles needed to solve challenges in areas like regional security, climate change, and healthcare.

And while we like to blame external factors, much of the shortfall is our own fault, CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall said in a National Press Club address launching the agency’s newly-updated Our Future World report, which defines seven ‘megatrends’ for the coming decade.

“It took a global pandemic for us to realise that we’d lost sovereign capability as we grew reliant on exporting raw materials, and buying back and importing the skills and technologies we need,” Marshall said.

Lauding the progress of efforts such as startup incubators and university partnerships – boosting the number of talented science students entering the workforce – Marshall said “science truly is the common language that transcends all political boundaries, and brings us together to solve shared challenges from climate change to pandemics.”

“My hope is that that trend will continue, and that it will see our children using Australian innovation to create a better world from new jobs grown right here in Australia.”

Whatever the long-term outlook, the current skills crisis continues to be a defining issue for executives – with 73 per cent of the Robert Half survey respondents expecting it to become even harder finding qualified employees in the next six months than the last.

That crunch would be exacerbated by issues like increased workload, employee turnover, and the current economic climate, respondents said, but their biggest challenge is finding candidates that demonstrate the right skills and cultural fit.

“While employers will be typically looking for many in-demand soft-skills and technical skills to fill roles in the coming months,” Jones said, “it’s important for companies to remain open to hiring candidates based on their potential to grow into a role with the support of ongoing investment in internal training, professional development and succession planning.”