Large-scale layoffs may be striking fear into the hearts of many employees, but as cyber criminals single out Australia during 2023, local recruiters anticipate continuing strong demand for specialised skills like DevOps engineers and cyber security specialists.

DevOps engineers, cyber security specialists, and developers have topped Robert Half’s list of the top 10 in-demand roles for 2023 – confirming companies’ ongoing appetite for cyber and technical skills despite ongoing reports of thousands of employees being let go at firms across every industry.

This month, for example, Goldman Sachs was reportedly set to cut over 3,000 workers while Amazon was poised to increase the number of layoffs at the company to more than 18,000.

Salesforce, for its part, is set to cut 10 per cent of its workforce – equivalent to 7,900 employees – and even Vimeo is trimming around 150 staff in its second round of layoffs since mid-2022.

Despite signs that the new year will see continuing layoffs and stagnation of many workers’ salaries, Robert Half suggests businesses are refining their technology investments and doubling down on core functions – with the top 10 rounded out by job titles including finance business partner, financial accountant, HR business partner, customer service officer, receptionist, risk manager, and digital marketing manager.

“Despite fears of recession and global political uncertainties stirring hesitation in the marketplace,” director Andrew Brushfield said, “the jobs market is expected to remain buoyant with companies primarily focused on filling vacant roles, boosting performance of existing employees and upskilling their staff rather than expanding teams.”

The refocusing of hiring intentions was reflected in SEEK figures showing an end-of-year slump in the number of job ads for ICT roles – which were down 23.4 per cent in December compared to a year earlier, nearly three times the 8.3 per cent overall decline across all sectors.

That had driven a 10.4 per cent surge in the number of applications per job, SEEK ANZ managing director Kendra Banks said, noting that “candidates are ready and willing to take up opportunities in the new year” and flagging a slowdown in the number of ICT-related jobs overall.

Despite such slowdowns, however, Brushfield believes 2023 will still see increasingly cost-focused companies pushing hard to meet tightening regulatory requirements and maintain momentum in areas such as digital transformation and cyber security.

“Though companies are taking a conservative hiring approach,” he said, “many continue to make extra strategic hires for business-critical positions.”

Australia leads world in cyber attacks

The ongoing demand for cyber skills come as new figures from Check Point Research confirm that the volume of cyber attacks on Australian organisations increased by 80 per cent during 2022 – more than doubling the 38 per cent global average – with organisations being targeted up to 1,460 times per week.

The average global organisation suffered 1,168 weekly attacks during the fourth quarter – an all-time high – and overall volumes were up across the board, with UK and US firms marking 77 per cent and 57 per cent increases, respectively.

Although the education/research sector was the most targeted globally – with a 43 per cent overall annual increase, to 2,314 attacks per week – in Australia it was insurance and legal firms that were the most targeted during 2022.

The 1,460 attacks per week aimed at that sector represent a 570 per cent year-on-year increase, Check Point noted, with government, finance, transportation and utility organisations rounded out the top five.

Australian healthcare organisations suffered an average of 410 attacks per week, Check Point found – consistent with global experience of an “underfunded and understaffed” sector that, Check Point Data Group manager Omer Dembinsky said, remains “particularly vulnerable” this year.

“The healthcare sector is lucrative to hackers,” he explained, “as they aim to retrieve health insurance information, medical records numbers and, sometimes, even… direct threats from ransomware gangs to patients, demanding payment under threats of having patient records released.”

That was the modus operandi of the Russian cyber criminals that last year engineered the devastating breach of private insurer Medibank, in which the details of nearly 10 million people were compromised and many published online.

With cyber criminal activity set to further intensify during 2023 – and new technologies like the ChatGPT AI driving security researchers to warn of a surge in what Dembinsky called “faster, more automated attacks” – businesses will need to continue filling out their cyber security capabilities regardless of anything else they do.

And that, Brushfield said, means those businesses need to try anything they can to make themselves attractive to scarce cyber security specialists.

“Candidates with in-demand skills continue to be in control of the job market,” he said, “forcing employers to finesse and adapt their attraction and retention strategies to differentiate themselves from competitors.”