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News Analysis 14 Apr 2021 - 3 min read

Digital divide: recruiters say power swinging to talent as agencies, brands scramble to fill digital gaps, face shrinking pool

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Jim Kelly, Director, Creative Natives: “Candidates are getting multiple offers and know that they are a hot commodity, it’s going to be a big 12-months for employment in digital.”

As companies stampede to digital transformation programs, brands and agencies are scrambling to secure specialists in high-demand channels such as SEO, paid search, programmatic, UX and e-commerce. Digital marketing salaries are up 15-20% but recruiters claim the talent pool is shrinking and wage demands are rising as it becomes a “favourable market for candidates”.

What you need to know:

  • The marketing and agency job market is back to pre-Covid levels.
  • Demand for digitally-led roles is up significantly, with open roles up 10% in some areas.
  • Recruiters say a “digital divide” is emerging, with vacancies outweighing available talent.
  • According to the National Skills Commission, online job ads for March 2021 were up 96.4% year-on-year – the highest in 12 years.
  • The commission also reported in February that recruitment activity is 2.7 times higher than April last year.
  • Key roles include SEO, paid search, programmatic, UX, web developers and e-commerce specialists.
  • Recruiters say it’s a “candidate’s market”, with salaries in digital marketing up 15-20% year-on-year.

“The next generation won’t be completely from the communications space because a lot of the technical skill and capability that clients and agencies are looking for isn't part of a lot of the current degrees,” Kelly says.

Ryan Kelly, Director, Creative Natives

Bouncing back

Australia’s marketing, media and advertising job market is bouncing back, with recruiters claiming demand has returned to pre-Covid levels.

However, the roles being sought out aren’t the same.

Increasingly brands and agencies are hunting for specialists in SEO, paid search, programmatic, UX, web development and e-commerce.

According to one recruiter who didn’t want to be named, his business has seen a 10% increase in the amount of active digital marketing roles.

Associate director for digital recruitment firm S2M, James Cooper, says he's seeing similar demand but has noticed a gap in the number of suitable candidates.

“There’s a lot of brands out there looking to bolster their digital teams with people in the UX, digital design, programmatic and search space – obviously, all areas that boomed during Covid,” Cooper says.

“The issue is, there isn’t enough talent to fill all of these roles, whether that be because of demand or suitability.”

Cooper says there is a “digital divide” in the market, with candidates aware that they are in control of their job opportunties.

He argues that some clients need to be clearer on the roles they are trying to fill and how they can build their teams.

“In some instances, we are having people come to us looking for a specialist in every aspect of the consumer journey. Those people are few and far between and cost a lot of money to employ,” Cooper says.

“Brands need to think more about building a team that can handle the entire journey, so put a creative UX designer with a brilliant developer and while it makes two people instead of one, it’s going to be a lot more achievable.

“Too many clients are waiting around for these ‘miracle’ roles that really aren’t there.”

Creative Natives Director Ryan Kelly agrees that the marketing and media sector has become a “favourable market for candidates”.

He says salaries in the digital are up 15-20% year-on-year, resulting in applicants increasingly more selective in their next move.

This has also been helped by the diminishing level of international hires, an area that often drives employment in the agency sector.

“With brands in-housing, overseas employment drying up and others feeling hard done by during the height of Covid, there is a large amount of movement in the market,” Kelly says.

“Candidates are getting multiple offers and know that they are a hot commodity, it’s going to be a big 12-months for employment in digital.”

Kelly says the dissolution with the industry by some has seen candidates also “fall out of love” with marketing and abandon the sector completely.

“Working from home and the freedom to reassess has led to a lot of people also chasing other career opportunities,” Kelly says.

“In one instance an individual I spoke to had stepped away and become a yoga instructor.”

More broadly, the National Skills Commission noted online job ads for March 2021 were up 96.4% year-on-year – the highest it’s been in 12 years.

The commission also reported in February that recruitment activity is 2.7 times higher than April 2020.

"While performance digital recruitment has always proven challenging to find the right talent at the right time, Covid has amplified this challenge due to the lack of new, experienced talent entering the market from the UK, which used to help close the gap."

Claire Fenner, Managing Director, Atomic 212

Agencies on a run

After a slow 2020 and a major agency holding groups mandate to freeze all hiring, agencies are flooding job sites such as LinkedIn and Seek with ads.

A sweep by Mi3 across these sites found almost every major holding group is hiring, with WPP and media arm GroupM leading the charge.

Dentsu and Publicis Groupe followed while Mediabrands and Omnicom remain relatively quieter.

A detailed look at the roles on offer shows 90% were digitally focused, varying from assistant to manager levels.

Most frequently advertised roles include:

  • SEO Manager
  • Programmatic Executive
  • Data and Analytics Specialist
  • E-commerce manager
  • Paid search and social executive/assistant
  • Digital Media Manager

Publicis Chief Product Officer Jason Tonelli, who recently launched a dedicated e-commerce division, tells Mi3 his group is searching for an array of digital specialists as the commerce and digital transformation boom rolls on.

“We’re actively in the market for those key UX, ecommerce and programmatic roles but it’s a competitive space and there are a lot of other agencies trying to scoop the best talent,” Tonelli says.

“There’s a lot of clients still catching up with the changes of the last 12-months so its vital we have strong, digitally-focused, teams to guide them through their relevant transformation process.

One agency executive pointed to a significant shift in accounts during 2020, which could also be a reason behind increased staff changes.

Publicis is an example after nabbing the $100m creative, digital and media account for Toyota and the $65m media account for Westpac in the last six months.

Independent agency Atomic 212, which won the $20m BMW media account last year, publicly announced it had hired for 33 roles and was still on the hunt for more.

Atomic 212 MD Claire Fenner told Mi3 the agency was hiring for a number of roles across performance digital, data & analytics, as well as client service and planning. 

"While performance digital recruitment has always proven challenging to find the right talent at the right time, Covid has amplified this challenge due to the lack of new, experienced talent entering the market from the UK, which used to help close the gap,” Fenner says.

"It further supports our strategy to continue to train and develop new specialists to help future proof our business. However, we're not just seeing this shortage across specialist digital roles at the moment, it's across all functions."

Fenner says the movement of accounts in Melbourne has also hit, with agencies desperate to fill huge teams and outgoing agencies doing what they can to retain the team until the contract ends.

“Brands need to think more about building a team that can handle the entire journey, so put a creative UX designer with a brilliant developer and while it make two people instead of one, it’s going to be a lot more achievable. Too many clients are waiting around for these ‘miracle’ roles that really aren’t there.”

James Cooper, Director, S2M

Mind the uni skills gap

Jim Kelly says the industry is starting to see the impact of education on graduates, arguing some degrees may no longer be suited to the needs of a growing digital landscape.

“The next generation won’t be completely from the comms space because a lot of the technical skill and capability that clients and agencies are looking for isn't part of a lot of the current degrees,” Kelly says.

“We’re seeing this change with more refined digital media degrees but there is still room to improve, otherwise we’ll end up with an unsustainable job market.”

Kelly says those who are looking to get involved in the digital space should be enrolling in industry-managed marketing programmes.

In a Covid Special Edition opinion piece penned for Mi3 last week, Venntifact Co-Founder Joey Nguyen argued the martech and adtech industries were facing the greatest skill shortage ever.

He says brands who are in-housing this capability to support their accelerated digital growth are “aggressively snapping up the talent”, adding that Covid has magnified the issue further.

Similar to Kelly’s point, Nguyen says the industry falls short in understanding the complexity of martech and the growing knowledge base needed to keep up with changes to tech and privacy laws.

“Part of the challenge is the depth and breadth of understanding now required. Capability like CDPs (Customer Data Platforms) are a double-edged sword: a platform that can unify data across app, web and offline sources and power measurement and activation across any channel also requires someone to understand each aspect and technology involved in order to make it all work effectively – a set of skills that takes years to learn,” Nguyen says.

 

“There’s a lot of clients still catching up with the changes of the last 12-months so its vital we have strong, digitally-focused, teams to guide them through their relevant transformation process."

Jason Tonelli, Chief Product Officer, Publicis

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Josh McDonnell

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