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News Analysis 31 May 2022 - 5 min read

'Everything with arms and legs doesn't exist': Talent wars rage as juniors ask for $90K, $150K after two years, whole teams poached, immigration levels lag

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Deputy Editor
Immigration numbers talent

The number of people arriving into Australia has collapsed since its pre-Covid peak, and is still barely ticking upwards. More needs to be done to entice UK, US and Canadian talent, recruiter Brenton Moore from MAARS says.

Yes, you've heard the abounding talent war stories. Salaries have surged 20 per cent across all job functions say agency bosses, brands and recruiters.  Juniors are asking for $90,000; those with two years experience are shopping for $150,000 and content roles, particularly, are spiking. The biggest concern? Young talent is struggling with the increased responsibility and workloads that come with their bigger pay cheques.  “Everyone is poaching everyone”, says one agency boss as immigration numbers show Australia is at less than a quarter of its pre-Covid peak – and more people are leaving Australia than arriving.

What you need to know:

  • The talent wars continue to rage. Salaries are rising across the board and recruiting has become a Nightmare on Elm Street.  “Everything with arms and legs doesn’t exist,” says Innocean’s CEO Jasmin Bedir.
  • Grad roles have jumped 20 per cent, juniors are asking for $90,000, which jumps as high as $150,000 after a couple of years. It’s like “nothing we’ve seen in decades past”, per VMG chief Michael Fishwick.  
  • Fishwick says he’s already hearing of younger talent struggling with increased responsibility and workloads, which impacts clients and people.
  • Recruiters like MAARS’ Brenton Moore say it’s increasingly hard to find anyone to apply for roles, and more needs to be done to bring foreign talent to Australia.

We are seeing the ridiculous pay being asked for. I had someone last week with two years' digital media experience who had four different roles in two years ask for $150k…. yikes! No thanks.

Media agency boss

Junior agency employees are asking for $90,000 salaries and entire teams are being poached as the talent wars rage while international arrivals are still a quarter of their pre-pandemic peak.

The head of one digital agency in Sydney said he had never seen competition this fierce in almost three decades.

“There is no one in market to hire," he said. "The whole industry has hit a brick wall and we are in the situation where everyone is poaching staff from each other. In some cases [it's] whole teams… We have juniors looking for $90k - I have never seen it anywhere near as bad.”

Another media agency head told Mi3: “We are seeing ridiculous pay being asked for. I had someone last week with two years' digital media experience who had four different roles in two years ask for $150k…. yikes! No thanks.”

One Chief Marketing Officer said she lost a staff member with four years’ experience to a $20,000 salary increase, two months after negotiating a $15,000 pay rise for them. “It’s insane,” she said.

Just about everyone has similar war stories of the current talent battles, Innocean Australia CEO Jasmin Bedir said.

“It’s not just juniors, it’s everyone. They’re saying, ‘I need a pay rise because I’ve been approached by a recruiter. My new market value is 10-15k higher’. Everyone is poaching everyone,” she said.

“I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn’t think it would be this bad. It’s death by a thousand cuts… Account executives are $75,000, they were $55,000 pre pandemic. Everything with arms and legs doesn’t exist.”

When Covid-19 swept in, many foreign nationals went home. They simply haven’t returned yet... We are starting to see a trickle coming back to us from the UK, but I’m yet to hear of any Americans or Canadians.

Brenton Moore, Managing Director, MAARS

Content roles soaring, concerns for over-promotion

Over the past year, graduate salaries have increased by at least 20 per cent – from about $50,000 to $60,000, Brenton Moore, Managing Director of recruitment firm MAARS, said. two- or three-years’ experience can ask for $80,000, while three to five years are asking for between $120,000 to $150,000, he said.

These are roles within commercial media owners and media agencies around Australia. Content positions have also seen salary increases of circa 25 per cent… Being a ‘candidates’ market’ they know they can ask for more money or promotion or simply move jobs to achieve such,” he said.

Employers are offering increasingly flexible working arrangements, gym memberships, sign-on bonuses, health insurance, half days off – “the list goes on and on”.

It’s like “nothing we’ve seen in decades past”, indie agency network VMG’s Michael Fishwick said. Covid brought in positive changes for work-life balance but the knock-on effects are hurting businesses, clients and the youngest workers in the industry, he added.

I’m hearing from many young people in our industry not coping with the increased responsibility or workload,” he said. “It’s concerning… most are not skilled enough to cope as they haven’t been afforded the time to acquire the necessary skills.”

Immigration numbers falter, lobbying or special visas needed

At their peak, just prior to Covid hitting in early 2020, monthly arrivals and departures into Australia were about 2.26 million and 1.97 million, respectively. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show arrivals dropped to between 0.01 and 0.03 a month for a lot of the past two years. For April, the most recent numbers, arrivals were 580,000 and departures were 610,000 – a 30,000-person deficit.

“When Covid-19 swept in, many foreign nationals went home. They simply haven’t returned yet,” Moore said.

“We are starting to see a trickle coming back to us from the UK, but I’m yet to hear of any Americans or Canadians. The federal government needs to further incentivise / add or open up the media and advertising industries to make it attractive to them to return to our shores. Sponsored work visas should not be an expensive exercise and there should be an easier pathway to residency – over time.”

Bedir isn't so sure a boost in international talent would solve the skills shortages. Prolonged - and highly publicised - lockdowns in Australia have put markets like the US and Canada off coming down under. A pitch needs to be made to the younger talent, who are starting to consider media and marketing as a "stepping stone" job rather than a career. 

"I don’t think we need another 25 senior execs in this town, we don’t need senior people in this town, we need arms and legs," she said. "It’s comparative to hospitality at the moment."

- Mi3 is compiling a follow-up to this story, all anecdotes, data, workarounds and wrangles are welcome. Email sam@mi-3.com.au   

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Sam Buckingham-Jones

Deputy Editor

Market Voice

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