Canberra Employment Market Update

Telstra tower and hot air balloon

We have never seen a busier recruitment market in Canberra.

With the Melbourne and Sydney job markets just starting to achieve “on par” performance with pre-COVID recruitment levels, Canberra’s market has been throttling since September 2020 due to unexpectedly high levels of Australian Government activity.

We often describe Canberra’s jobs market as “the bubble” as it seems to exist in a unique ecosystem that operates independently of the rest of the country. When government activity surges, our city prospers.

With interstate and overseas movement of professionals at record lows, talent shortages have tightened to the point where employers have become almost cannibalistic. Poaching, shoulder tapping, headhunting, scrambling to get the best talent… competition is ruthless.

Sustained recruitment activity across most sectors in our region for the last five years means that talent shortages are endemic in most key specialist markets… and these shortages are only getting worse.

Market Observations

Contractor demand is HOT!

The initial impact of COVID on contractor demand was minimal for most. However, in Canberra, there has been unbelievable growth. The flurry of activity from the government, particularly in relation to the COVID response, kept demand for contractors strong into 2021.

Canberra achieved annual growth of 215% compared to the national trend of 114% in the 2020 calendar year. In January 2021, contractor hiring demand in Canberra is up 353% compared to January 2020, while demand is up only 61% nationally.

Permanent placement demand remains strong

Canberra’s recovery from COVID started in August as it did in other states. However, the rate of improvement has been much stronger than elsewhere. National demand for permanent hiring in the 2020 calendar year was down 50% on the previous year, BUT the ACT was only down 30%.

In January 2021, permanent placements in Canberra is up 50% compared to January 2020, but the national result is down 40%.

We are also seeing these trends influencing the market:

  • Continued surge in contracting and staff augmentation – The #1 trend is specialist talent engaged via contract through recruitment and consulting firms.
  • Contractors bring skills to the permanent workforce – The vast majority of Canberra’s professional contingent workforce are very happily employed on a contract basis.
  • You hesitate, you lose when it comes to getting top talent – Snap them up as quick as you can and don’t let process get in the way
  • Prestigious roles are being left vacant – Top people are prized where they currently work, and luck-based fishing isn’t getting results
  • Consulting firms are going rogue – Local consulting firms are actively poaching from their competitors in order to meet unheralded demand for specialist services

Employment Indicators

The Australian jobs market is growing… again!

In seasonally adjusted terms, job advertisements increased by 7.0% (or 12,600 job advertisements) in February 2021 to stand at 192,000 (Australian Government Labour Market Information Portal). Even with several states still recovering from the COVID downturn, it is clear that the market is rapidly returning to candidate scarcity across most markets.

Unemployment is dropping

JobKeeper or no JobKeeper, national unemployment is steadily dropping. It is currently at 6%, down from 6.8% in August 2020 (Australian Government Labour Market Information Portal). 

Canberra’s unemployment rose by 0.7% in January to 4.4%, still the lowest in the country, and we expect to be below 4% for most of the year.

Market Predictions

  • Talent shortages are here to stay in most industry areas
  • Talent attraction is more important than ever
  • Flexible working is normal
  • Contract work will continue to grow


Access the full report to read our market predictions and industry breakdown


Simon Cox
Director / Founder
HorizonOne Recruitment

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