CANBERRA, AAP – Employment growth slowed in the early stages of 2022 from a year ago, partly due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows payroll jobs rose by one per cent in the fortnight to January 15, after a 6.8 per cent decline in the previous two weeks.

In the equivalent two weeks in December 2020, payroll jobs fell 6.4 per cent before rising by 3.7 per cent in the first two weeks of January 2021.

“This slower increase in payroll jobs in 2022 likely reflects a range of factors,” ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said on Thursday.

This includes some businesses and employees delaying their return from Christmas and New Year holidays, early impacts on businesses and employees from Omicron infections and related disruption, and weather events in some regions, he said.

The payroll data is a forerunner for the full labour force report for January due on February 17.

A survey of Australia’s chief financial officers by Deloitte found 93 per cent believe securing and retaining key staff is one of the key risks for business for the next 12 months.

“This was a concern six months ago, but these concerns now dwarf concerns about other risks,” Deloitte partner Stephen Gustafson said.

Figures released by the National Skills Commission on Wednesday showed online job advertisements in January were at their highest level since September 2008.

JobAdder, a global software group that helps recruiters find and manage staff, said while COVID-19 outbreaks have impacted hiring, demand for workers remains on the rise.

Its own research shows that in the December quarter of 2021 the average number of new jobs created per recruitment agency was 62, a slight decrease from the average of around 65 in both the September and June quarters.

But this was still well up on the 48 jobs in the December quarter of 2020.

“The long-term trends for job creation are up,” JobAdder advisor Greg Savage says.

“Hiring is surging, and all recruiters, agency and in-house alike, are dancing to the tune of hard to find, and even harder to pin down, candidates.”

Staff recruitment aside, the Deloitte CFO survey found just over four in five CFOs are feeling optimistic or highly optimistic about their company’s financial prospects.

“Australia might be off to a shaky Omicron-induced start to 2022, meaning uncertainty remains a challenge for all of us,” Mr Gustafson said.

“But against this backdrop, there’s next to no pessimism around.”

That said, interest rate expectations have also changed dramatically over the past year.

“Almost three-quarters expect rates will rise this year, likely driven by the much better than expected ability of Australia’s economy and jobs to bounce back from pandemic impacts, along with the highest rates of price inflation seen in several years,” he said.

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe has warned an interest rate rise is “plausible” this year .

The RBA has also predicted a marked pick-up in inflation, compared to the central bank’s view just a few months ago, and a drop in the unemployment rate to below four per cent – which would be a 50-year low.

The jobless rate was 4.2 per cent in December, a 13-year low.