Australia’s Modern Workforce and the Evolution of the Labour Market

8319d14fdf895c07e6a243c5c23179c5?s=50&d=mm&r=g Olivia Blazevic
Content Marketing Manager

According to the government’s Changes in the Australian labour market: a 30-year perspective report, the Australian labour market is showing no signs of slowing down when it comes to employment advancement.

With ‘almost three decades of uninterrupted growth’, employment rates continue to rise across a wide selection of careers across all skill levels.

Key Takeaways From the Report:

  • There has been an evident shift in the sectoral composition of the Australian economy from goods to services
  • Service industry ‘Heath Care and Social Assistance’ saw the largest increase in employment at up 1,047,300 (or 163.2%)
  • The ‘Manufacturing’ industry saw the biggest decline of employment rates at -316,600 (or -27.2%)
  • The shift towards the service industry has further emphasised the importance employers place on employability skills in the modern workforce

Structural Change in the Labour Market

It is clear from the data collected that there has been an evident shift in the sectoral composition of the Australian economy from goods to services. This structural adjustment towards “labour-intensive service industries” is attributed to a familiar concept of the progression of the economy; as the economies become “weathlier and incomes rise, consumers typically spend a greater share of their income on services compared to goods.”

Over the 30 years between May 1989 and May 2019:

Employment increased by

5.0 million

(or 66.9%)

Employment grew in

0 of the 19

broad industries, with the majority of growth recorded across service industries

This structural transition has positively impacted the service industry ‘Heath Care and Social Assistance’ in particular, seeing the largest increase in employment across the 30-year time span at up 1,047,300 (or 163.2%). This dramatic shift in growth can also be attributed to factors such as the ageing population, alongside a steady population increase and the fresh release of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), legislated in 2013. The aggregation of these complementing aspects have thus led to the rise of the ‘Heath Care and Social Assistance’ industry’s stake of total employment to 13.1%, from 8.4%.

Further affirming this structural shift to service is the prominent weakness in employment growth for production industries. Despite once producing around $100 billion of output each year and ranking sixth among ANZSIC industries, according to the ‘Regional impacts of the accelerated decline of the manufacturing sector in Australia’ report in 2015, the ‘Manufacturing’ industry is still at the centre of significant structural change within Australia, with a drastic decline in employment rates from 1989 to now by 316,600 (or -27.2%). The ‘Manufacturing’ industry once represented a whopping 16.8% of the workforce in 1984, but has now dropped to a mere 6.6% of total employment.


Top 5 industry areas to record large growth in employment over the past 30 years to May 2019 are:

  • Health Care and Social Assistance (up by 1,047,300 or 163.2 per cent)
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (up by 791,800 or 226.2%)
  • Construction (up to 571,600 or 95.6%)
  • Education and Training (up to 553,500 or 109.8%)
  • Accommodation and Food Services ( up to 500,300 or 119.8%)

Bottom 5 industry areas with the weakest growth in employment over the past 30 years to May 2019 are:

  • Manufacturing (-316,600 or -27.2%)
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (-91,400 or -21.5%)
  • Wholesale Trade (-12,300 or -3%)
  • Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services (up to 24,200 or 18.5%)
  • Information Media and Telecommunications (up to 27,800 or 15.7%)

Skills Shortages and Employer Needs

The recurring theme of shifting towards service has also placed a significant importance on employability skills in the workforce. It has been noted across a wide range of employers that the ways in which staff collaborate with one another is a crucial factor that contributes to the outlook of employment prospects, regardless of the industry area or skill level.

0 / 4

employers place equal or more importance on employability skills, than they do on technical skills

Source: Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Survey of Employers Recruitment Experiences.

The importance of employability skills is further reiterated by the Australian Government’s Employability Skills Training (EST), which is a pre-employment training program that has been created to help young people establish job-ready skills. With a focus on problem solving and communication abilities, alongside helping to craft industry-ready resumes and improve interviewing techniques, this program combines several elements to help young people meet the expectations of their future employers.

The Most Common Skills Requested by Employers

Furthermore, the rise of the popularity of microcredentials for soft skills such as teamwork, critical thinking and self-management also affirms the significance of job-ready skills for employers in the modern professional landscape.

These microcredential badges upon completion formalise the above skills for prospective employees seeking new positions. This in turn reassures employers in their hiring decisions.

Overall, the steady progression of employment advancement in the labour market projects a strong future, with the switch to service expected to continue to positively impact industry areas, such as ‘Health Care and Social Assistance’ and the like.

8319d14fdf895c07e6a243c5c23179c5?s=100&d=mm&r=g Olivia Blazevic
Content Marketing Manager

Olivia is a dedicated and creative content marketing professional with expertise in digital content, strategy development and data analysis — all within the education marketing scope. She is also a devoted over-user of em dashes — seriously, someone needs to stop her.

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