Australia has the most resilient economy in the world, notching up a record 26 years of uninterrupted growth in 2017. The underlying economy is dynamic, with over a million Australians changing jobs annually and businesses constantly entering and exiting various marketplaces.
This has all been achieved through a range of transitions. Over recent decades, structural changes have seen declining employment in manufacturing and agriculture, but a far greater number of jobs have been created in the expanding service sector.
There were just over 12 million people employed in Australia – 6.5 million men and 5.6 million women – in April 2017. The labour-intensive service industries are major employers, with healthcare and social assistance now the largest single industry, accounting for over 12% of the total workforce
So far, the workforce has successfully reshaped as farming jobs vanished with the agricultural share of the Australian economy declining in the 20th century. When farmers once retrained to become factory floor workers or miners, the following generations have now successfully transitioned into a white collar workforce as the services industries assumed the mantle.
That is reflected in the unemployment rate holding steady – and falling slightly through early 2017 – with the central bank expecting employment conditions to strengthen.
The workforce is now staring at the next round of changes. This time around the growth areas will include robotics, sensory application, digitisation and the evolution of the gig economy, and as with previous transitions, the outcomes are difficult to predict. That makes the need for foresight and planning to achieve optimal outcomes all the more important.
The noise created by job losses across sunset manufacturing sectors such as automobiles and steelmaking have the potential to distract employees, companies and government from the opportunity ahead.
The federal government’s Future Focus report says Australia will have between 5.6 million and 6.4 million job openings in the years to 2025. However, the nation could be 2.8 million short of the number of higher-skilled qualifications that industry will demand.
A separate study by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is also telling of the changing nature of the workforce. It showed that over recent decades, there has been a noticeable decline in the share of people employed in routine manual jobs. Industries that have high shares of routine manual occupations include construction, mining and manufacturing. At the same time, non-routine jobs such as architecture or information technology – which tend to be more difficult to automate for a number of reasons – have risen in prominence and have been the job creators.
According to the Federal Employment Department, the top three growth industries by 2025 will be:
Health care and social assistance: Such jobs are projected to increase by up to 798,000. An ageing population is expected to drive demand for services such as nursing, aged carers, child care and other personal care workers.
Professional, scientific and technical services: Jobs spanning these services are projected to increase by up to 583,000. With the rapid growth in automation, robotics and digitisation, we will need specialists in computing, systems and diagnosis, and the upskilling of maintenance people to service and maintain the technology.
Education and training: This sector is estimated to see an increase of up to 503,700 jobs by 2025. Demand for primary school teachers, private tutors, education aides and vocational trainers increases along with increases in population.
Other sectors include:
- Vocational trades
- Mining and mining services
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