Education and Employment

Educational attainment is rising

Over the five years to November 2015, the majority of the employment growth was in occupations that generally require post-school qualifications either through university or the vocational education and training (VET) sector. This is expected to continue, with the vast majority of jobs growth over the next five years expected to be in higher skilled occupations.

This growth is being mirrored by an increase in the number of Australians undertaking tertiary study and, consequently, more workers gaining post-school qualifications.

  • The proportion of workers who hold a bachelor degree or higher qualification rose from 23% in 2005 to 31% in 2015, while the proportion of those who do not have post-school qualifications fell from 42% to 32%.

Educational attainment, working-age population (% of employed)

This column chart shows the percentage of the employed, working-age population who hold a bachelor degree or higher, certificate III or higher VET qualification, and those without post-school qualifications in 2005 and 2015. The share with a bachelor degree or higher has increased from 23% in 2005 to 31% in 2015; certificate III or higher VET qualification has increased from 26% in 2005 to 32% in 2015; and those without post-school qualifications has fallen from 42% in 2005 to 32% in 2015.

It is also notable that an increasing number of occupations now require post-school qualifications. For example, Child Carers who work in day care centres are now required to hold a minimum of a certificate III qualification.

Female educational attainment

Female participation in post-school education has risen strongly over the last 10 years, particularly at university.

  • Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of employed women who hold a bachelor degree or higher qualification rose from 25% to 35%, while those who do not have post-school qualifications fell by 8 percentage points to 35%.
  • The proportion of females with VET qualifications at the certificate III or higher level also rose over the period (from 20% to 27%). This may reflect the increasing need for VET qualifications in caring occupations that are traditionally female dominated.

Examining the educational profile of the workforce by gender shows that the proportion who have completed post-school education is similar for males and females, but women are more likely to hold a bachelor degree or higher qualification and are less likely to have a VET qualification than males.

Educational attainment by gender, working-age population (% of employed)

This chart shows educational attainment by gender as a percentage of the employed, working-age population in 2015.  27% of males held a bachelor degree or higher, compared with 35% of females. 35% of males hold a certificate III or higher VET qualification compared with 27% of females. 34% of males have no post-school qualifications, compared with 35% of females. 4% of males hold other qualifications, compared with 3% of females.

Post-school qualifications provide benefits in the labour market

People with higher qualifications generally have better employment outcomes than those who have not studied after leaving school. The chart below highlights the almost direct relationship between education and labour market outcomes.

  • Workers who hold a bachelor degree or higher qualification have the lowest unemployment rate (3.4%) and the highest labour force participation rate (87.2%), although those with certificate III/IV or higher vocational education and training (VET) qualifications also have high rates of participation.
  • For those who do not hold post-school qualifications, unemployment rates are markedly higher and participation rates are relatively low.

Labour market outcomes by highest level of educational attainment, working-age population

This chart shows the unemployment rate (primary axis) and participation rate (secondary axis) by highest level of education attainment. The chart shows that, generally, the higher the level of educational attainment, the lower the unemployment rate and the higher the participation rate. Bachelor degree or higher qualification, the unemployment rate is 3.4% and the participation rate is 87.2%. Advanced diploma or diploma, the unemployment rate is 4.1% and participation rate is 83.6%. Certificate III and IV, the unemployment rate is 4.9% and the participation rate is 85.7%. Year 12, the unemployment rate is 7.7% and the participation rate is 75.6%. Year 11, the unemployment rate is 10.4% and the participation rate is 64.3%. Year 10 or below, the unemployment rate is 11.3% and the participation rate is 56.7%.

Higher qualifications also generally lead to increased real wages. The Occupation Matrix shows that higher skilled jobs generally have better pay. Some lower skilled occupations, though, also have relatively high pay, sometimes to compensate for unsociable working hours or difficult working conditions.

High level qualifications are not, though, immediately attainable for everyone. For some people, starting out with a lower qualification such as a certificate I or II can provide a pathway to further study. Findings from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth suggest that students who start at a lower qualification often undertake further study.

There are still good opportunities if post-school education isn’t right for you

Although most new jobs are expected to be in higher skilled occupations, there are millions of jobs in lower skilled occupations and many Australians continue to enjoy rewarding careers in these.

In addition to employment growth, job opportunities are created through turnover (that is, workers leaving their occupation for other employment or leaving the workforce). Lower skilled occupations generally have higher turnover rates than those which require post-school qualifications. This creates job openings and presents opportunities for job seekers.

Sources: ABS, Education and Work; Department of Employment, Occupational Employment Projections; Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, Paper 2761; ABS, Labour Mobility