Education and Employment

There are many options when you are leaving school, or are entering or re-entering the workforce at an older age. For some people, the thought of further study is exciting, but for others it isn’t a viable or favoured choice.

If you are considering gaining additional qualifications, there are two main training pathways for you to consider.

  • The Vocational Education and Training (VET) system develops workplace-specific skills and knowledge by delivering nationally recognised training. VET includes publicly owned TAFE institutes, private providers (including enterprise and industry providers), community organisations and schools. It provides training for a vast array of occupations, including highly skilled trades and many other fast growing occupations.
  • Australia’s higher education system is made up of universities and other institutions that offer undergraduate degrees and higher qualifications. Higher education is the pathway to a range of jobs, including the most highly skilled Professional occupations.

Employment and training decisions should be based on a variety of factors including aptitude, interests, expectations of pay and working conditions, training and goals. Higher level qualifications are not immediately attainable, or necessarily the right path for everyone.

Educational attainment is rising

The majority of employment growth over the past five years has been in occupations that generally require post-school qualifications (either VET or higher education). This is a long-term trend that is expected to continue, with the vast majority of jobs growth over the next five years projected to be in higher skilled occupations (see Occupation Outlook).

Consistent with this, the number of people undertaking tertiary training has increased and more of the workforce now hold postschool qualifications. In 2018, 61.4% of Australians aged 15 to 64 years held post-school qualifications (up from 53.9% in 2008). The growth has been for both VET and higher education qualifications.

Post-school qualifications are beneficial in today’s jobs market

People with higher level qualifications generally have better employment outcomes than those who have not completed further training after leaving school. The chart below highlights this.

Labour market outcomes by highest level of educational attainment, 2018 (%)

Level of educationUnemployment rate - left axis (%)Participation rate - right axis (%)
Bachelor degree or higher3.387.5
Advanced Diploma/Diploma4.384
Certificate III or IV4.685.2
Year 12 or equivalent6.776
Year 11965.4
Year 10 or below10.757.4

Median weekly earnings in main job, by highest level of post-school qualification, 2018

OccupationMedian weekly earnings in main job ($)
Graduate diploma/Graduate certificate1500
Postgraduate degree1500
Bachelor degree1300
Advanced Diploma/Diploma1100
Certificate III/IV1087
No post-school qualifications842

Higher qualifications also generally lead to increased real wages. Some lower skilled occupations, though, have relatively high pay, sometimes to compensate for unsociable working hours or difficult working conditions.

What if I don’t complete further education?

There are still job opportunities if you decide that post-school education is not right for you. The option of further study will also be available later if you change your mind or your circumstances alter. Tertiary study is not just for young people, with thousands of people studying in their 30s or older.

Although most new jobs created in recent years (and those expected in the future) are in skilled occupations, there will continue to be large numbers of jobs in lower skilled occupations (that is, jobs which do not usually require post-school qualifications). In addition, lower skilled occupations generally have higher turnover rates than those which require post-school qualifications, and many job openings are available each year across all industries.

Significant proportions of Labourers (61%), Machinery Operators and Drivers (57%) and Sales Workers (56%) do not hold post-school qualifications. This includes occupations like General Sales Assistants, Waiters, Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers, and Truck Drivers.

There are opportunities in all industries for people who do not have post-school qualifications. For example, more than half of the jobs in Accommodation and Food Services and Retail Trade are held by workers who do not have such qualifications.

Proportion of workforce without post-school qualifications, top 5 industries, 2018

OccupationWithout post-school qualification (%)
Accommodation and Food Services55
Retail Trade53
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing49
Transport, Postal and Warehousing46
Administrative and Support Services43

What is needed to gain employment without post-school qualifications?

There is often strong competition for jobs which do not require post-school qualifications. Previous experience is commonly required by employers and this can be a key barrier for new job seekers. There are, though, a number of strategies which can enhance a job seeker’s prospects. These are outlined in the Job search and Skills section.

Sources: ABS, Education and Work; ABS, Characteristics of Employment; Department of Jobs and Small Business, Employment Projections