Australia's Changing Occupation Structure

Over the last century, the occupation structure of the Australian workforce has changed markedly, in line with the fundamental changes in the industry structure.

Lower skilled labouring, processing and production jobs now have a much smaller share of the labour market, consistent with decreasing numbers of jobs in Manufacturing and Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing. The shift from these lower skilled occupations has been towards occupations which require post-school qualifications.

A quarter of a century ago, Clerical and Administrative Workers was the largest employing occupation group, now it is third. The decline of the importance of these workers has been caused by many factors, including changing technology.

  • The lower share is particularly notable for Personal Assistants and Secretaries, and Clerical and Office Support Workers.

Workers are now also less likely to be employed as Technicians and Trades Workers and Labourers than they were in 1990, reflecting the decline in Manufacturing (which now has a lower share of employment and fewer workers).

  • Technicians and Trades Workers has maintained its position as the second largest group, but it now accounts for 15% of employment, down from 17% in 1990. The most notable fall in this group was for Automotive and Engineering Trades Workers, whose share of total employment fell from 5% to 3%.
  • Labourers share of national employment is now 4 percentage points lower due, particularly, to a fall for Factory Process Workers.

Professionals and Community and Personal Service Workers have increased their share of employment significantly over the past 25 years. This has been driven in large part by stronger demand for services related to Health Care and Social Assistance. For example, the ageing population and higher female participation have boosted demand for health services, aged care and child care.

  • Professionals was the third largest employing occupation group in 1990, accounting for around one in six workers. Now it’s the largest group and accounts for close to one in four. Business, Human Resource and Marketing Professionals have the greatest share (6% of total national employment, up from 3%), followed by Health Professionals (5%, up from 3%).
  • Community and Personal Service Workers have increased their share of jobs by 4 percentage points over the past 25 years (to 10%), with particularly strong growth for Carers and Aides (up from 2% to 4% of total national employment).

Share of total employment, occupation groups, 1990 and 2015 (%)

This column graph shows the share of total employment by occupation groups in 1990 and 2015.In 1990: Professionals 16%.Technicians and Trades Workers 17%.Clerical and Administrative Workers 18%.Managers 12%.Community and Personal Service Workers 6%.Sales Workers 9%.Labourers 14%. Machinery Operators and Drivers 8%.In 2015: Professionals 23%.Technicians and Trades Workers 15%.Clerical and Administrative Workers 14%.Managers 13%.Community and Personal Service Workers 10%.Sales Workers 10%.Labourers 10%.Machin

Sources: ABS, Labour Force (trend and annual averages of original data); ABS, Education and Work; Department of Employment, Occupational Employment Projections; ABS, Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations