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Australia's five largest employing industries in 2021

The Australian Jobs 2021: Pathways to Work report released in late 2021 by the National Skills Commission shows how volatile the COVID-19 period has been for Aussie jobs and workers.


Jobs went off a cliff between March and May 2020 (when 856,000 or 8.6% of people in Australia lost their jobs), which was a statistical result much worse than the 80s or 90s recessions or the more recent GFC.


Thankfully, jobs rebounded just as fast. Employment increased from the trough by 8.4% to July 2021, adding over a million jobs and putting employment back above pre-pandemic levels.


So despite the ups and downs, there’s still plenty of opportunities for jobseekers seeking work.


There is no doubt some of those will be in Australia’s largest employing industries.  Here's what the Pathways to Work report said about Australia’s biggest suppliers of employment opportunities into 2022.


Health care and social assistance


Australia’s health and social assistance sector is Australia’s biggest employer, accounting for 14% of Australia’s jobs. With top occupations including registered nurses, aged and disability carers, receptionists, child carers and nursing support and personal care workers, it is expected to be a strong employer into the future, largely as a result of Australia’s ageing population.


Post-school education is a common requirement in this sector, with more than 80% of workers having a post-school qualification (including 51% with a bachelor degree or higher). However, many training pathways exist through the vocational education and training system, with 31% having a VET qualification. It is a female dominated industry (4 in 5 workers are women) and is more open to part-time work than average.


Retail trade


Australia’s second biggest industry employer - retail trade - is an important source of youth employment, with 32% of employees in the sector aged between 15 and 20 years. Accounting for 10% of Australia’s workforce in total, top occupations include general sales assistants, retail managers, checkout operators and office cashiers, shelf fillers and storepersons.


Entry level roles often don’t require prior experience or qualifications, with 50% of workers having no post-school qualification. Roles are often flexible, with many working around other commitments like education. An important point is that jobs are often not formally advertised in this sector; job seekers can boost success by looking to friends and family, shop windows and social media.




A large proportion of Australia's construction workers entered the industry with a VET or other non-higher education qualification (56%), with the primary pathway being through an apprenticeship or traineeship. However there are many entry level opportunities (31% of construction industry employees have no post-school qualification) and a large proportion of workers end up self-employed (35%).



The biggest current roles by numbers are carpenters and joiners, electricians, construction managers, plumbers and building and plumbing labourers, though many employers (1 in 3) will not formally advertise roles when recruiting, choosing to use informal methods like word of mouth or social media. It is a male dominated industry, with only 14% of roles currently held by women.


Professional, scientific and technical services


With accountants, software and applications programmers, solicitors, management and organisation analysts and advertising and marketing professionals its top five occupations, the professional, scientific and technical services sector is a highly skilled workforce. Over 80% of workers hold post-school qualifications, and only 14% have no post-school qualifications.


Experiencing strong recent growth, the sector’s workers are concentrated in cities in the states of NSW and Victoria, with only 17% of jobs located in regional areas. The industry does not have a high proportion of young workers, reflecting the time taken to obtain qualifications, and many jobs in this sector are full time (78%) and remote-ready. About a quarter of workers in this sector are self-employed.


Education and training


Another industry with a high post-school qualification requirement (90% of workers hold some form of qualification and 69% hold a bachelor degree or higher) this sector is dominated by primary school teachers, secondary school teachers, education aides, university lecturers and tutors and private tutors and teachers, who service the primary, secondary and tertiary education markets.


Lower skilled jobs like education aides can provide pathways into the industry, though most roles will require qualifications. The industry is dominated by older workers (23% are aged 55 or older), which makes the industry a natural option for those looking at second-stage careers. This also means there will be new opportunities in the years to come due to a future wave of retirements.


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