In 2013, then-prime minister Tony Abbott promised a million jobs would be created in the first five years of a Coalition government. Turns out he was right.
But rather than a political milestone ticked off the list, this is a target Australia was always on track to hit.
Australia’s population is rapidly increasing, driven by high immigration, and the economy has been growing continually for decades.
On average over the last 15 years, about 200,000 new jobs have been created each year. Multiply that by five and you’ve got 1 million.
But there’s a much more interesting story in what those jobs are and where they’ve been created.
So, where are those jobs?
Australia is relatively rich and changing fast. This chart goes beyond the past five years to examine where jobs existed each year since 1985, based on monthly ABS figures averaged for the entire calendar year.
It shows we are investing big in health and education and have the spare cash to spend on services and things like arts and recreation, which is creating a whole lot of jobs in that sector.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, together with an increasing demand for aged care, is fuelling a spike in jobs in the health and social assistance sector.
This is now the single-biggest employer and largest contributor to employment in every state.
The NDIS alone is expected to create an extra 80,000 full-time jobs by 2020, according to Department of Social Security figures.
Economist Chris Richardson predicts this “magnificent” jobs growth will continue and notes it is a remarkably stable sector, pointing to statistics that show businesses in health care are the least likely to go bankrupt.
“If you’ve got a backache or a toothache, you’re going to do something about it. The ups and downs of the economy don’t really have a big impact,” he says.
A more educated society, together with the rise of the consultant, is helping drive very fast growth in the vaguely named “professional, scientific and technical services” sector.
This includes everything from lawyers, engineers and architects to designers and computer programmers. It’s now the second-fastest growing sector in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, behind health.
This reflects Australia’s move towards a “services” over “goods” economy.
But that doesn’t mean all of the new jobs are “professional”.
Australia’s construction industry is going gangbusters — ABS figures show it’s more than doubled in every state except the ACT and SA, where it’s up by at least 50 per cent.
That’s thanks to a residential housing boom, the tail-end of the mining boom and huge Government-funded projects like Sydney’s WestConnex motorway.
Almost one in 10 jobs is now in the construction sector — the biggest share in over a century.
What about part-time jobs?
According to University of Melbourne economist Mark Wooden, the dominant employment feature of the current generation has been the growth in part-time work, which is out-stripping growth in full-time jobs. Close to one in three workers is now part-time.
In the retail and accommodation and food services industries (both big employers), the number of part-time jobs either equals or outweighs full-time jobs.
Professor Wooden says this is not hugely surprising given the nature of the work; they’re both “service-oriented” industries that do not operate solely between 9:00am and 5:00pm, Monday to Friday.
But the huge growth in part-time jobs shouldn’t be confused with the debate that’s raging around the “casualisation” of the workforce, he warns.
Professor Wooden notes two-thirds of permanent part-timers are happy with their level of employment, although that leaves one-third who still want more work.
One of those people looking for more work is medical scientist Liz Westwood.
Medical scientist Liz Westwood has been studying human cells for 30 years, but can only get part-time work. (ABC News: Daniel Fermer)
The 52-year-old has been studying human cells for the past 30 years, but can only get part-time work now because machines are performing the tasks that she used to, and advances in science have slashed the number of tests her laboratory examines.
Specifically, she says the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) test has reduced the number of pap smears by 80 per cent.
“About 80 per cent of the work we do has disappeared, so it’s been a real shock for the industry because that means there aren’t enough jobs to go around now,” she says.
Centralisation means some jobs have disappeared
Rewind 30 years and the single-biggest employer in nearly every state and territory was manufacturing. Now it’s the fastest shrinking and single-biggest source of job losses, shedding nearly 60,000 positions in five years.
This is no big surprise given the recent demise of Australia’s car-making industry and similar trends around the world.
Another trend detected by economist Saul Eslake is the move towards centralisation.
While the smaller states and territories have recorded job losses in financial services (banks), information media and telecommunications, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have all recorded gains.
“It suggests, perhaps, that these activities have become increasingly concentrated in big cities,” he says.
In a single generation, traditional industries have shrunk and some jobs have disappeared altogether.
Gwenyth Taylor spent 25 years managing secretarial services and typists at a major law firm in Sydney.
But her role eventually became redundant as typists were no longer needed and the traditional secretarial role changed.
Luckily, she has degrees in maths, science and psychology and a lot of experience in resource management, so she quickly found another job in the IT industry.
“The change is accelerating enormously, it used to be in a person’s lifetime, now it’s well and truly happening within a few years,” she says.
‘King of trades’ has come to an end
Victorian Jarrod Rich, 47, has witnessed this first hand. He began his career as an instrument technician at coal-fired power stations in the La Trobe Valley.
Jarrod Rich is retraining after his previous job at a coal-fired power station was absorbed. (ABC News: Robert French)
But he says he’s been hit with a “double whammy” — his job has been absorbed by electricians and the power stations he worked on are closing down.
“It’s come to an end pretty much, which is a shame because it was called the ‘king of the trades’, it was the highest paying trade,” he says.
Mr Rich has retrained and is hoping to get a job driving elderly people between hospitals and their aged care homes.
It’s a calculated move. He’s seen the growth in the aged care industry and says even though he’s had to take a big pay cut, “at least I’ll have more security”.
Which jobs will still exist in the next generation?
“Stay away from the stuff that’s easily replicated.” That’s the advice from Mr Richardson.
So if your work involves anything particularly repetitive or routine, there is a high chance you could be replaced by a robot. Think jobs that involve driving, operating machines, flipping burgers or stacking shelves.
But equally, there are jobs that robots cannot replace, like barristers, carers and journalists, and more complicated functions they cannot replicate like problem-solving.
Mr Richardson says the more highly skilled or educated you are, the safer you’ll be.
“For a long time, labour was physical labour. Increasingly we’re using our minds,” he says.
But he says there’s no need to be afraid:
“The rise of machines will not steal jobs.
“People will have more careers doing different things but it won’t, by and large, increase the ranks of the unemployed.”