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Australia's Changing Industries

The face of modern Australia continues to change, with population increases, changing demographics, and job growth affecting some industries more than others. Between 1985 and 2017, the fastest growth sectors in Australia were health, professional and technical services, and manufacturing. Over one million jobs have been created over the last five years alone, with jobs growth set to continue as Australia slowly shifts from a "goods" economy to a "services" economy.

According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), manufacturing was the biggest employment sector in 1985 with 1.08 million jobs, followed by retail, health, construction, and education. Health is now the biggest employment sector with 1.55 million jobs, followed by retail, construction, professional and technical services, and education. The manufacturing sector has seen the biggest decline over this time, with agriculture and wholesale trade jobs also decreasing significantly.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is fuelling a spike in jobs in the health and social assistance sector, together with an increasing demand for aged care. The NDIS is now the single-biggest employer and largest contributor to employment in every Australian state, with an extra  80,000 full-time jobs expected by 2020. According to economist Chris Richardson, this sector is robust enough to withstand short-term economic trends: "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."

While the health sector is the largest employer in Australia, the biggest growth has come from the professional, scientific and technical services sector. This industry includes professional jobs such as lawyers, architects, engineers, and computer programmers just to name a few. While this sector accounted for just 273,000 jobs in 1985, there are now 1.02 million people working in the professional field, most of who are employed on a full-time basis. The growth of this sector is the biggest reflection of Australia's move from a "goods" economy towards a "services" economy.

The retail sector is also performing well, despite issues surrounding the casualisation of the workforce. In fact, the number of part-time jobs outweighs the number of full-time jobs in the retail, accommodation and food services sectors, a situation that has got progressively worse over the years. Construction continues to perform well, as one of the sectors with the highest ratio of full-time to part-time jobs. According to ABS figures, construction jobs have more than doubled in every state except the ACT and SA since 1985, thanks in part to the residential housing boom and huge Government-funded projects like Sydney's WestConnex motorway.

From the single-biggest employment sector to the single-biggest source of job losses, the decline in manufacturing jobs represents the changing face of Australia. The manufacturing sector has shed nearly 60,000 positions in five years, thanks in part to the rise of automation and the demise of Australia's car-making industry. According to Mr Richardson, any work that involves repetitive or routine tasks is likely to be replaced by robots in the near future. Jobs that involve complicated functions and include problem-solving are the safest bet for Australian workers going forward, including positions such as health care workers, barristers, and journalists.

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