Indicator: Employment

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What the results tell us for the ACT

In the previous reporting period the ACT's unemployment rate was the third highest in the Australian Capital Region, reflecting the depressed public and private sector job opportunities at that time. Figure 1 shows that employment in the ACT recovered strongly during 1999–2000.

graph showing the recovery in employment in the Territory from 1997 to 2000

Figure 1. ACT Labour Force, 1997–2000

The number of people in the working age group (15–64) is very high in the ACT (71%). People over the age of 65 comprise only 8% of the total population, one of the lowest proportions in the Australian Capital Region.

For the year 1998–99, the labour force in the ACT was 167 000 people. Much of the growth has been in full-time employment, whereas nationally, the higher growth has been in part-time positions. Since June 1999, the annual growth in employment has been significantly stronger in the ACT than in the rest of Australia. Between November 1998 and November 1999 employment in the ACT grew by 5.9%, compared with the national rate of 2.4%. Nearly three in four people in the ACT were employed in full-time jobs, the same proportion as nationally (1999 State of the Territory Report: Improving our quality of life in Canberra).

Unemployment rate

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people expressed as a percentage of those employed plus those unemployed.

The unemployment rate in the ACT has been consistently lower than the national average and, since March 1998, has continued to fall. At December 1999 it was 5.4% (9330 people) compared with 7.7% in December 1997, and an Australian rate of 8.8%. In June 2000, the unemployment rate in the ACT was 5.3% compared with a lower Australian rate of 6.6%.

graph showing the decline in unemployment rates in the Territory, New South Wales and Australia from 1997 to 2000

Figure 2. Unemployment rates in ACT, NSW and Australia

The monthly unemployment rate trend series shows that the ACT has remained below the national unemployment rate throughout the early 1990s. From January 1996 to May 1998 the monthly unemployment rates remained relatively high, but the ACT trend rate has remained below 7% since May 1998 and was 5.6% in June 2000 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, ACT In Focus, 2000).

Full-time and part-time employment

Part-time employment accounted for 26% of total employment in June 1998, and the same in June 1999. This dropped slightly in June 2000 to 24%. The majority of part-time workers in June 2000 in the ACT was female (69%) and 40% of all full-time workers were also female. These figures are reflected in the lower average weekly income for women.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data for the ACT showed a high labour force participation rate in 1999–2000 (72.7%), up from 70.9% in 1998–99 and 71.4% in 1997–98. The ACT male participation rate in 1998–99 was 77%, four percentage points higher than the national rate for males. The female participation rate was 65%, 11 percentage points higher than the national rate for females.

Teenagers in the labour market

Although the population of the ACT is ageing, 15–24 year-olds represent the highest proportion of the population. This has implications for the size of the ACT's labour market which should be sustained at current levels for many years to come.

Teenagers in the labour market (15–19 year-olds) are distinguished from other population groups by their level of attendance at full-time educational institutions. In 1997–98, 75% of ACT residents aged 15–19 years attended an educational institution full time. This percentage increased to 78% by 1998–99, representing 18 500 15–19 year-olds.

The majority of 15–19 year-olds who were attending a school or a tertiary institution, and were also employed, were employed on a part-time basis (96%).

More than 80% of 15–19 year olds who are not attending educational institutions are either working full-time or seeking full-time work. This group, understandably, has a much higher labour force participation rate (88.6%) than other 15–19 year olds (59.9%).

Employment by industry

In July 1997, 25.8% of total employed people residing in the ACT were employed in the government administration and defence industry. There was a significant fall in this employment sector in 1997–98 (down 4300 or 10.9%), followed by a rise the following year to return to a level similar to that of 1997 (25% or 39 900) (ABS Labour Force Survey 1998–99).

Retailing has remained a significant employment industry in the ACT, closely followed by property and business services. However, the gap between employment levels in the two industries has slowly closed between 1997 and 1999. By August 1999, retailing (22 000) and property and business services (21 800) each accounted for 14% of the total employed people residing in the ACT.

Other major employment industries were education (14 800 or 9%) and health and community services (11 500 or 7%).

During 1999, declines are reported in the industries of manufacturing (down 1300 or 29%), communication services (down 600 or 20%), construction (down 1400 or 17%), finance and insurance (down 400 or 11%), accommodation, cafe and restaurants (down 400 or 5%) and health and community services (down 500 or 4%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, ACT In Focus 2000).

Table 1. Employment by industry 1997–98 and 1998–99
Industry 1997–98 1998–99
  '000 % '000 %
Accommodation, cafes and restaurants 8.1 5.3 7.7 4.9
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 0.8 0.5 1.1 0.7
Communication services 3.0 1.9 2.4 1.5
Construction 8.5 5.5 7.1 4.5
Cultural and recreation services 6.6 4.3 6.6 4.2
Education 12.6 8.2 14.8 9.4
Electricity, gas and water 0.6 0.5 0.9 0.6
Finance and insurance 3.5 2.3 3.1 2.0
Government administration and defence 35.3 22.8 39.9 25.3
Health and community services 12.0 7.8 11.5 7.3
Manufacturing 4.5 2.9 3.2 2.0
Mining 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1
Personal and other services 7.3 4.7 7.0 4.4
Property and business services 20.6 13.3 21.8 13.8
Retail trade 21.6 14.0 22.0 13.9
Transport and storage 4.7 3.0 4.4 2.8
Wholesale trade 4.8 3.1 4.0 2.5
Total employed 154.8 100.0 157.9 100.0

Source: Labour Force, New South Wales and ACT (Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue number 6201.1)

Private sector share of total employment

Private sector employment includes self-employed workers.

Job vacancies in both the public and private sectors in the ACT have been relatively volatile over the past few years. Vacancies in the public sector continued to rise – from 1200 in August 1998 to 2300 in August 1999.

The private sector share of total employment has increased steadily over 10 years from 50.4% in May 1990 to 58.3% in May 2000 (96 700 of Canberra's workforce). However, this proportion is still well below the national rate of 83.8%.

An increase in the private sector share of total employment may be the result of initiatives to encourage private sector business development in the ACT, the effect of Commonwealth Government outsourcing some of its activities, and development of government support businesses, such as information technology and new defence technology.

graph showing the increase in private sector employment in the Territory from 1993 to 2000

Figure 3. Public and private employment May 1993 to May 2000
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey (Cat No 6202.0) and Wage and Salary Earners (Cat No 6248)

Number of jobs and forms of employment

In the ACT there were 157 151 employed people at August 1998. Among these employed people, five employment types were identified:

  • 65% were employees with leave entitlements
  • 18% self-identified casuals
  • 4% other employed people
  • 5% owner-managers of incorporated enterprises
  • 8% owner-managers of unincorporated enterprises.

The majority (54%) of employees with leave entitlements were males and over half (55%) were aged 25–44 years. Self-identified casuals was the only employment group where females (62%) outnumbered males and most casual employees (82%) worked part time.

In May 2000, the average number of job advertisements in Australia's major metropolitan newspapers were at their highest level since December 1989 (up 12.6% for the year), consistent with a corresponding decline in the national unemployment rate.

In seasonally adjusted terms, the ACT's job advertisements increased 36.2% over the year 1999–2000. In trend terms, ACT job advertisements in the same year were up by 34.6%, whereas national job advertisements increased by only 6.8%.

Demand for housing and building commencements are directly related to the number of jobs in the construction industry, which represents 20% of the total of employed people in the ACT. Since mid 1999, the trend rate of residential building approvals has increased significantly and was 2700 per annum in December 1999. This represented a 50% increase to the number of residential approvals in 1998.

The number of new dwelling units approved in 1998–99 was 1941, an increase of 39% over the previous year. Nationally, the number of new residential unit approvals fell by 0.2% in the same year.

There were strong increases in work done on housing redevelopment and renovations. The completion of large multi unit housing projects, such as Akuna House, Section 41 Manuka and the corner of Barry Drive and Marcus Clarke Street contributed to construction activity during the reporting period. A rise in the value of both building approvals and work done by the building industry in 1998–99 indicated that the decline in the building industry over the previous years had begun to turn around. New residential buildings were in higher demand, supported by the low vacancy rates, in December 1999, of 1.5%.

The most significant construction project in Canberra during the reporting period was the National Museum of Australia which commenced construction in October 1998, with completion due in March 2001. Job creation for the project was estimated at 220 jobs on site and 800 jobs off site throughout the project.

Other substantial commencements included the TransACT fibreoptic network, Mitchell Resource Recovery and Waste Transfer Station, Macpherson Court housing redevelopment and the Kamberra Wine and Tourism complex (completed September 2000).

Major growth has also occurred in engineering construction work, particularly telecommunications (41% of all work done in 1998–99) and roads, highways and subdivisions (31%). The growth has been in both the public and private sectors, with the public sector mainly engaged in work on sewerage, drainage and telecommunications. (ACT Department of Treasury and Infrastructure 2000, Residential Commercial and Community Land Releases in the ACT 2001–01 to 2004–05).

About the data

Data for this indicator have been taken from:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics ACT In Focus 2000
  • Chief Minister's Department, ACT Government, Monthly analyses of Labour Force Australia
  • ANZ Job Advertisements
  • 1999 State of the Territory Report: Improving our quality of life in Canberra
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey, 1998–99.
  • ACT Department of Treasury and Infrastructure 2000, Residential Commercial and Community Land Releases in the ACT 2001–01 to 2004–05.

Description: What does 'employment' measure?

Which data are collected?
  • part-time and full-time employment rates in each industry sector (adjusted by seasonality) and number of hours worked
  • proportion of casual/contract jobs compared with permanent jobs
  • unemployment numbers and rates by age
Why do we report this indicator?

The creation of or decline in employment opportunity has implications for quality of life in that earnings from paid work are a major influence on levels of well-being. People who are unemployed or who are poorly paid (due to infrequent, casual work for example) are at a greater risk of sickness, mental illness and premature death, and they are more frequent users of medical services (Abraham et al. 1970).

Employment rates also indicate the economic competitiveness and well-being of a township or region, in terms of its ability to supply and maintain infrastructure and services. The loss of less-skilled jobs in some areas, in favour of knowledge-based industries in others has meant that wider employment opportunities are not available in some areas. The result is that people need to move to gain education, skills and employment, or continue living in areas where employment opportunities and training opportunities are less.

Because of trends in types of employment, it is necessary to consider employment rates by sector, as well as in terms of full-time and permanent part-time employment rates, and number of hours worked. Increases in permanent part-time work are not necessarily undesirable for all because of the greater opportunity for paid employment to more people, and an increased flexibility of lifestyle to those employed. However, increases in casual and contract employment reflect an increasing trend towards "just-in-time" labour, which is not necessarily to the advantage of employees due to the associated financial difficulties that can be experienced. Results should, therefore, be interpreted with caution.

Reference: Abraham B, d'Espaignet ET, Stevenson C (1995) Australian Health Trends 1995. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, AGPS, Canberra.

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