Australia's workforce more qualified than ever

Media release

22 November 2019

The decade from 2006 to 2016 saw a big increase in the numbers of Australian workers holding tertiary qualifications, with a far greater share holding higher education qualifications and a more modest increase for those whose highest credential was a VET qualification, according to a new report released today by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

The dynamics of qualifications: implications for VET also reveals that the dynamics of this change are more pronounced for younger workers, and that it has occurred across all major occupational groups, with a corresponding decline in the number and proportion of workers without post-school qualifications.

“This change is occurring in the context of changes to the labour market over the same period,” said Simon Walker, Managing Director, NCVER.

“The biggest increases in employment were for community and personal service workers (44.3%) and professionals (31.3%), while all other major occupational groups experienced growth of between 6% and 16%.

“The study revealed an emerging mismatch in terms of the skill level and relevance of the qualifications held by workers and the skills required for the occupation, with many workers holding qualifications that notionally exceed the skill requirements for their job.”

The report uses the Australian Census of Population and Housing to show how tertiary qualification profiles in occupations changed between 2006 and 2016.

It shows that around two-thirds of all workers in 2016 held a post-school qualification, compared with just over half (55.5%) in 2006, with younger workers more likely to have higher education qualifications and older workers more likely to have VET qualifications as their highest qualification.

It also shows that the proportion of the workforce holding higher education qualifications as their highest credential increased by 33.5%, while the proportion holding VET qualifications as their highest credential increased by 9.5% (diplomas by 19.6% and certificates by 5.3%).

At the same time, VET certificate qualifications are now held by more workers in the lower-skilled occupational groups where they have traditionally not held post-school qualifications, such as labourers, and machinery operators and drivers.

Occupations with the largest shifts out of VET qualifications were ambulance officers and paramedics, dental hygienists, technicians and therapists, and medical imaging professionals, with the share of VET-qualified workers in those occupations declining over the 10 year period.

“While there has been an increase in those holding higher VET and university qualifications over this period, the shift toward more workers holding VET diplomas may have temporarily peaked, with recent enrolment data showing a significant decline in students undertaking diploma qualifications since 2015,” Mr Walker said.

The patterns of change suggest that the demand for VET qualifications will be underpinned by certificate level training for school students, individuals looking for work or already working in entry-level roles, trades, and non-professional occupations in high-employment growth sectors such as the human services.

The report The dynamics of qualifications: implications for VET is available from:

Media enquiries: Helen Wildash, PR and Social Media Officer M: 0448 043 148 E:

About NCVER: we are the principal provider of research, statistics and data on Australia’s VET sector. Our services help promote better understanding of VET and assist policy-makers, practitioners, industry, training providers, and students to make informed decisions.

This work has been produced by NCVER on behalf of the Australian Government and state and territory governments, with funding provided through the Australian Government Department for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.