Qualification nation: the stock of quals in Australia

Media release

17 June 2021

New analysis of the stock and distribution of qualifications in Australia reveals that, out of an estimated population of 16.1 million working-age Australians, 10.2 million people reported holding 15.4 million qualifications.

Understanding the stock of qualifications in the economy provides an important foundation for understanding the stock of skills. This, in turn, informs thinking around supply- and demand-side issues, such as skills utilisation and skills gaps, according to a new report released today by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER).

The stock of qualifications in Australia, which focuses particularly on vocational education and training (VET), finds that 3.8 million working age Australians hold two or more qualifications, and VET qualifications outnumbered higher education qualifications by almost one million at 7.8 million and 6.9 million respectively.

At the vocational level, Certificates III and IV were the most prevalent. Just under half of these were in two fields of education: Engineering and Related Technologies, which includes entry pathways into many trade occupations, and Management and Commerce.

At the higher education level, Management and Commerce, Society and Culture, and Health were the largest fields, accounting for over half of all higher education qualifications.

Analysis of workers’ qualifications revealed around three quarters of qualifications were in the same field as, or were relevant to, the worker’s job.

Among the people employed at the time of the survey with two or more qualifications, about a third had at least one qualification that was not at all relevant to their job. Often the most relevant qualification to a worker’s job was not their highest qualification or their most recent.

Further, the work finds that qualification profiles differ in different occupational contexts. Some occupations have more diverse entry pathways than others, with regulation playing a role in some of these pathways.


Formal qualifications in Australia are underpinned by a robust framework for characterising learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, skills and their application, making them an essential means of skilling the workforce. As such, qualifications are a useful if imperfect, proxy for skills in the economy.

The analysis used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2018-19 Qualifications and Work survey, which includes data on up to five qualifications per person. This feature provides a picture of the stock of qualifications that is much more complete than if other data sources had been used, as most typically include information on the highest qualification only.

Quotes attributable to Simon Walker, Managing Director, NCVER:

An important finding from the analysis is that the number of non-school qualifications far exceeds the number of qualified people. This highlights that many people hold more than one qualification.

Although the broad issue of skills utilisation is not the focus of this analysis, the data does provide information on the relevance of non-school qualifications to a worker’s current job. This gives us some insight into the match between qualifications and employment.

Report: The stock of qualifications in Australia

The stock of qualifications in Australia including case studies for

  • Aged and disabled carers
  • Child carers
  • Construction managers
  • Contract, program and project administrators
  • ICT professionals
  • Metal fitters and machinists

Media enquiries: Deanne Loan M: 0413 523 691 E: deanneloan@ncver.edu.au

About NCVER: we are the main provider of research, statistics and data on Australia’s VET sector. Our services help promote better understanding of VET and assist policymakers, 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 of Education, Skills and Employment.