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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2001  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/06/2001   
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Contents >> Education >> Educational Attainment: Field of study and employment

Educational Attainment: Field of study and employment

Of people with post-school qualifications, 43% hold them in one of two fields: Business and administration, or Engineering.

The mix of skills in the Australian population and, in particular, in the Australian workforce, is of interest when considering changes in educational attainment over time. While skills can be acquired in a number of ways (for example through on-the-job training and training courses), one important means of obtaining skills is through post-school study leading to a recognised qualification. Consequently, one way of identifying skills in the population is by considering the fields of study of the qualifications which people hold. This article focuses on the broad mix of skills in the Australian population which have been obtained through qualifications across the various fields of study.

A number of qualifications (of levels varying from basic vocational to higher degrees) can fall within broad fields of study, and within each field, the range of skills can be extensive. For example, the field of Business and administration includes a variety of skills from keyboarding and shorthand, to business management, real estate or accounting. Similarly, Engineering includes a broad range of skills from surveying or civil engineering to vehicle mechanics, screen printing and garment making, while Society and culture includes qualifications in social work, child care, law or drama. Further, while some skills may be specific to a field of study, other more generic skills (such as research skills) may be obtained through study in a range of fields. Nonetheless, exploring fields of study can illustrate the growth and decline of different skills, and the links between field of study and employment outcomes.


Field of study of qualifications
The data in this article come from the ABS Transition from Education to Work Survey, an annual survey of working age people (those aged 15-64 years). It collects information on current education attendance and educational attainment.

Field of study of a qualification is the subject matter taught in the course of study leading to the award of a particular qualification.

Qualifications in this article refers to recognised post-school qualifications. Recognised post-school qualifications are defined as awards for attainment as a result of formal learning from an accredited post-school institution.

Unless otherwise stated, data on field of study refer to the field of the highest recognised post-school qualification held by individuals.

FIELD OF STUDY OF PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS WITH QUALIFICATIONS, 2000

Highest qualification
Qualifications completed in 1999


Field of study
‘000
%
‘000
%

Business and administration
1,165.0
21.2
174.6
27.1
Health
596.3
10.9
74.8
11.6
Education
394.8
7.2
30.5
4.7
Society and culture
832.9
15.2
119.4
18.5
Natural and physical sciences
421.4
7.7
79.9
12.4
Engineering
1,195.0
21.8
70.1
10.9
Architecture and building
400.0
7.3
30.4
4.7
Agriculture and related fields
142.3
2.6
18.9
2.9
Miscellaneous fields(a)
344.6
6.3
44.9
7.0
    Hairdressing and beauty therapy
119.7
2.2
8.4
1.3
    Food and hospitality
179.9
3.3
25.3
3.9
Total with qualifications
(b)5,539.2
(c)100.0
(b)652.7
(c)100.0

(a) Includes other Miscellaneous fields.
(b) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.
(c) People with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Highest and recent qualifications
In 2000, there were 5.5 million people with a recognised post-school qualification. Of these, 43% held them in one of two fields: Business and administration, or Engineering. However, this has not always been the case. When comparing recently acquired qualifications with the stock built up over time, a different picture emerges. Because individuals’ highest qualifications may include those obtained many years ago, examining the highest qualifications held by a population does not indicate the fields in which qualifications have been obtained in more recent years. If only qualifications acquired in the past year (1999) are considered, then Business and administration (27%), Society and culture (19%), and Natural and physical sciences qualifications (12%) were the most common fields of study. On the other hand, Engineering, which comprised 22% of the highest qualifications, only comprised 11% of the qualifications completed in 1999.

DISTRIBUTION OF QUALIFICATIONS OF PERSONS AGED 25-64 YEARS, 2000

Age groups (years)

25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
Total

Highest field of study
%
%
%
%
%
    Business and administration
22.3
20.0
20.7
16.0
20.4
    Health
9.7
12.3
11.8
11.8
11.3
    Education
5.6
7.3
10.8
7.7
7.7
    Society and culture
16.7
14.2
14.5
14.2
15.1
    Natural and physical sciences
9.3
7.8
5.8
4.7
7.4
    Engineering
20.0
23.3
21.9
29.2
22.7
    Architecture and building
6.7
7.4
6.8
9.4
7.3
    Agriculture and related fields
2.7
2.4
2.3
1.8
2.4
    Miscellaneous fields(a)
6.9
5.3
5.4
5.1
5.8
      Hairdressing and beauty therapy
2.5
2.1
2.0
1.8
2.2
      Food and hospitality
3.6
2.4
2.7
2.2
2.8
Total with qualifications(b)
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
‘000
Total with qualifications(c)
1,540.8
1,505.9
1,243.1
647.5
4,937.3

(a) Includes other Miscellaneous fields.
(b) People with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(c) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Characteristics by field of study
Comparing fields of study chosen by young people in the past with those chosen by present-day young people reveals changes over time in the fields of study of qualifications which were most commonly attained. While not all qualifications held by older people are necessarily obtained when they were young, most qualifications are obtained between the ages of 15 and 24 years. In 2000, the qualifications held by people aged 25-34 years were most commonly in the Business and administration field (22%). People aged 55-64 were more likely to hold qualifications in Engineering. However, both of these fields of study were common among the qualifications held by people of all ages. Agriculture and Natural and physical sciences, while not fields where a high proportion of people of any age group held qualifications, were more common among younger people than older people. People aged 55-64 years had the highest proportion of Architecture and building qualifications of any age group, suggesting a relative decline in attainment in this field of study over time.

The distribution of the sexes across fields varied considerably. While more than two thirds of people with qualifications in Hairdressing and beauty therapy, Health, and Education were women, fewer than one in ten people holding qualifications in Engineering, and Architecture and building were women.

PROPORTION OF PERSONS WITH QUALIFICATIONS WHO ARE FEMALE, 2000

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Field and level of qualifications
Bachelor degrees or higher were the most commonly held qualifications in 2000. While this overall trend is not evident across all fields of study, it is the case for Education (70% holding a bachelor degree or higher), Natural and physical sciences (64%), Society and culture (63%) and Health (51%). Education was the only field where more than a quarter of people with these qualifications held them above the bachelor level, with 25% holding a postgraduate diploma.

Conversely, almost half (42%) of people with a Business and administration qualification held it at the basic vocational level. Hairdressing and beauty therapy (83%), Architecture and building (75%), Engineering (67%) and Food and hospitality (62%) were most commonly held at the skilled vocational level.


PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS WITH A POST-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION, 2000

Bachelor degree and higher(a)
Diploma(b)
Skilled vocational
Basic vocational
Total with qualifications

Highest field of study
%
%
%
%
%
‘000

Business and administration
29.8
24.3
3.5
42.4
100.0
1,165.0
Health
51.2
31.6
1.6
15.6
100.0
596.3
Education
70.2
28.8
-
*1.0
100.0
394.8
Society and culture
63.1
20.2
7.7
9.0
100.0
832.9
Natural and physical sciences
63.5
17.4
*0.6
18.5
100.0
421.4
Engineering
14.4
9.8
66.8
9.0
100.0
1,195.0
Architecture and building
7.7
8.8
75.4
8.1
100.0
400.0
Agriculture and related fields
20.2
21.1
21.9
36.8
100.0
142.3
Miscellaneous fields(c)
*0.4
7.0
62.3
30.4
100.0
344.6
    Hairdressing and beauty therapy
-
5.6
82.5
11.9
100.0
119.7
    Food and hospitality
-
*2.4
62.4
35.2
100.0
179.9
Total with qualifications(d)
35.8
18.8
26.5
18.9
100.0
5,539.2

(a) Bachelor degrees, postgraduate diplomas and higher degrees.
(b) Undergraduate and associate diplomas.
(c) Includes other Miscellaneous fields.
(d) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Qualifications and the labour force
One of the purposes for obtaining qualifications is to acquire skills which will be valuable in the labour market with the aim of increasing the chances of working and, in particular, of working in a preferred job. In 2000, 85% of people aged 15-64 years with qualifications were in the labour force compared with 67% of those without qualifications.

While participation in the labour force varied by field of qualification, it also varied between men and women. While women’s participation in the labour force has been increasing over time, it remained lower than men’s (54% compared with 73% - see Australian Social Trends 2001, Work: national summary table). Comparing the labour force participation of people with qualifications in various fields of study can therefore be complicated by the differing proportions of men and women with qualifications in different fields of study.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS BY HIGHEST QUALIFICATION, 2000

Total labour force
Employed full-time


Original
Standardised(a)
Original
Standardised(a)
Highest field of study
%
%
%
%

Persons with qualifications
    Business and administration
82.9
85.5
62.0
66.8
    Health
82.7
86.2
51.0
61.8
    Education
85.1
86.8
59.4
65.9
    Society and culture
82.5
84.2
56.3
60.2
    Natural and physical sciences
86.2
85.7
67.3
66.1
    Engineering
89.1
80.1
79.7
63.7
    Architecture and building
89.8
85.0
81.4
62.5
    Agriculture and related fields
90.6
86.2
71.5
60.8
    Miscellaneous fields(b)
79.3
79.2
52.2
52.0
      Hairdressing and beauty therapy
70.3
80.8
38.0
57.6
      Food and hospitality
84.6
82.6
58.9
53.8
    Total with qualifications(c)
85.1
84.5
65.1
63.7
    Persons without qualifications
66.8
67.4
40.3
41.3
All people
74.8
74.8
51.2
51.1

(a) Data standardised for sex.
(b) Includes other Miscellaneous fields.
(c) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


However, by removing the effect of differing proportions of men and women holding qualifications across fields of study (by standardising), a more useful comparison of the differences in labour force participation of people with qualifications in different fields of study is possible. Unstandardised, labour force participation varied across fields of study from 83% (Society and culture) to 91% (Agriculture). The standardised participation rates varied within a similar but slightly lower range from 80% to 87%, with participation rates for the more male-dominated industries declining the most as a result of standardisation (Engineering from 89% to 80%, and Architecture and building from 90% to 85%).

Some of the differences in full-time employment across fields of study also relate to the propensity of men and women to have qualifications in specific fields. For example, women were more likely to hold qualifications in Health and were also more likely than men to be employed part-time. Once rates of full-time employment are standardised for sex, people with qualifications in Business and administration were most likely to be employed full-time (67%) while people with qualifications in Society and culture were least likely to be full-time (60%).

Unemployment is generally lower for people with qualifications than it is for those without qualifications. However, unemployment rates did vary by field of study for those with qualifications. People with qualifications in Education had the lowest unemployment rate (2%), while people with qualifications in Food and hospitality had the highest unemployment rate (9%).

UNEMPLOYMENT RATE BY FIELD OF STUDY OF HIGHEST QUALIFICATION, 2000

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Distribution of qualifications across industries
Not only does labour force status vary depending on field of qualification, so do the industries in which qualification holders work. It could be expected that industries with certain skill requirements would employ people educated in fields providing those skills.

For some fields of study, people mainly worked in the industry directly connected with their training. For example, more than half of the people with Health (73%), Education (68%), or Architecture and building (59%) qualifications were employed in the corresponding industries of Health and community services, Education, or Construction.

On the other hand, not all fields of study relate directly to a single industry. Less than a quarter of the people with qualifications in some fields were employed in any one industry. Instead they were spread across a number of industries. For example, similar proportions of people with qualifications in Society and culture were employed in the Education (17%), Health and community services (17%), and Property and business services (16%) industries.

LEADING INDUSTRIES OF EMPLOYMENT FOR PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS BY FIELD OF STUDY, 2000

Most common Industry
Second most common Industry
Third most common Industry



Highest field of studyIndustry
%
Industry
%
Industry
%

Business & administrationProperty & business services
22.7
Manufacturing
10.9
Retail Trade
10.3
HealthHealth & community services
72.6
Retail trade
5.2
Education
3.2
EducationEducation
68.1
Health & community services
6.0
Retail Trade
3.9
Society & cultureEducation
16.7
Health & community services
16.5
Property & business services
16.4
Natural & physical sciencesProperty & business services
25.3
Education
15.1
Manufacturing
12.9
EngineeringManufacturing
29.5
Retail trade
13.2
Property & business services
11.4
Architecture & buildingConstruction
58.8
Property & business services
10.3
Manufacturing
8.4
AgricultureAgriculture, forestry & fishing
33.4
Government administration & defence
8.9
Construction
8.3
Miscellaneous fields(a)Accommodation, cafes & restaurants
20.2
Personal & other services
18.8
Retail trade
15.5
    Hairdressing & beauty therapy
Personal & other services
53.1
Retail trade
9.6
Accommodation, cafes & restaurants
6.7
    Food & hospitality
Accommodation, cafes & restaurants
32.7
Retail trade
22.1
Manufacturing
11.0
Total with qualifications(b)Property & business services
13.7
Health & community services
13.1
Manufacturing
12.9

(a) Includes other Miscellaneous fields.
(b) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


Use of qualifications
Although labour force outcomes are often related to skills acquired through qualifications, not all qualifications are obtained for this purpose, and ultimately may not be used for this purpose. While some individuals may find having a qualification improves their ability to find employment, this may not always be in an occupation related to their field of study. Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, individuals may choose not to participate in the labour force, for instance, while raising families, or if retiring early.

It is not possible to detail the occupational use of qualifications for all fields of study, but it is possible in a few fields to illustrate direct linkages. In 2000, 77% of people with Natural and physical science qualifications were not in an occupation directly linked to their field of study. With relatively low proportions of people from this group not in the labour force (14%) and unemployed (4%), the largest proportion were working in occupations not directly related to
science (59%).


Associated occupations
Some qualifications have direct links to certain occupations. For the purposes of this article, the selected types of qualification are regarded as being directly associated with the following occupations from the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) Second Edition (ABS Cat. no. 1220.0):
  • Computer science: Information technology managers; Computing professionals; Computing support technicians; and Keyboard operators.
  • Natural and physical sciences: Natural and physical science professionals; and Medical and science technical officers.
  • Teaching: all Education professionals (including School teachers), Education managers; and Education aides.
  • Nursing: Nursing professionals; Enrolled nurses; Health services managers; and Personal care and nursing assistants.


The occupations of people with Computer science qualifications varied considerably, with 36% of this group employed in occupations that appeared directly connected with their qualifications. However, given the widespread use of information technology in the workplace, these qualifications are likely to have application across a broad range of occupations. Around 13% of people with Computer science qualifications were not in the labour force and 6% were unemployed.

In 2000, 54% of people with school teacher training were working in fields directly associated with teaching, including 48% working as school teachers. Of all people with teaching qualifications, 16% were not in the labour force and 2% were unemployed.

The proportion not in the labour force is partly related to the high numbers of females educated in this field of study.

Of people with nursing qualifications, 55% were in occupations associated with nursing such as nursing professionals, enrolled nurses, or carers or aides. However, of all people with nursing qualifications, there was a high proportion not in the labour force (21% compared with an average of 15% for all people with qualifications). As with teaching, this partly reflects the high proportion of women with qualifications in this area.

LABOUR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS OF PERSONS AGED 15-64 YEARS FOR SELECTED FIELDS OF STUDY, 2000

Employed

In associated occupations
Not in associated occupations
Unemployed(a)
Not in the
labour force
Total

Selected fields of study
%
%
%
%
%
‘000

Health
    Nursing
55.3
21.0
2.6
21.0
100.0
330.2
Education
    Teaching
54.2
28.3
1.7
15.8
100.0
320.6
Natural and physical sciences
    Computer science
36.4
45.4
5.5
12.8
100.0
179.3
    Selected Natural and physical sciences(b)
23.2
59.0
3.6
14.2
100.0
210.0

(a) The proportion of the population which was unemployed. Note that this is not an unemployment rate.
(b) Excluding Computer science, and Maths and statistics.

Source: ABS 2000 Transition from Education to Work Survey.


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