Education and Work, Australia methodology

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Reference period
May 2021


The Survey of Education and Work (SEW) is conducted throughout Australia in May as a supplement to the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS). 

The SEW provides annual information on a range of key indicators of educational participation and attainment of people aged 15-74 years, along with data on their engagement in education and work. 

The annual time series allows for ongoing monitoring of the level of education of Australia's population including:

  • current and previous study; 
  • type of educational institution attended; 
  • highest year of school completed; 
  • level and field of highest non-school qualification; 
  • engagement in education and work; and 
  • selected characteristics of apprentices and trainees.

The publication Labour Force, Australia contains information about survey design, sample redesign, scope, coverage and population benchmarks relevant to the monthly LFS, which also apply to supplementary surveys such as the SEW. It also contains definitions of demographic and labour force characteristics.

Concepts, sources, and methods

The conceptual framework used in Australia's LFS aligns closely with the standards and guidelines set out in Resolutions of the International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Descriptions of the underlying concepts and structure of Australia's labour force statistics, and the sources and methods used in compiling these estimates, are presented in Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, Feb 2018.

In July 2014, the LFS survey questionnaire underwent a number of developments. For further information see Labour Force, Australia methodology, May 2021.

Data collection


The scope of the SEW is restricted to people aged 15-74 years and excludes the following: 

  • members of the permanent defence forces; 
  • certain diplomatic personnel of overseas governments, customarily excluded from the Census of Population and Housing and estimated resident populations; 
  • overseas residents in Australia (intending to stay less than 12 months); 
  • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants); 
  • people in institutionalised special dwellings (e.g. patients in hospitals, residents of retirement homes, residents of homes for people with disabilities, inmates of prisons); 
  • Indigenous communities; and 
  • boarding school pupils. 

Boarding school pupils have been excluded from the scope of the SEW since 2005, but were included in earlier collections. 

Since 2009, SEW has included people living in 'very remote' areas who are not in Indigenous Communities. Prior to SEW 2009, all people living in 'very remote' parts of Australia were excluded. Nationally, less than 1% of people in scope of SEW live in 'very remote' areas that are not Indigenous Communities. In the Northern Territory, this proportion is higher, at around 8%. 

In 2013, the scope of SEW was extended to include all people aged 65-74 years for the first time. From 2009 to 2012, people aged 65-74 years who were in the labour force, or were marginally attached to the labour force were included. 

Persons who are permanently unable to work were included in the scope of SEW for the first time in 2013.


In the LFS, coverage rules are applied which aim to ensure that each person is associated with only one dwelling and has only one chance of selection in the survey. See Labour Force, Australia for more details.  

Data from the SEW is available by State, Greater Capital City Statistical Area, Section of State, Remoteness area and Statistical Area Level 4, subject to confidentiality constraints. Geography has been classified according to the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), July 2016. For a list of these publications see the ABS Geography Publications page. 

Collection method

Information was collected from respondents over a two week period in May. 

The data were collected through interviews, conducted either: 

  • face-to-face
  • over the telephone, or 
  • respondents were able to provide their information over the internet via a self-completed form. 

All information in the survey was obtained from any person in the household aged 15 years or over (known as Any Responsible Adult) who was asked to respond on behalf of all people in the household in scope of the survey. If the responsible adult was unable to supply all of the details for another individual in the household, a personal interview was conducted with that particular individual.

As estimates are based on information collected in May of the survey year, due to seasonal factors (such as school terms, semesters, or intake periods for other qualifications), they may not be representative of other months of the year. 

Response rates

The LFS receives a high level of co-operation from individuals in selected dwellings. For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the suspension of face to face interviews in late April 2020, the ABS had moved to a level target of response. The target response was 23,586 fully responding households. This level was achieved in May 2021. See Labour Force, Australia methodology, May 2021.

Processing the data


As only a sample of people were surveyed, their results needed to be converted into estimates for the whole population. This was done with a process called weighting.

Each person was given a number (known as a weight) to reflect how many people they represented in the whole population.

A person's initial weight was based on their probability of being selected in the sample. For example, if the probability of a person being selected in the survey was 1 in 300, then the person would have an initial weight of 300 (that is, they represent 300 people).


After calculating the initial person weights, an adjustment was incorporated into the weighting for persons to account for all persons in the population.

The person weights were separately calibrated to independent estimates of the in scope population, referred to as ‘benchmarks’. The benchmarks used additional information about the population to ensure that:

  • people in the sample represented people who were similar to them
  • the survey estimates reflected the distribution of the whole population, not the sample.

The survey was benchmarked to the estimated resident population (ERP) aged 15-74 years living in private dwellings and non-institutionalised special dwellings in each state and territory. People living in Indigenous communities were excluded. 


Survey estimates of counts of persons are obtained by summing the weights of persons with the characteristic of interest.


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Comparing the data

In addition to the changes in scope listed in the 'Scope' section, there are a number of other changes to be aware of with regard to how the SEW has been collected and reported over time.


Statistics in this release are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting Australian Government closure of the international border from 20 March 2020. See National, state and territory population, September 2021.

Changes in net overseas migration may have impacted certain key SEW sub-populations compared to pre-pandemic releases. It is therefore recommended that proportions, rather than count estimates, are used when comparing the SEW 2021 with previous iterations.

Apprenticeship/traineeship data

Data on apprentices from previous years are not directly comparable to data from 2008 and onward:

  • Prior to 2008, only people aged 15-54 years were included in the apprenticeship/traineeship survey questions. 
  • In 2008, the age scope was extended to include people aged 55-64 years and in 2009, the scope was further extended to include people aged 65-74 years for these questions.
  • In 2008, the definition for apprentices and trainees changed from those employed as apprentices/trainees to include only those with a formal contract under the Australian Apprenticeships scheme. 

From 2020 onward, industry sector of apprenticeship/traineeship is no longer collected in the SEW.

Other comparability issues

In 2021, the age scope of several tables has increased to 15-74 years compared with 15-64 years in the equivalent table in previous SEW releases. As a result, care should be taken when comparing proportions in the tables with previous SEW releases, as they may be lower in SEW 2021 due to a higher population in the denominator. 

Revisions are made to population benchmarks for the LFS after each five-yearly Census of Population and Housing. The latest revision based on the 2016 Census of Population and Housing has been in use since November 2018. See Labour Force, Australia for more information. 

Since 2014, data in the SEW has been randomly adjusted to avoid the release of confidential statistics. Discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals. See the Confidentiality section under 'Data release' for more information on perturbation.

The May 2013 SEW was the first supplementary survey to incorporate an online data collection method, where the option was offered to just over one-quarter of the SEW sample. Since the May 2014 SEW this option has been offered to all respondents. For more information see the article Transition to Online Collection of the Labour Force Survey.

As announced in the June 2012 issue of Australian Demographic Statistics, the intercensal error between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses was larger than normal due to improved methodologies used in the 2011 Census Post Enumeration Survey. The intercensal error analysis indicated that previous population estimates for the base Census years were over-counted. An indicative estimate of the size of the over-count is that there should have been 240,000 fewer people at June 2006, 130,000 fewer in 2001 and 70,000 fewer in 1996. As a result, Estimated Resident Population estimates have been revised for the last 20 years rather than the usual five. Consequently, estimates of particular populations derived since SEW 2014 may be lower than those published for previous years as the SEW estimates have not been revised. Therefore, comparisons of SEW estimates since 2014 with previous years should not be made. However, for comparable data items, comparison of rates or proportions between years is appropriate.   

Comparability with other ABS surveys

Since the SEW is conducted as a supplement to the LFS, data items collected in the LFS are also available in SEW. However, differences may be found in the estimates collected in the LFS and published as part of the SEW, when comparing with estimates published in the May issue of Labour Force, Australia. This is because the scope of the SEW differs slightly to the scope of the LFS and the SEW data are weighted as a separate process to the weighting of LFS data. 

From September 2016, the ABS has published education data from the LFS as part of the Labour Force publication Labour Force, Australia: Detailed. For more information on the differences between SEW and LFS in relation to education data items see the Fact Sheet: Expanded education data from the Labour Force Survey.

Estimates from the SEW may differ from the estimates produced from other ABS collections for several reasons:

  • The SEW is a sample survey and its results are subject to sampling error. Results may differ from other sample surveys, which are also subject to sampling error. Users should take account of the measures of error on all published statistics where comparisons are made. Refer to the 'Accuracy' section for more information about how error is measured for the SEW.
  • Differences may also exist in the scope and/or coverage of the SEW compared to other surveys. Differences in estimates, when compared to the estimates of other surveys, may result from different reference periods reflecting seasonal variations, non-seasonal events that may have impacted on one period but not another, or because of underlying trends.
  • Differences can also occur as a result of differences in the way the data is collected. This is often evident in comparisons of similar data items reported from different ABS collections where, after taking account of definition and scope differences and sampling error, residual differences remain. These may be explained by whether data are collected by an interviewer or self-enumerated by the respondent and whether the data are collected from the person themselves or from a proxy respondent. Differences may also result from the context in which questions are asked, i.e. where in the interview the questions are asked and the nature of preceding questions. The impacts on data of different collection methodologies are difficult to quantify but every effort is made to minimise these. 

Comparability with non-ABS sources

For similar reasons outlined in the section 'Comparability with other ABS surveys', estimates from the SEW may differ from estimates produced from non-ABS sources. For example, due to differences in collection objectives and definitions, student visa data are not comparable with Home Affairs data. For more information on the Migration Program and Home Affairs statistics, refer to the Department of Home Affairs website. 

Data release


A number of datacubes (spreadsheets) containing all tables produced for this publication are available from the 'Data Downloads' section of the main release. The datacubes present tables of estimates and proportions, and their associated measures of error. As tables names have changed since the last release, a 'Concordance' spreadsheet is available from the 'Data Downloads' section. A data item list is also available.

In 2021, the age scope of several tables has increased to 15-74 years compared with 15-64 years in the equivalent table in previous SEW releases. As a result, care should be taken when comparing proportions in the tables with previous SEW releases, as they may be lower in SEW 2021 due to a higher population in the denominator. 


For users who wish to undertake more detailed analysis of the data, the survey microdata will be released through the TableBuilder product (see Microdata: Education and Work, Australia for more detail). Microdata can be used by approved users to produce customised tables and analysis from the survey data. Microdata products are designed to ensure the integrity of the data whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the respondents to the survey.


Detailed microdata may also be available on DataLab for users who want to undertake interactive (real time) complex analysis of microdata in the secure ABS environment. For more detail, see Microdata: Education and Work, Australia.

Custom tables

Customised statistical tables to meet individual requirements can be produced on request. These are subject to confidentiality and sampling variability constraints which may limit what can be provided. Enquiries on the information available and the cost of these services should be made through the ABS Contact us page. 


The Census and Statistics Act 1905 authorises the ABS to collect statistical information, and requires that information is not published in a way that could identify a particular person or organisation. The ABS must make sure that information about individual respondents cannot be derived from published data.

The ABS takes care in the specification of tables to reduce the risk of identifying individuals. Random adjustment of the data is considered the best way to do this. A technique called perturbation randomly adjusts all cell values to prevent identifiable data being exposed. These adjustments result in small introduced random errors, which often result in tables not being 'internally consistent' (that is, interior cells not adding up to the totals). However, the information value of the table as a whole is not impacted. This technique allows the production of very large/detailed tables valued by users even when they contain cells of very small numbers.


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