The number and type of qualifications held by working age people in Australia is one way of helping understand the available stock of skills. In turn, this helps identify supply- and demand-side issues, such as skills utilisation and skills gaps.

An NCVER paper has found VET qualifications outnumber those in higher education (7.8 million and 6.9 million, respectively). Certificates III and IV were particularly widespread, at 4.6 million.

Key messages

The paper, entitled “The stock of qualifications in Australia” and authored by NCVER’s Michelle Hall and John Stanwick, uses data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Qualifications and Work 2018-19 survey. This has been used to estimate the stock of qualifications in Australia, with a particular focus on vocational education and training (VET).

The report found that, in 2018-19, 10.2 million people reported holding 15.4 million qualifications, including 3.8 million people holding two or more qualifications. This was out of an estimated population of 16.1 million working-age Australians. As we noted in the introduction section of this article, VET qualifications outnumbered higher education qualifications by almost one million, with Certificates III & IV being particularly prevalent.

Another key message was that:

“Around three-quarters of the qualifications held by employed people were in the same field as, or were relevant to, the worker’s job.”

This was the case whether the qualification was at a VET or higher education level (74.9% and 84.7%, respectively).

And of the 3.3 million people with two or more qualifications who were employed at the time of the survey, “about a third held at least one qualification that was not at all relevant to their job.” Interestingly, the paper also found that, often, “the most relevant qualification to the worker’s job was either not their highest or their most recent qualification.”

Qualifications are not everything, however, as the analysis found that many people who did not hold a non-school qualification were employed across occupations at all skill levels. This suggests that completed qualifications are just one potential source of skills. Experience is therefore important too.

Finally, the analysis Michelle and John undertook found that: “different qualification profiles were evident in different occupational contexts. Some occupations have more diverse entry pathways than others, with regulation playing a role in some of these pathways.”

Where are particular qualification types dominant?

The authors report that “food, hospitality and personal services; architecture and building; engineering and related technologies; and agriculture, environmental and related studies were all VET-dominant.” However, higher education qualifications outnumbered VET ones in natural and physical sciences, education and health.

Gender is an important factor too. The paper reports that “females held more qualifications than males overall (52%), and in fields including education; health; and society and culture. Males held many more qualifications than females in engineering and related technologies; architecture and building; and information technology.”

The paper is supported by a suite of infographics summarising the key findings from the analysis, as well as highlighting six case study occupations: aged and disability carers; child carers; construction managers; contract, program and project administrators; ICT professionals and  metal fitters and machinists. These case studies reveal “the dynamics of qualifications in different employment contexts.”

The case studies show that “some occupation groups had diverse qualification profiles, which suggests multiple pathways to entry (for example, contract, program and project administrators), compared with others with tighter entry requirements (for example, metal fitters and machinists).” Another factor is when there are regulatory requirements attached to holding the qualification. These occupations include construction managers; metal fitters and machinists (which has specific entry requirements); and child carers.”

Such findings are consistent with other research, particularly that which finds that “trade occupations tend to have a better match to qualifications than occupations with a more ‘generalist’ set of skills (for example, business/management).” However, these latter types of qualifications may be used to enhance career options and pathways beyond initial training.

Finally, and if readers are interested, there is a literature review, which provides a broad overview of approaches to measuring the stock of skills in an economy, beyond the analysis of qualifications presented in the paper.