The employment sector bucking the wage stagnation trend

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In Australia, as in much of the developed world, wages are flatlining. Pay rises are barely keeping pace with headline inflation, and are lagging well behind key living costs, squeezing household budgets.

But there is one sector in Australia where wage growth is actually running above long-term averages.

Those working in healthcare and social assistance are seeing average annual wage rises of above three per cent according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The healthcare sector is seeking to attract and retain qualified staff.
The healthcare sector is seeking to attract and retain qualified staff.Credit:Getty.

“This is the only sector in Australia where wage growth is above the decade average,” says Indeed’s senior economist Callam Pickering. “For people who are looking to change careers, it’s a great option.”


As our population has aged, demand for health services has risen, leading to skills shortages in key occupations. From large public health organisations to smaller private and not-for-profit service providers, operators in the healthcare and social assistance industries are seeking to attract and retain qualified staff.

This makes the industry an attractive option for people looking to change jobs or retrain heading into 2020. But there are some things you need to watch out for.

There is incredible variability in pay for roles across the sector. While medical specialists like surgeons and anaesthetists are among the highest-paid professionals in the country, the sector also includes lower-paid roles like aged care and disability support roles.

Prior to 2012 the minimum rates for some female-dominated roles in the social assistance sector were so low that the Fair Work Commission ordered rises to the award of between 19 and 40 per cent on the basis that low pay was disproportionately affecting women. This move came after a long campaign from people working in the industry and their representatives.

“It’s quite unusual in that there are people who are well-paid and poorly paid in the same sector,” says Pickering. “Wage growth may be high across the board but people really care about absolute wages – how much they earn – even more than how quickly it is rising.”

Key shortages are in the clinical and specialised roles, but there are many non-frontline roles in the industry that are also in demand. And unlike some industries that are confined to one or two large population centres, the demand for qualified staff is happening everywhere – a positive for healthcare workers looking to escape the stresses of living in a major city.

Clinical, specialised and non-frontline roles are in high demand.
Clinical, specialised and non-frontline roles are in high demand.Credit:Getty.

“The good news for people moving into the sector is not only that it’s outperforming now, but that it’s likely to continue over the next decade,” says Pickering.

“The drivers for demand for healthcare services are not going away, and while as always it’s Sydney and Melbourne driving those trends, from a relative standpoint we are seeing huge demand in regional areas too.”

For those considering a long-term career move the prospect of sustained above-average pay rises and career stability can be an attractive combination.

Additionally, the reasons for the sector’s growth are demographic, they’re not as vulnerable to fickle market forces; while technological advancements are likely to augment, rather than replace, the work that front-line staff in the healthcare sector perform.

Some people entering the sector are looking to forge new careers as nurses, clinicians or carers. But moving into healthcare doesn’t always mean re-training.

Like most industries, healthcare requires the skills of many non-clinical professionals as well as those specific to the industry. Accountants, communications professionals, HR practitioners and IT workers are also able to transfer their skillset into the industry.

“When we talk about the healthcare sector, people tend to only think of hospitals, but you can shift into the sector from a number of places,” explains Pickering.

“Wage growth is increasing in the sector for everyone, even if their training isn’t medical. There are opportunities available for a wide variety of skill-sets and backgrounds.”

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