A look at the changes in the industry make-up of employment in the North

Each quarter the ABS releases a regional breakdown of employment by industry type (according to ANZSIC classification). The latest release relates to data to the May 2016 quarter. Figures are supplied as an average of the previous 4 quarters.

We have spent some time looking at the data for the Cairns and Townsville SA4 regions to try and get a better understanding of how the make-up of employment in the north of Queensland has been changing since 1999. What we see in both instances is that total employment has barely grown in the past 10 years having lost any gains made in the first five years in the last five.


The chart below highlights some of the more relevant and interesting industry categories for Cairns. What we see can be simplified as:-

  • Accommodation & Food – Steady growth to a max of about 15,000 by late 2010 has then seen a significant and fairly constant decline to now sit at 8,500. This despite the well-documented recovery in the tourism sector in recent quarters. {Note that ANZSIC does not specify “tourism” as an industry type. Tourism employment will usually be included within Accommodation & Food, Arts & Recreation and Retail amongst possible others}
  • Agriculture & Fisheries – This sector has seen almost consistent decline from about 12,000 in 2002 to half that now.
  • Arts & Recreation – Little change and accounts for around 2,000 now.
  • Construction – Reached a peak in about 2008 (pre-GFC impacts) of 15,500 before a steady and sharp decline to just 9,300 now.
  • Education – Along with Health (see below) this has been the big winner. Employment in this sector has doubled to more than 12,000 currently.
  • Health – The other big winner. Peaked at 15,000 in 2013 and has fallen slightly since (now about 13,000) but was as low as 7,000 in 2000.
  • Manufacturing – has been consistent between 5,000 and 7,000. Currently at about 6,000.
  • Mining – Mining has never been a major part of the employment make-up and has consistently sat around 2,000.
  • Retail – Another sector often impacted by tourism rose to 17,000 by 2010 but has since fallen away to less than 9,000



The chart below highlights some of the more relevant and interesting industry categories for Townsville. What we see can be simplified as:-

  • Admin & Support Services – A relatively small sector but it has grown strongly from about 2,000 in 2000 to 5,000 now.
  • Agriculture & Fisheries – This sector has gone through some wild swings over the years. Employment got as high as 14,800 in mid-2002 before falling sharply to less than 2,000 by 2008. It then recovered again to about 11,000 in 2010 but has again fallen sharply since and now sits at just 2,500.
  • Construction – Employment grew strongly to 2010 when the sector employed about 14,000. Since then numbers have fallen quickly and now sit at less than 7,000.
  • Education – This has been an important but fairly stable part of Townsville’s employment make-up.
  • Health – This sector has seen steady growth from less than 10,000 in 2000 to about 15,000 now (although this is below the high seen in 2011 of just short of 18,000).
  • Manufacturing – A sector that has seen steady, and significant, losses from 11,000 in 2009 to just 6,000 today.
  • Retail – Grew strongly to 2011 when employment peaked at about 15,000 but has been steady since then around 12-14,000.160812
2 replies
  1. Glen
    Glen says:

    Interesting numbers Pete, surprising to see Townsville with a higher number in retail than Cairns, always thought it would be the other way around, the 15,000 in health in Townsville seems a little low, it would be interesting to know if the ABS include aged care under health, this sector is going through a very high growth rate for some time now to the point where many are complaining about staff shortages.

    • Pete Faulkner
      Pete Faulkner says:

      Thanks Glen. I was surprised at some of the numbers too. Education (which I had expected to be high in Townsville) was actually higher in Cairns (12,700 v 10,100). Old age care would be in the Health sector; Townsville’s numbers here have fallen sharply in the last year (they were 18,000 just a year ago) so I think this may be something of a “glitch” number. Thanks for the comment.


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