Phil Ruthven Columnist

Phil is founder and chairman of IBISWorld, an international corporation providing online business information, forecasting and strategic services. He is considered one of the nation's most respected strategist and futurist on business, social and economic matters.

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For love, money or both – if you’re lucky

Published 23 February 2012 05:01, Updated 23 February 2012 05:02

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Money isn’t everything, as most people say at some stage, and many want a vocation, not just a job that earns money. Being in a workplace with a boss who is a good leader, fair and generates a happy, productive culture that fosters learning is often important, too.

Earning truckloads of money in the highest-paying industry, mining, can be an interim season in the life of many of the almost 250,000 employees in that industry. Remote localities, often physically demanding work and challenging hours lead to the conclusion that such a job can build a hefty deposit on a home (if not buy one outright) but it’s not a preferred life-long career for a lot of those employees.

Similarly transitory can be a job in hospitality – in cafes, take-away outlets, clubs and accommodation – particularly for university students and working mothers. It is a low-paying industry, except for those who choose penalty rate shifts. Yet for many it is a vocation, particularly chefs. For those who rise through the ranks to top management or start their own businesses, the rewards are commensurately higher; as are some of the risks.

Agriculture vies with hospitality and retailing for the lowest-paid jobs but, again, many see such work as a vocation or tradition (especially in agriculture).

The number of jobs in manufacturing is shrinking, given competition from emerging economies such as China and an overvalued Australian dollar. But it is an iconic industry, as agriculture was for well over 150 years until the late 1970s, when the proportion of employees in the industry began to drop below 5 per cent of the workforce; it is now less than 3 per cent.

Manufacturing employment has fallen from 30 per cent of all jobs in 1960 to just over 8 per cent in 2012 – on its way to below 5 per cent within a decade or so. Why governments prop up an industry facing an unwinnable war in many sectors (such as automotive, some food processing and textile, clothing and footwear) is a case of seats in parliament rather than good economic management.

Workers in threatened industries must reskill and eventually migrate to a new career, and the longer that is delayed the more difficult it becomes. As the chart shows, manufacturing is no longer a high-paying industry; it sits well down from the average wage and it will fall steadily over time.

Teaching has long been thought of as a vocation and the wages are above the national average. Not so for the health industry, also considered a vocation by many, as the wages are a little below the average – but improving. It has the most employees of any industry in 2012 and is likely to hold that spot for decades.

The higher-paying industries, other than mining, tend to require tertiary education and other attributes. They include telecommunications and media (average earnings of $81,400); finance and insurance ($81,400); and professional & technical services ($81,500), such as lawyers, chartered accountants and those in IT.

With the average wage in 2011 at $68,700, higher-paying jobs (excluding mining) were about 19 per cent higher and the lower-paying three industries about 29 per cent lower. Not a scary range, given that people often live in households where there may be income via other earners, welfare assistance or possibly investment income.

Wage levels differ from industry to industry but are usually balanced by other factors that make individuals, and their households, happy.

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