The workforce includes everyone in paid work, plus people who are unemployed but actively seeking work.
The rest of the working-age population (defined as those aged 15 or older) are not included in the workforce, because they are not actively seeking employment. They include people who have a long-term illness that prevents them working, those studying full-time, parents looking after children full-time, and people in prison. Many people will have periods over their life in one or more of these categories.
The shape of New Zealand’s workforce has changed significantly from the days when a typical Kiwi worker was a bushman or miner: tough, uneducated, male and quite young.
In 1901 almost 40% of the New Zealand workforce was employed in primary industries, with mining, forestry and farming being key employers. These industries relied heavily on manual skills and most workers were male.
As farming and other primary industries became more mechanised, they employed far fewer people. In 2006 the primary sector employed just 7% of the New Zealand workforce.
At the start of the 20th century manufacturing industries employed around a third of the workforce. Through the century the sector grew strongly, especially after 1950. By 1971 employment in this sector was much higher than in primary industries. Again, most manufacturing workers were men. The sector attracted many skilled males as migrants.
Much of the early growth in manufacturing industries such as clothing represented a shift from unpaid to paid work. For example when clothing was no longer made in the home, it was usually bought from a local manufacturer.
In the 2000s, most manufactured goods are imported. This has reduced employment in manufacturing in New Zealand, which by 2006 was just 12% of the workforce.
Around 1901 service industries employed less than 30% of the workforce, but this sector has since seen the strongest growth. The service sector includes transport, communication, wholesale and retail trade, education and health services, and construction. These industries range from very highly skilled occupations such as doctors, through to relatively low-skilled jobs such as cleaners.
Some service industries have grown because previously unpaid work (such as caring for elderly relatives at home) has become paid work (such as nursing at a rest home). This has created new occupations in which there are many more women than men, such as childcare. By 1936 around half those employed worked in services. By 1986 this had grown to two-thirds, and by 2006 it was over 80%.