Over the 20th century there was a decline in employment in New Zealand’s primary industries (such as forestry and farming); a growth, followed by a decline, in manufacturing; and very strong growth in services.
Since 1986 the changes within these areas of work have been quite dramatic. In that year the primary sector employed 11% of the workforce, manufacturing 21% and service industries 68%. By 2006 the primary sector employed 7% of the workforce, manufacturing 12% and services 81%.
Growing service sector
Economic restructuring and recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s had a major impact on New Zealand’s workforce. Between 1986 and 1991 the primary sector lost over 19,000 jobs, while over 84,000 were lost from manufacturing. Less dramatic job losses in manufacturing have continued.
A number of service industries, including education and health, have been growing strongly in recent years. The number employed in education has risen from 104,000 in 1996 to 142,000 in 2006, as the demand for education increased (particularly pre-school and tertiary).
The number employed in health services has grown from 108,000 to over 160,000. In New Zealand, as in all industrialised countries, demand for health services is predicted to continue to rise. This is partly because of an ageing population, but also because of advances in medicine, and an increase in incomes and health expectations.
Both the health and education sectors generally require a high level of education amongst their employees.
New skills for new jobs
As the major industries in New Zealand changed, the number of low-skilled manual jobs declined. There was a strong increase in highly skilled jobs across all industries, but there was also growth in non-manual lower-skilled jobs, primarily in the service sector.
Successive New Zealand governments have aimed to increase labour productivity by shifting from an economy that produced low-value commodities such as unprocessed farm produce, to one that produced high-value products such as international films or high-tech equipment. This required upskilling the population. In 1991 over a third of people over 20 had no qualifications, and just 10% of employed males and 8% of females had a university degree or higher qualification. By 2006 the proportions of those without any qualification had fallen to a quarter; and the figures for those with degrees had risen to 18% for employed men and 21% for women – one of the highest rates in the world. Increasing numbers of young New Zealanders were remaining in the education system after high school.
The rise in the number of well-qualified women in the workforce has been particularly noticeable. In 2006, 37% of employed women aged 25–29 held a degree or higher qualification, compared with 24% of men in that age group. There has also been a sharp increase in post-school qualifications among Māori. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of Māori with a bachelor’s or other degree increased by 73%.