In 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) labour force survey reported that Australia’s welfare workforce numbered more than 550,000 people and made up 4.4% of the working population (Table 1).

The welfare workforce comprises people in paid employment who provide community services to the Australian population. A wide range of community services are provided through public and private organisations. This includes care for the elderly in residential aged care facilities to counselling and social assistance for students in educational settings. The quality of the welfare sector and the assistance people receive is influenced by the size, characteristics and accessibility of the welfare workforce.

Defining the welfare workforce

The Australian welfare workforce comprises paid employees working in a community service occupation within a community service industry (ABS 2006, 2013). Community service industries consist of three main groups:

  • residential care services
  • child care services and preschool education
  • other social assistance services.

This definition excludes some people in community service occupations who do not work in a community service industry. A registered nurse working in a hospital would not be classified as part of the welfare workforce, for example, while a registered nurse working in a residential aged care setting would be.

Table 1: Persons employed in community services occupations and community services industries, 2018


Community services industries

Other industries


Community services occupations




Other occupations








(a) Denotes the welfare workforce of Australia.

Note: Annual average of quarterly data from original series estimates.

Source: ABS 2019a.

Welfare workforce overview

Between 2008 and 2018 the welfare workforce increased by 72% to more than 550,000 people (ABS 2019a). Over the same period, the total workforce increased by 18%. In 2018, each type of community service industry employed more than 700 people per 100,000 population (Figure 1). Since 2008, each welfare workforce industry employed more people per 100,000 population.

This figure shows the number of employed per 100,000 population within each of the three community service industries from 2008 to 2018. The preschool education and child care services industry saw a gradual increase since 2008; the residential care services industry saw a gradual increase since 2008 before decreasing in 2018; and the residential care services industry had been slightly decreasing from 2013 to 2017 before increasing again in 2018.


More than half (51%) of people employed in community service occupations worked in community service industries, compared with 46% in 2008 (Figure 2). Since 2008, care workers in aged and disability sectors overtook child care workers as the largest occupational group of the welfare workforce with 159,000 employed in 2018 (635 per 100,000 population). For all welfare workforce occupations, the rate of people employed per 100,000 population also increased, except for psychologists.

This figure shows the proportion of each community service occupation that worked in a community service industry in 2008 and 2018. Half of the people employed in community service occupations (51%) were employed in community service industries, compared with only 46% in 2008. Aged and disabled carers, child carers, early childhood teachers, and nursing support and personal care workers remained as largely employed within community service industries since 2008. In 2018, welfare, recreation and community arts workers, social workers, and welfare support workers were largely employed within community service industries whilst they were employed elsewhere in 2008.


In 2018, most (87%) of Australia’s welfare workforce was female. This has remained relatively unchanged since 2008 (90% in 2008). By comparison, 47% of the total workforce in 2018 was female (ABS 2018).

In 2018, the average age of the welfare workforce was 41.2 years, a slight reduction from 41.7 years in 2008. This is due to an increase in the proportion of the workforce under the age of 35. Child care workers were the occupational group with the youngest average age (35.5 years), nearly 6 years younger than the average age for the total welfare workforce.

In 2018, 2.8% of the welfare workforce identified as being an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian, compared with 2.4% in 2008. Of all welfare workforce occupations, welfare support workers had the highest proportion identifying as Indigenous at 7.7%.

Working hours and pay

In 2018, 351,000 people in the welfare workforce were employed part time (ABS 2019b). Part-time workers made up 64% of the welfare workforce in 2018, similar to 2008 (63%). By comparison, part-time workers made up 32% of the total workforce in 2018 (ABS 2018). Nearly three-quarters (73%) of care workers in the aged and disability sectors worked part time, and were the occupation type most likely to do so. Social workers were least likely to be employed part time (40%).

In May 2018, the average weekly earnings of the welfare workforce was lower than that of the same occupations working in other industries—$838.90 compared with $1,106.40 respectively (Figure 3). However, average weekly earnings for the welfare workforce increased by 17% from August 2008 ($719.60 in real terms). The welfare workforce was also paid less per hour compared with the same occupations working in other industries ($32.02 per hour compared with $41.28 per hour). Registered nurses had the highest average earnings per hour of the selected occupations in the welfare workforce in 2018 ($48.87 per hour) while child care workers had the lowest ($25.13 per hour).

This figure shows the average weekly earnings of selected welfare workforce occupations in May 2018. Welfare workforce occupations earned less on average compared with other occupations in the community services industry ($838.90 per week compared with $1033.70 per week). Welfare workforce occupations also earned less on average compared with the same occupations working in other industries ($1106.40). The highest paid welfare workforce occupation were social workers ($1395.40 per week) while the lowest paid were child carers ($676.10 per week).

Aged care workforce

In October 2018, the Australian Government announced the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, highlighting the need for evidence-based policies and strategies for aged care services and its workforce. In the overall aged care workforce, direct carers directly provide or manage care in residential and community aged care settings. They are registered nurses, enrolled nurses, personal care attendants, community care workers and allied health workers.

In 2016, 153,900 direct care employees were in the residential sector (up 5.3% since 2012), and another 86,500 in the community sector (down 7.3% since 2012) (Mavromaras et al. 2017). Both workforces were largely female (87% and 89% respectively) (Figure 4). Most direct care employees for community (72%) and residential settings (55%) were aged 45 years and over. Almost 9 in 10 (88%) direct care employees had a post-school qualification in 2018, compared with 86% in 2012.

This figure shows that the size of the residential aged care workforce increased from 133,000 in 2007 to 154,000 in 2016. The community aged care workforce increased from 74,000 in 2007 to 93,000 in 2012, however, reduced to 86,000 in 2016. From 2007 to 2016, the residential and community aged care workforce has remained largely a female group.

In 2016, aged care workers were a diverse group with 32% of residential and 23% of community direct carers having been born outside of Australia. About one-quarter (26%) of residential aged care facilities and one-fifth (18%) of community aged care outlets reported employing workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (non-English speaking countries).

Direct carers are increasingly working part time. In 2016, 78% of residential and 75% of community setting workers were engaged in permanent part-time work. This was up from 71% and 62% respectively in 2012.


In 2016, based on the responses from 2,240 residential aged care facilities and 2,307 community outlets surveyed in Australia:

  • 63% of residential facilities and 49% of community aged care outlets with direct care staff reported skills shortages
  • 41% of residential facilities reported shortages for registered nurses
  • 33% of community outlets reported shortages for community care workers
  • the most commonly reported reasons for shortages included lack of suitable applicants and a facility’s geographic location
  • in response to shortages, aged care services had direct care staff work longer hours
  • 24% of residential aged care facilities reported vacancies for registered nurses and personal care attendants
  • 25% of community outlets reported vacancies for community care workers
  • 21% of residential facilities and 29% of community outlets took more than one month to fill their most recent vacancy
  • with residential aged care facilities, the time to fill vacancies for registered nurses and personal care attendants increased with remoteness, a trend not seen among community aged care outlets (Figure 5).

This figure shows the average time taken to fill vacancies in both residential and community aged care settings by remoteness. For residential facilities, the time taken to fill vacancies for both registered nurse and personal care assistant positions increased with remoteness. However, in community settings, this same pattern was not observed.

Disability workforce

The progressive roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) from mid-2016 has reinforced the need for a workforce capable of supporting the demand for services generated by the NDIS. The growth rate of the workforce supporting the disability sector reflects the progression of the NDIS. The workforce grew 11% per year from September 2015 to September 2017, compared with just 1.6% growth for the entire Australian workforce. This is based on quarterly samples of more than 110 direct support organisations collected between September 2015 and December 2018, covering approximately 45,000 workers nationally (Lui & Alcorso 2018). This growth is due largely to recruitment of casual employees with a growth rate of 26% annually over the same period, compared with 1.3% for permanent employees.

Disability support workers became increasingly engaged as permanent part-time employees. Of permanent workers in September 2015, 65% worked part time. This increased to 83% in September 2017.

Similar to the aged care and welfare workforces in general, the disability support workforce is largely female, with a female-to-male ratio of 2.3 to 1 (March 2018). Different to the aged care workforce, the disability workforce was relatively younger (only 34% of workers were over 45 years old).


  • From September 2015 to March 2018, the average turnover rate for permanent disability workers was 4.6% per quarter and 8.5% for casual disability workers. Since most of the disability workforce is casually employed, the higher turnover rate in these non-permanent employees may have implications on continuity and, thus, quality of care.
  • In December 2017, 20% of disability service providers indicated that no new recruits had disability-related qualifications.
  • In March 2018, the proportion of disability service providers advertising for support worker positions increased to 79% from 76% in March 2017. Only 30% of these advertised positions were being left unfilled compared with 35% in March 2017. The most commonly reported reasons for unfilled vacancies included lack of suitable or qualified candidates.

This figure shows the proportion of formally qualified new workers who were hired by disability service providers across the states and territories. Victoria-based providers had the highest proportion of formally qualified new workers whilst Queensland-based providers had the lowest (15%).

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the Australian workforce, see:


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2006. Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC)—Codes and Titles, 2006. ABS cat. no. 1292.0.55.002. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2013. Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, Version 1.2, 2013. ABS cat. no. 1220.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018. Labour force, Australia, detailed, quarterly, Nov 2018. ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.003 Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019a. Labour force survey, 2008 and 2018 (February, May, August and November), customised report. ABS cat. no. 6291.0. Canberra: ABS.

 ABS 2019b. Survey of employee earnings and hours, May 2008 and May 2018, customised report. ABS cat. no. 6306.0. Canberra: ABS.

Lui A & Alcorso C 2018. Australian disability workforce report (3rd edition, July 2018). Sydney: National Disability Services.

Mavromaras K, Knight G, Isherwood L, Crettenden A, Flavel J, Karmel T et al. 2017. 2016 National aged care workforce census and survey—the aged care workforce, 2016. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.