Illawarra's changing workforce: where the jobs are

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Perceptions can be a hard thing to shake.

For years, if you asked someone to conjure up an image of an Illawarra worker it would be an extremely safe bet that they would think of a miner with a headlamp and coal-smeared face.

Or maybe a steelworker or a factory worker.

The chances are that this is still the image many carry of the stereotypical Illawarra worker.

But it's an image that isn't supported by reality.

Today's worker in the Illawarra is more likely to be a teacher, a salesperson, aged care worker or a tradie.

And as for mining, it is actually one of the sectors with the lowest employment levels across the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama areas.

Traditional mining and manufacturing jobs are being replaced by employment in a range of sectors.

Traditional mining and manufacturing jobs are being replaced by employment in a range of sectors.

This information comes from a NSW Parliamentary Research Service paper that breaks down employment by electorate based on the 2011 Census data.

Of the four Illawarra electorates of Keira, Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama, it is Keira that is home to the most people employed in the mining industry - 1011.

That is just 3.1 per cent of the electorate's working population.

In Wollongong and Shellharbour, it is even lower at 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively, while Kiama has just 1.6 per cent of its working population in mining.

Overall, mining accounts for just 3001 jobs in the Illawarra - the only sector in the research that offers fewer jobs is agriculture, fishing and forestry with 786 jobs.

The importance of manufacturing for the region has dropped too. The research paper ranks all the electorates of NSW and, in the area of manufacturing, those in the Illawarra have tumbled down the ladder when compared with their places on the 2006 Census.

The Wollongong electorate has seen the biggest fall, plummeting from 16th in 2006 to 27th in 2011. Keira fell from 36th to 42nd while Shellharbour dropped from ninth to 16th. Only Kiama's manufacturing ranking improved marginally, from 38 to 37.

These figures reflect the steady loss of jobs in these areas, from the recent closures of the Corrimal and Coalcliff cokeworks and almost 900 workers retrenched at the steelworks following BlueScope's decision to leave the export market, all the way back to the 2009 closure of the Bonds factory at Unanderra and the KingGee factory at Bellambi leaving 300 people jobless.

In terms of unemployment figures, the Wollongong electorate is the worst in the region, ranking ninth in the state with 8.7 per cent (3037 people). Shellharbour is 28th (2280), Keira 41st (2094) and Kiama 50th (1731).

Business industry experts often talk about how the Illawarra needs to transition from an industrial employment base to something else.

The upside is that according to the research paper statistics, this transition is already happening. And it appears that the traditional mining and manufacturing jobs are being replaced by employment in a range of sectors, which better insulates the Illawarra from the aftershocks of a downturn in any one area.

With the University of Wollongong in the Keira electorate, it could be expected that education would be a big employer.

In terms of the employment and training sector, Keira is the second highest in the state at 13.8 per cent - only the Blue Mountains ranks higher.

Education and training is also a growth area for Wollongong. It jumped seven places in the rankings - from 17 to 10 - and employs 3221 people.

Overall, education employs 12,850 Illawarra residents, which is more than the manufacturing sector (12,581).

So does community and personal services, which includes aged care workers and those in travel and tourism, with a figure of 14,640.

This field has been a big mover for employment in Wollongong, which has shot up the rankings since the 2006 Census, when it was ranked 22 across all NSW electorates. In 2011 it had climbed to seventh and is responsible for employing more than one in 10 workers at 11.9 per cent.

Kiama also experienced a surge in this field, jumping from 17 to nine and also boasting an 11.9 per cent employment level.

Also, given the region's ageing population, and the appeal of places like Shellharbour and Kiama as retirement destinations, this employment sector is tipped to boom in the years ahead.

Other big employers in the Illawarra are technical and tradespeople (20,007 people), healthcare and social assistance (17,040), construction (9883), accommodation and food (9345) and public administration (9261).

Forget perceptions, the reality is that it is no longer easy to create a stereotypical Illawarra worker because the variety of employment is far more diverse than in the heyday of the steelworks.