White collar employment outperforming in South Australia

Posted: 5th Dec

South Australia’s professional services sector is growing at a faster rate than employment generally, turning around a disturbing trend in the late 1990s when jobs were fleeing east, BankSA’s Trendseconomic bulletin, released today, says.

The report, compiled in conjunction with Deloitte Access Economics, shows the professional services sector in SA has grown by 62 per cent over the past two decades, compared with an increase in employment across the board of 24 per cent.

BankSA chief executive Nick Reade said it was a welcome trend which provided a clear career path for professionals keen to develop their careers here.

“Twenty years ago we saw significant service sector job losses to the eastern states as bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne grew at our expense,” he said.

“Not only have the brakes now been put on this trend, South Australia has solidified and grown its professional services sector over the past two decades.”

Lawyers and accountants represent the largest single employment categories, while substantial employment growth has occurred over the past 20 years for veterinarians (181 per cent), architects (80 per cent) and computer programmers (118 per cent).

On the downside the number of scientists has fallen from 3700 to 2600.

“While a decade ago, one in every 20 jobs was in professional services, now that figure has risen to one in every 16,” Mr Reade said.

“With professional services employees having longer careers than their ‘blue collar’ counterparts, the situation is as positive for workers themselves, as it is for the companies that employ them.”

Mr Reade said he saw an opportunity for SA to grow in the “middle office” space, with a lower cost base locally and high skill levels.

“We do need to influence businesses that might have a national head office elsewhere — they can tend to be a bit capital city-centric, in terms of Sydney and perhaps Melbourne — but there are significant cost advantages, there’s an ability to try things in South Australia, it’s a good test market.

“It’s a fairly low risk market to give things a go. More and more we’re doing that in BankSA within the broader Westpac group.’’

Mr Reade said Westpac/BankSA itself had a number of middle and back office operations in SA.

“Pleasingly for the majority of professional workers, remuneration levels also continue to stack up well compared to other industry sectors, with professional services employees now earning 23 per cent more than the average South Australian worker,’’ the report says.

The report does identify the risk posed by digital disruption however.

“For example, the rapid rise of artificial intelligence and automation poses risks for white collar professions — just like it does for many other industry sectors,’’ the report says.

“At this point, it is also worth remembering a recent Deloitte study of census data since 1871, which revealed that technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed during that time.’’