Manufacturing is in the doldrums, right? Hammered by a high dollar and (if you believe The Australian and The Australian Financial Review) restrictive workplace laws, our manufacturers just can’t take a trick.

Except, employment in manufacturing rose in the three months to February, the first rise since mid-2010.

New employment data from the ABS today provides the quarterly breakdown of industry employment. It shows that manufacturing employment rose in both seasonally-adjusted (18,000) and trend (5000) terms. According to the industry sub-division breakdowns, strong growth occurred in the transport equipment and machinery areas.

There hasn’t been as big a rise in manufacturing in trend terms since early 2008.

Mining continued its strong growth, up another 10,000 in trend terms to just under 250,000. The plentiful rain is also driving up employment in agriculture, with another rise in the rural workforce to 332,000. The long-term trend in agricultural employment isn’t healthy, and hasn’t been for a long-time, but over the last year the sector has been steadily adding workers

As has been the case for a long time, health and caring services continued its remorseless growth. That sector added 16,000 jobs in the quarter, to take it to 1.36 million people, or just under 12% of the entire workforce, easily our biggest-employing sector.

But consultants, lawyers and other professionals are competing hard with health and mining for the strongest growth: that sector put on 24,000 jobs seasonally-adjusted, mostly women; in trend terms that was softened to just under 10,000. In five years, that sector has moved from 7% to nearly 8% of the entire workforce.

Retail and construction, however, went backwards. There was a big fall in construction jobs — 16,000 seasonally adjusted. The sector has now gone backwards for a full year in employment as residential construction has slumped while larger-scale mining and civil engineering projects (which use less labour and more equipment than housing construction) have surged ahead.

Retail also fell about 8000 jobs to 1.21 million positions, reflecting two out of three poor months (December and February) where part-time retail positions failed to show up, particularly for women.

Those predicting a white-collar recession though may have to eat their words: financial services employment fell less than 4000 in the quarter, and remains at a higher level than 12 months ago despite constant stories of banks laying off staff.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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