Australia’s capital city might be small, but it’s also a leader in providing in-demand job opportunities for graduates. Thousands of people move to Canberra every year, many of them jobseekers who have just completed their studies. Thanks to this influx of young people, the median age of Canberra residents is lower than the rest of the country.
Canberra is a meticulously planned city, resulting in suburbs connected by strategic roads and beautiful parklands. Commuting times are generally within 20 minutes or less, and there are over 2,400 km of dedicated bicycle trails and lanes.
Canberra is able to offer a range of job opportunities unavailable anywhere else due to its position as the seat of government, but they can be difficult to secure. Positions in the Australian Public Service graduate programs, for example, are highly competitive. Bigger departments can receive as many as 2,000 applicants for only 30 graduate positions. While there are fewer opportunities in terms of numbers, the jobs that do exist are often lucrative and ideal for kick-starting a graduate career.
Canberra hosts 1.9% of all graduate employment opportunities in Australia, but these jobs create 2.22% of income earned in the country due to the higher salaries on offer than the opportunities available in other parts of Australia. 3.6% of all Australian graduates looking for work will find it in the ACT. Canberra’s main sectors are public administration and safety, with the head of most Australian Public Service agencies located in the city, as well as a number of Australian Defence Force institutions.
Figure 1: Number of employing businesses in Canberra vs other Australian cities
Figure 2: Employment status of graduates with bachelor degrees in Canberra
91% of graduates who hold a bachelor-level degree have found employment in Canberra, 73% of all graduates have found full-time work. However, it’s worth taking into consideration that the low number of unemployed graduates could be due to many job-seekers coming from another area and only moving to Canberra once employment is secured.
Figure 3: Canberra annual growth rates vs other cities in Australia
Canberra’s growth rate is fairly low when compared to other major cities in Australia. At 6.1%, only Hobart and Adelaide have a lower growth rate and Canberra is predicted to grow at a speed well below the national average of 8.3%. Utilities and mining have experienced a negative growth rate, offsetting the growth in the accommodation and food service industries, as well as healthcare and social assistance.
Figure 4: Annual growth rate across industries in Canberra
Figure 5: Unemployment rates in Canberra vs other cities in Australia
Canberra has a slightly lower unemployment rate for both youth and the general population than the Australian average. However, the rate of graduate unemployment is the lowest in the country, well below the national average of 11.3%. Once again, the low rate of unemployment is probably largely due to the lower numbers of people moving to Canberra without having first secured a position.
Figure 6: Graduate unemployment rates in ACT vs other locations in Australia
GradAustralia surveyed graduates, and the five most common job titles in Canberra are:
The Australian government and the ACT government are the biggest graduate employers in the city, taking graduates from a range of disciplines, including management, intelligence, environmental management, international relations, law, business, engineering, science and HR.
Canberra has the highest median and means employee incomes in Australia, significantly higher than the Australian mean of $58,011 and median of $46,999. Canberra employees earn a median of $62,618, with a mean income of $68,084. The mean income is 8.7% higher than the median earnings, suggesting that graduate jobs in Canberra offer higher wages in general, but that there are a number of positions available with high earning potential.
Figure 7: Median and mean employee income in Canberra compared with other capital cities
Figure 8: ACT median graduate starting salary vs other states/territories
Graduates in the ACT earn $4,000 more per year than the national average, with only graduates who secure positions in the Northern Territory earning more on average. In Canberra itself, starting salaries for graduates can be significantly higher. The disciplines that earn the most are law and the sciences, while health and medical sciences start out on a lower salary. That being said, the average salary for someone entering the health and medical science industry in Canberra is still significantly higher than the median graduate starting salary figures for the ACT.
Figure 9: Average graduate starting salary by discipline in Canberra
Figure 10: Average hours worked per week by graduates in Canberra
While just under 80% of graduates in Canberra say they work 40 or fewer hours per week, there are a number of people who work far more. A further 21% work more than 40 hours, with a small percentage of graduates stating they average between 70-80 hours a week. While these positions might be in the minority, it’s worth considering that the competitiveness of many graduate jobs in Canberra, as well as the higher salaries, might call for an increased work week when compared to other major Australian cities. In general graduate positions in Canberra actually offer a shorter average number of working hours when compared to many locations around the country, one of the advantages of working for the government.
Figure 11: Average work hours per week for graduates in Canberra compared with other cities
When asked to rate their job satisfaction out of 10, the average graduate working in Canberra scored their satisfaction at 8.5. That makes Canberra third last out of all the Australian major cities, although Canberra graduates are level with the national average for job satisfaction.
Figure 12: Average job satisfaction score in Canberra vs other cities
Figure 13: Average diversity score in Canberra vs other cities
In GradAustralia's survey of Australian graduates, Canberra rated well for diversity, ranking in the top half of Australian cities and just slightly higher than the national average.
The ACT is the only state or territory in Australia where, on average, females are likely to start on a higher wage than their male counterparts. A female graduate in the ACT has an average starting salary of around $59,000, which is $6,000 more than the national average for female graduates. At $56,000, male graduates in the ACT will earn only $1,000 more than the average starting wage for male graduates across Australia. Only the Northern Territory pays female graduates a higher average starting salary, whereas men are likely to earn more on average if they start a job in the Northern Territory or Western Australia.
Figure 14: Median graduate starting salary for males and females in ACT vs other states
Positions in the lucrative Australian Public Service graduate programs in Canberra are highly competitive. The process of applying takes around eight months and is not a typical job application, involving role-playing and psychometric tests, as well as interviews.
The most sought-after employers in Canberra include:
When looking for graduate jobs, keep an eye on new listings on the GradAustralia website, and consider attending a graduate careers fair. Tertiary to Work provides opportunities to students of all disciplines, usually held in March each year.
Universities also offer various career events to help you learn more about your graduate jobs and employers:
Many employers also offer ‘entry-level’ jobs that are not specifically advertised as ‘graduate’ jobs. Keep an eye out for these on job boards such as SEEK.
If you're set on gaining a position in Canberra but still not sure what you want to do, or if you haven't had any luck locking down a graduate job, you might want to consider:
Lastly, if you’re not sure if moving to Canberra is the right path for you, check out our comprehensive moving guide.