Drivers and opportunities

The Illawarra region experienced above average employment growth between 2006 and 2011 (6% compared with 4% in Regional NSW). Manufacturing is the leading contributor to the region's output, accounting for 11.5% of GRP in 2013. Affected by broader sector-wide trends, Manufacturing declined between 2006 and 2011, experiencing a modest return to growth during 2011-13.

The share of employment in the region's services based sectors increased three percentage points over the period 2006-2011 (from 73% to 76%), reflecting a trend toward knowledge and services based industries. Health Care and Social Assistance is the largest employment sector in the region, accounting for 15% of employment. It recorded compound annual growth in GRP between 2006 and 2013 of 9.8%.

The Financial and Insurance, and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services sectors also grew by more than 6.5%, and claimed a greater share of regional output than in other regions. Together they contributed over $1.5 billion to the Illawarra economy in 2013. The region's Retail Trade, and Food and Accommodation Services sectors – closely associated with the tourism industry – employ around 21% of the region's workforce. Together, they contribute over $1.2 billion to GRP each year.

The Education and Training sector is one of the region's top contributors to both employment and output – driven by 14 TAFE campuses and the University of Wollongong. It is also an important export sector for the region, with international students comprising around 40% of the student population at the University of Wollongong.

Port Kembla continues to be a major driver of economic activity and employment in the region. It indirectly sustains over 3,500 jobs, contributing $418 million to the regional economy each year.

Despite volatility in the commodities market, Mining experienced 8.9% growth between 2006 and 2013. It contributed $823 million to the regional economy in 2013. The region is traditionally known for its coal mining and blue metal in particular.

Although the unemployment rate in the Illawarra fell to 6.9% in 2011 (down 0.8% from 2006), it remains above the Regional NSW average (6.2%). Youth unemployment is also higher than Regional NSW as a whole (15.4% compared to 13.2%).

Around 56.8% of the population have post-school qualifications (either university or technical), higher than the Regional NSW average of 53.7%.