Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Industries

You’ve heard of primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Did you know there are primary, secondary and tertiary industries?

It is easier to describe the Australian workplace by dividing it into different categories like industries. This helps to distinguish the different activities and jobs that drive the Australian economy.

Primary Industry

These industries produce raw materials like wheat, wool and meat and make use of natural resources such as minerals and forests.

In the past:

Primary industry was the leading sector in Australian industry. People used to say that Australia’s economy was `riding on the sheep’s back’.

Right now:

Natural resources are no longer viewed as limitless and the industry is trying to balance using resources and looking after them so they will still be around in the future (sustainable development). There is also a trend to lower employment in farming, and more jobs in mining.

Secondary Industry

This is the manufacturing industry, where basic materials are turned into sale-able products, such as the production of clothing from cotton or wool or the manufacture of electronics or machines.

In the past:

Secondary industry played a powerful economic role, fuelled by the waves of migration of the 1950s and 1960s.

Right now:

Increased overseas competition, trade, and the phasing out of tariff protection has reduced this industry. Employment has been reduced, but there is growth in `sunrise industries’ such as computer manufacturing and bio- engineering.

Tertiary Industry

This industry is concerned with the framework and foundations of business and the provision of services. It includes such things as banking and transport as well as the direct marketing or selling of products.

In the past:

Tertiary industry serviced the needs of the secondary and primary industries.

Right now:

Massive growth in information-based services, hospitality, tourism and personal services. `Post-industrial economy’ is the term used to describe the expansion of service industries as the major area of economic activity and employment.

And now quaternary industry?!

Web without wires, the internet, information technology – the e-economy – are all places where a growing number of people work. But unlike primary, secondary and tertiary industries, their output can be a lot harder to define.

In the past:

This was considered a service or tertiary industry.

Right now:

A new global economy with internet based trade and commerce operating easily across national boundaries, employing an international workforce.

Feeling industrious?

Fill in the blanks with the relevant industry sector. Remember that some industries may not fit exactly into one definition or they may fit into more than one sector.


ActivityIndustry SectorProducts/outcomes
Aerospace (the term used to describe the industry that researches, designs and manufacture vehicles moving through earth and space)
Agriculture (the science and business of cultivating soil, and producing crops and livestock)
Automotive (the design and manufacturing of motor vehicles)
Banking (also known as banking and finance the management of money, credit and investments)
Insurance (the term used to define the industry that specialises in compensation in the case of damage or loss of property or persons)
Clothing and footwear (the terms used for the industry that specialises in the production and manufacturing of clothing and footwear)
Electronics (the design and manufacturing of electrical goods)
Forestry (growing, harvesting, importing and exporting timber)
Hospitality (broad term surrounding the industries of food service, entertainment, accommodation and tourism)
Manufacturing (the industry that includes the businesses involved in the transformation of raw materials into goods)
Retail (the sale of goods and merchandise)
E-commerce (business activity conducted via the internet)
Water Supply (the industry that provides water to our taps)


Australian Curriculum Links:

Work Studies/Year 9/Skills for learning and work: Work skills
Investigate a wide range of occupations, and the skills and personal qualities required in these fields.

Work Studies/Year 10/Career and life design: The nature of work
Analyse emerging approaches to work and the implications these have for workers to be flexible, proactive and responsive

Relevant Resources

About Unions, Future of work
Union membership – next gen workers
Read More