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Complementary Health


This page provides information and data on the Complementary Health sector.

Complementary Health covers a number of sectors involved in providing treatments, practices, products and services across the following disciplines:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Ayurveda
  • Kinesiology
  • Massage and Remedial Massage Therapy
  • Reflexology
  • Shiatsu
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Remedial Massage.

Mainly small businesses operate within the Complementary Health service areas. The location of these small businesses is driven by population distribution, with more than 80% located across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. The job roles are various.

The Complementary Health Industry Reference Committee (IRC) has responsibility for nine qualifications, packaged within the  HLT – Health Training Package. To address workforce skills issues, the Complementary Health IRC has identified qualifications which require further investigation and consultation within the sector. The areas covered by the qualifications are:

  • Massage Therapy and Remedial Massage Therapy (two existing qualifications and one new qualification)
  • Ingestive modalities (four new qualifications in Naturopathy, Western Herbal Medicine, Nutrition and Homeopathy).

Information soured from the most recently available Skills Forecast, the Complementary Health IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

For information on other health-related training and employment, visit the Health industry page and the various sectors.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and skills forecasts

The Complementary Health Industry Reference Committee (IRC) was not required to submit an annual update to their 2019 Skills Forecast during 2020. As such, the version published in 2019 remains the most recently published Skills Forecast for this industry.

Employment trends

Please note: any employment projections outlined below were calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics prior to COVID-19.

Employment snapshot

Since 2000, the employment levels have grown for the complementary health occupations of Complementary Health Therapists, Nutrition Professionals, Massage Therapists, but declined in 2020 for Personal Care Consultants. The Massage Therapist workforce had the most significant growth, from 3,300 in 2000 to its peak of 19,800 in 2018, before declining to 13,500 in 2020. Projections to 2024 indicate growth in the Message Therapists and Personal Care Consultants occupations.

Training trends

Training snapshot

In 2019, there were 7,950 program enrolments in Complementary Health-related qualifications. The downward trend continued from 2015 when program enrolments peaked. There were about 2,500 fewer enrolments in 2019 compared with 2018 and nearly 3,000 fewer enrolments in 2018 compared with 2017. Program completions declined between 2015 and 2017 and then rose in 2018 before marked decline in 2019 to about 2,680.

About 79% of program enrolments were at the diploma or higher level in 2019, with the remaining 21% at the certificate IV level.

The highest proportion of program enrolments was in Remedial Massage qualifications (69%), followed by Massage Therapy qualifications (21%). The main intended occupation was Massage Therapist, followed by Natural Remedy Consultant.

The majority of training was delivered by private training providers (78%), followed by TAFE institutes (19%). The majority of subjects were funded by domestic fee for service (67%) and government funding (24%).

Close to a quarter of students were located in New South Wales (24%), very closely followed by Queensland and Victoria (both 23%). Nearly a third of training was delivered in Queensland (28%), followed by Victoria (27%) and New South Wales (25%).

There were insufficient enrolments in apprenticeships or traineeships to allow analysis.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, please visit NCVER’s VET Students by Industry. If you are prompted to log in, please select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region please visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, please sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The Complementary Health IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast identified the top priority skills for the sector as teamwork and communication, emotional intelligence, problem solving, self-management and critical thinking.

The top five identified generic skills are:

  • Customer Service / Marketing
  • Communication / Virtual collaboration / Social intelligence
  • Learning agility / Information literacy / Intellectual autonomy and self-management (adaptability)
  • Design mindset / Thinking critically / System thinking / Solving problems
  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) (Foundation skills).

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers in the sector were communication skills and research. The most advertised occupations were Dietitian, followed by Massage Therapist. The top employers were the New South Wales Government and the Victorian Government.

According to the Complementary Health IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast, over recent times treatment practices for Massage Therapists, as well as the wider Complementary Health professional workforce, have evolved significantly. Such change has resulted in evolving skill and competence requirements for the workforce.

The sector overall has been experiencing several challenges which are impacting workforce skill requirements and in summary include:

  • Government policy/legislation related to private health insurance
  • An ageing workforce and an ageing population
  • Skills shortages
  • Employment status and earnings.

Private health insurance providers will no longer be subsidised for providing rebates across 12–16 natural therapies starting from April 2019, as a result of the 2015 Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies. Most of the therapies under the remit of the Complementary Health IRC are affected, including Ayurveda, Aromatherapy, Kinesiology, Shiatsu, Reflexology and TCM Remedial Massage. Remedial Massage Therapy is excluded from the proposed change and will continue to attract rebates.

The Commonwealth Department of Health announced the Natural Therapies Review 2019–20 in April 2019. The Review is an update on the 2015 Review to assess the clinical effectiveness of the 16 natural therapies excluded from private health insurance from 1 April 2019. The Review will examine additional evidence which has emerged since the previous review and provide advice to Government on whether any of the natural therapies should be covered by private health insurance and therefore eligible for subsidy through the Private Health Insurance Rebate. The Natural Therapies Working Committee will be effective for the period 1 August 2019 to 31 August 2020, with a possibility of extension, and will report to the Chief Executive Officer of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). See the Terms of Reference for further information.

The ageing workforce trend presents a new challenge to adopt workplace arrangements that will retain a substantial level of mature-age workers. Proactively implementing measures to retain mature-age workers, such as flexible working conditions, is particularly important in the Complementary Health sector due to the low number of new graduates entering the workforce. In some cases, over half (54%) of the workforce in some Complementary Health roles (e.g. Complementary Health Therapists) are aged 45 years and over (registering an average age of 47 years, compared to the all-job average of 40 years). Efforts to retain the ageing workforce will therefore be important to balance the lack of new entrants to the sector, and to establish valuable mentoring and training opportunities for new graduates run by older and experienced workers.

A trend associated with the ageing of the population, which will continue in the long-term, is that client needs are changing, and the complexity of conditions presented today to therapists is extensive. Individuals with a chronic disease diagnosis are more likely to use complementary therapies compared with the general population. The data also shows that a high percentage of Australian women (75.6%) are consulting with Complementary Health Therapists for conditions such as back pain. Significantly, this figure is higher than the percentage of women consulting with a medical doctor (58.4%). The Complementary Health sector is now tasked with treating individuals with varying degrees of needs, and the workforce therefore needs to be better equipped with the skills and knowledge to handle the range of presentations, especially those which comprise higher complexity.

Within the Complementary Health sector, skills shortages are seen to be manifesting in insufficiently trained practitioners. The skills shortage partially stems from historically inconsistent training provided by educational institutions, resulting in varied levels of skills and abilities. In addition to the inadequate quality of training, there is also a scarce quantity of experienced teaching staff, with Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) at times resorting to recruiting newly graduated students for teaching positions. In addition to this, Complementary Health Practitioners who have gained their qualification/s through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) do not meet the educational criteria necessary to be recognised by certain health fund providers.

Due to these challenges, certain job roles in the Complementary Health sector, such as Complementary Health Therapist and Massage Therapist job roles, have been listed under the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa's Short-Term Skills Occupation List – a list which specifies occupations for 482 visa and migration application. Addressing these skills gaps is necessary, principally due to the increasing level of demand from an ageing population, who supplement Complementary Health services as part of palliative care.

Research has found that most Complementary Health practitioners work part-time. For example a recent survey by the Shiatsu Therapy Association Australia (STAA) found the majority (75%) of Shiatsu Practitioners work part-time. Part-time employment has a flow-on effect on the level of potential earnings for workers.

COVID-19 impact

The following consider the impact of COVID-19 on the Complementary Health sector. For further information please refer to government departments and industry bodies listed below under Links and resources.

The Bowen Therapists Federation of Australia has provided COVID-19 advice to members regarding safely operating during the pandemic, including information about the COVID-19 infection control training module available online.

The Australian Kinesiology Association has provided COVID-19 information for its community on its website.

COVID-19 presents unique challenges in the massage therapy clinical context because one of the key measures massage therapists currently have to control the spread of the virus is social or spatial distancing. Until a vaccine is widely available, the only strategies to contain the virus are non-pharmaceutical. It is obviously not possible for massage therapists to socially or spatially distance when they work so every treatment that a therapist undertakes during the pandemic involves identifying the risks versus benefits for the specific client and their presenting condition, and the public health considerations associated with compromising social distancing measures. Therapists must consider the current knowledge about COVID-19 when conducting their risk assessments. The AMT has taken a precautionary approach in the development of a suite of COVID-19 resources or its members.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2020, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2024
    • 2522 Complementary Health Therapists
    • 2511 Nutrition Professionals
    • 4116 Massage Therapists
    • 4515 Personal Care Consultants.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Employed persons by occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards 6291.0.55.003 - EQ08, viewed 1 August 2020

  • Employed total by ANZSCO four-digit selected occupations, 2000 to 2020, May quarter
    • 2522 Complementary Health Therapists
    • 2511 Nutrition Professionals
    • 4116 Massage Therapists
    • 4515 Personal Care Consultants.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • HLT – Health Training Package
  • Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine
    • HLT42707 - Certificate IV in Aromatherapy
    • HLT42712 - Certificate IV in Aromatherapy
    • HLT51407 - Diploma of Aromatherapy
    • HLT52315 - Diploma of Clinical Aromatherapy
    • HLT60907 - Advanced Diploma of Aromatic Medicine.
  • Ayurveda
    • HLT41207 - Certificate IV in Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultation
    • HLT41212 - Certificate IV in Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultation
    • HLT52615 - Diploma of Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultation
    • HLT60707 - Advanced Diploma of Ayurveda
    • HLT60712 - Advanced Diploma of Ayurveda
    • HLT62615 - Advanced Diploma of Ayurveda.
  • Kinesiology
    • HLT42807 - Certificate IV in Kinesiology
    • HLT42812 - Certificate IV in Kinesiology
    • HLT51507 - Diploma of Kinesiology
    • HLT52415 - Diploma of Kinesiology.
  • Massage Therapy
    • HLT40307 - Certificate IV in Massage Therapy Practice
    • HLT40312 - Certificate IV in Massage Therapy Practice
    • HLT42015 - Certificate IV in Massage Therapy.
  • Naturopathy, Homoeopathy and Western Herbal Medicine
    • HLT60102 - Advanced Diploma of Western Herbal Medicine
    • HLT60107 - Advanced Diploma of Western Herbal Medicine
    • HLT60112 - Advanced Diploma of Western Herbal Medicine
    • HLT60507 - Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy
    • HLT60512 - Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy
    • HLT60612 - Advanced Diploma of Homoeopathy.
  • Nutritional Medicine
    • HLT61007 - Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine
    • HLT61012 - Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine.
  • Reflexology
    • HLT51707 - Diploma of Reflexology
    • HLT51712 - Diploma of Reflexology
    • HLT52515 - Diploma of Reflexology.
  • Remedial Massage
    • HLT50302 - Diploma of Remedial Massage
    • HLT50307 - Diploma of Remedial Massage
    • HLT52015 - Diploma of Remedial Massage.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine Remedial Massage, Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies
    • HLT50112 - Diploma of Traditional Chinese Medicine Remedial Massage (An Mo Tui Na)
    • HLT50202 - Diploma of Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies
    • HLT50207 - Diploma of Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies
    • HLT50212 - Diploma of Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies
    • HLT52115 - Diploma of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Remedial Massage
    • HLT52215 - Diploma of Shiatsu and Oriental Therapies.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

HLT – Health Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2019 commencements
  • 2010 to 2019 completions
  • 2019 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2019 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Complementary Health IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2020, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2020,

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2017 and June 2020 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

ANZSCO occupations have been used as industry filters because they provide more relevant job vacancy data for this sector.

  • Generic skills / Occupations / Employers
    • 2511 Nutrition Professionals
    • 2522 Complementary Health Therapists
    • 4515 Personal Care Consultants
    • 4116 Massage Therapists.
Updated: 25 Nov 2020
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