The primary sector (with examples of primary sector jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 15 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The products and services purchased by consumers exist because of the interplay of work carried out across the different economic sectors. The foundation of this is the primary sector, which provides the raw materials required for manufacturing. Exploring the primary sector, which encompasses a wide range of industries and different types of jobs, may help you discover a role that suits you. In this article, we define the primary sector, look at examples of primary sector jobs, examine how the primary sector differs from other sectors and explore scenarios that show how the sector works practically.

Defining the primary sector and examples of primary sector jobs

Extracting a raw material from the ground is an example of a primary sector job. At a fundamental level, work in the primary sector involves mining, harvesting or gathering natural resources. Primary sector businesses sometimes sell these resources directly to consumers, but more frequently, they sell them to other organisations to use in manufacturing or other commercial enterprises. These businesses are in the secondary and tertiary economic sectors.

In less developed economies, primary sector jobs may comprise the largest proportion of the economy. As an economy develops, there's often a shift towards employment outside the primary sector to other sectors, such as manufacturing. Even in these more developed economies, the primary sector remains important. There are many examples of different primary sector industries that you can work in, including:

Agriculture

There are many different forms of farming within the primary sector, including rearing livestock and growing crops. Farmers find and cultivate raw materials and then sell them directly to consumers or, more typically, to intermediaries before they reach them. Restaurants, supermarkets, wholesalers, fast food companies, pet food companies or even biofuel companies may all purchase raw materials from primary sector businesses involved in agriculture.

Related: A guide on how to become a farmer (plus skills and salary)

Fishing

Commercial fishing is another prominent primary sector job. The scale of fishing operations can vary from company to company. Some may operate a large vessel, or even multiple vessels, using mass gathering techniques to catch large quantities of fish. They may then sell these to food producers, supermarkets, wholesalers or other large industries. Some businesses operate on a smaller scale and sell to local restaurants or directly to consumers at markets.

Forestry

Forestry involves harvesting trees from tree farms or forests. Forestry companies typically sell the raw materials they harvest to various secondary and tertiary companies. For instance, the harvested trees may provide the raw materials for lumber construction or the production of furniture. Other companies may pulp the harvested wood to produce paper or process it to sell as fuel to consumers.

Related: A guide to land and environment jobs (including salary info)

Mining

Mining is the process of extracting ore or similar raw materials from the earth. Companies may employ different mining methods depending on the raw material they extract. Some may mine at the surface level, while others drill into the earth. Mining companies generally work with secondary and tertiary companies to refine the materials they extract into commodities that they can sell to consumers. For example, primary sector companies may sell crude oil to secondary sector businesses to refine into petroleum products to sell as fuel for transportation, heating and electricity generation.

How does the primary sector differ from other economic sectors?

The primary sector has a symbiotic relationship with the other economic sectors. They rely on each other in different ways while retaining their own unique qualities. Here are the key features of each sector and their interactions with the primary sector:

Secondary sector

Companies in the secondary sector directly use the raw materials that primary sector companies extract or harvest. The key difference is that they purchase the raw materials from primary sector businesses rather than obtain them themselves. They use these materials to manufacture products of their own. They may then sell these manufactured products directly to customers or to a tertiary sector business.

Related: What is the secondary business sector? (Plus examples)

Tertiary sector

Tertiary sector businesses typically provide some sort of service directly to customers. In providing this service, they may utilise raw materials obtained from primary sector businesses. Tertiary sector organisations may purchase materials directly from the primary sector. For example, a restaurant may use livestock from a farm when preparing and serving meals to customers. They may also purchase products from secondary sector businesses that obtain their raw materials from the primary sector to produce them. For example, public transportation providers may purchase fuel from secondary sector businesses that produce it from the crude oil that primary sector companies extract.

Quaternary sector

The quaternary sector comprises intellectual or knowledge-based industries, such as education, information technology, research or consulting. Quaternary sector enterprises may work directly with the primary sector, using their knowledge or intellectual commodities to help primary sector companies improve performance. For example, research institutions may provide guidance on more effective ways to extract raw materials. Information technology advances may also help to automate primary sector processes, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Scenario examples of the primary sector and how it interacts with other sectors

The most effective way to understand the primary sector and its role is to see how it interacts practically with other parts of the economy. Here are three scenario examples showing the interplay between the primary sector and aspects of the economy in different industries:

An example of the primary sector at work within the fuel industry

An oil extraction company drills into the surface of the earth to extract crude oil as a raw material. This extraction company is a primary sector business, but quaternary sector businesses heavily influence its work. Quaternary sector organisations often refine the methodologies of the extraction company. They can conduct research and surveys that help the extraction company identify the best locations in which to drill to find oil reservoirs. They can also devise new drilling techniques or help to draft safety procedures.

The primary sector extractors sell the crude oil to refineries in the secondary sector. The refineries transform crude oil into petroleum fuel-based products that consumers can use. They then sell this fuel to petrol stations, which provide a tertiary sector service to consumers. Fuel from the secondary sector also powers other tertiary sector services, such as public transport or electricity production.

An example of the primary sector at work within the hospitality industry

A restaurant is a tertiary sector business that provides meals to customers. The ingredients used by this tertiary sector business come from the primary sector. Numerous primary sector providers, such as farms or fishing operations, supply the produce the restaurants require. Some restaurants buy directly from farmers or producers in the primary sector, while others buy from secondary sector providers. For example, butchers purchase meat from farmers and then treat and prepare it for resale to consumers, which can include restaurants.

Many other secondary sector businesses use primary-sector-produced raw supplies to provide products to the hospitality industry. A brewery, for example, may use hops and other ingredients from primary sector farmers to create beers that they then sell to tertiary sector businesses. The people who run these breweries and the trained chefs who prepare meals in restaurants use their skills and knowledge acquired from the quaternary sector to carry out these processes.

Related: What are hospitality jobs? (A comprehensive career guide)

An example of the primary sector at work within the fashion industry

Clothing manufacturers in the secondary sector use various fabrics and other materials to create clothes. The fabrics they use aren't raw materials in themselves. Other secondary sector businesses create them. For example, these businesses treat and refine cotton to create different fabrics. Primary sector farmers harvest cotton plants to provide the cotton that they then sell to these secondary sector businesses. Quaternary sector knowledge on dyeing techniques, creating blended fabrics and treating the raw cotton in other ways inform their operations and help them to create a variety of fabrics for clothing manufacturers.

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