Tasmania should target growth in high-skill and high-productivity industries if it wants to increase wages, demographer Lisa Denny says.
The state's relatively low wages were brought back into focus by a pay and conditions dispute at McCain Foods' Smithton plant.
The Australia Manufacturing Workers' Union said the workers were paid about 15 per cent less than McCain workers in similar roles in Ballarat.
The company said the idea of "aligning our costs with our plants on the mainland" did not take into account that Tasmania was "already an incredibly cost-intensive place to do business".
Unions Tasmania secretary Jessica Munday said Tasmanian average wages being well below the national average hurt workers, families and the economy and there was no reason for it.
Economist Saul Eslake said Tasmania would need to lift productivity if it was to increase wages without costing jobs.
He argued improving "appallingly low levels" of educational achievement was the main way to achieve that.
Dr Denny said her take was the state's industry structure was the key factor in its relatively low average wages.
She said Tasmania had a bigger proportion of low-skill and low-pay industry sectors compared with other states.
"And, on top of this, we have relatively lower levels of productivity in these sectors too, having implications for wages," Dr Denny said.
"If we really want to increase our wages, then we need to do something about what industry sectors we target for growth in employment and relative contribution to the economy: high skill, high productivity and, subsequently, higher wages and, more than likely, more competitive."
To achieve that, Dr Denny said, the state needed a strategic industry policy that looked at the whole economy and its composition, including the proportions of jobs in various sectors, full-time and part-time work and by gender and assessment of comparative and competitive advantage and market demand.
Then, she argued, growth targets supported by education and training provision would be needed.
The "tradition" of Tasmania having the lowest average wages continued in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent average wages figures.
In November, Tasmanian full-time adult average weekly ordinary time earnings were the lowest of any state or territory.
The Tasmanian figure was $1488.10, compared with $1711.60 nationally and averages above $1800 in mining-heavy Western Australia and the public servant-laden ACT.