Australia’s transitioning to clean energy creating a renewables jobs boom

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Australia’s ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 will create a renewables jobs boom, but will also require a workforce transformation.

Australia’s ambitions are in line with global trends towards sustainability and the reduction of carbon emissions. The 2023-24 budget invested a further $4 billion in its plan to become a renewable energy superpower, lifting the Government’s total investment in this plan to over $40 billion.

As the energy sector shifts from traditional fossil fuels to renewable sources, there is a growing need for workers with new skills. Existing workers may require retraining, and new entrants to the workforce will need training in specific skills related to renewable technologies such as solar, wind, and battery storage.

The future of employment in the Australian renewable energy sector is not just promising; it’s already here. Investments in large-scale renewable projects are creating long-term employment opportunities. The sector’s growth is expected to continue as Australia moves towards its renewable energy targets.

An overview of Australia’s key ambitions in renewables

Australia aims to significantly increase the percentage of its energy generated from renewable sources. This includes solar, wind, hydroelectric, and biomass energy. The country has one of the highest potentials for solar energy production in the world and is also investing heavily in wind energy projects.

The Australian government has been working towards transitioning the country to a low-carbon economy. This involves not only increasing renewable energy production but also improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across various sectors.

To address the intermittency of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, Australia is focusing on developing and implementing energy storage solutions. This includes battery storage technologies, pumped hydroelectric storage, and other innovative storage methods. The government, along with private entities, is investing in research and development to advance renewable technologies, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.

Australia is also exploring the potential of becoming a major exporter of renewable energy, particularly through technologies like hydrogen fuel. There’s a focus on developing community-based and regional renewable energy projects to support local economies and increase energy independence in remote areas.

The country has been exploring the potential of offshore wind farms. Given its extensive coastline, there is significant potential for offshore wind energy development. The export of green hydrogen, created through renewable energy sources, is seen as a potential economic boon. Australia is investing in the development of green hydrogen projects and infrastructure for both domestic use and export markets.

Initiatives like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) are driving the growth of renewable energy projects. Solar farms, wind turbines, and grid-scale batteries are becoming increasingly common sights in the Australian landscape.

Source: World Economic Forum via YouTube

Workforce needs for clean energy transition

The Australian Government commissioned Jobs and Skills Australia to undertake a capacity study on the workforce needs for Australia’s transition to a clean energy economy. This study provides critical evidence and insights to support the workforce planning, policy development and program design needed to build a strong and vibrant clean energy sector.

To achieve the Australian Government’s ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, a significant workforce transformation is necessary. Over the next three decades, new job roles, skill sets, qualifications, training pathways, technologies, and industries will emerge in Australia.

While there are many occupations that form part of the clean energy workforce, the most critical are found within trades, technical occupations and engineering professions, where training times and licensing and accreditation requirements impose (justified) barriers to entry.

The study identifies 38 occupations that are critical to at least one segment of this workforce. Demand for these 38 occupations is likely to increase by around 15% in the next seven years to deliver the net zero transformation. This represents an increase of almost 240,000 workers.

Source: The Clean Energy Generation © Commonwealth of Australia

Australia’s clean energy workforce

The study includes preliminary economic modelling of three possible future scenarios with the central scenario being broadly aligned with Government climate and energy policy.

The preliminary modelling shows employment growth is likely to be around 7.6% across the next seven years in the clean energy supply sector in the main central scenario. Overall, the clean energy supply workforce is likely to grow from around 53,000 today to 84,000 by 2050 in the central scenario.

Depending on different policy approaches to electrifying the National Energy Market (NEM) and reaching renewable energy goals, the preliminary modelling shows Australia will need approximately 26,000 to 42,000 more electricians in the next seven years, and the clean energy supply workforce will likely need to grow from approximately 53,000 workers today to 84,000 by 2050.

There is strong growth in trades and technical occupations, particularly for occupations that are critical to clean energy such as Electricians, Metal Fitters and Machinists, and Plant Operators.

Current workforce

Predominantly male
A higher proportion of women work in white collar segments (education, training, research etc). Where women are represented in clean energy, they are dominate in roles like general clerks, office managers, accounting clerks, commercial cleaners and interior design, rather than trade qualified and engineering roles.

On par with transitioning sectors for age of the workforce
The segments with the youngest workforce are energy usage and performance, while the oldest are transport and some enabling segments.


More highly qualified than transitioning sectors
In general, the clean energy workforce contains higher proportions of VET-qualified workers than the broader labour force. The clean energy supply segment comprises a larger proportion of workers with higher education qualifications than the transitioning segment which includes workers in coal-fired power stations.

Underrepresented among First Nations people
A smaller proportion of First Nations people work in clean energy than the broader labour force. Notably, a higher proportion work in the transitioning segment, including coal mining.

Typically paid less than in transitioning sectors
In general, clean energy sectors lag behind the pay and conditions available in more established sectors.

Underrepresented among migrants
Around 26% of the clean energy workforce were born overseas, with some of the enabling segments having the highest proportions (over 30%). Workers come from all around the world, but the largest group are from Southern Asia, followed by North-West Europe.

Predominantly employed in the construction phase
Unlike traditional energy employment, there can be a higher degree of variability and project-based work in clean energy. For example, large-scale solar farms are a project-based industry where businesses may lack certainty while waiting to win contracts, secure finance or gain approvals. Workforce needs are also typically front-ended (during construction phases), meaning there are fewer long-term employment opportunities.

Employed across Australia
Regional differences mean different locations are better suited to certain technologies and therefore attract different types of workers. Tasmania has a high concentration of clean energy supply workers working in hydroelectricity, whereas Queensland and NSW have a high share of workers in transitioning sectors. Workers are often needed in regional and remote areas away from sources of labour supply. In some instances, this requires short-term moves or fly-in-flyout work, which can be inaccessible for apprentices, particularly in their first year.

Source: The Clean Energy Generation © Commonwealth of Australia

Summary

Australia is at the forefront of an unprecedented renewable energy revolution. This transition is not just about embracing cleaner energy sources; it’s fueling a significant jobs boom across the nation. While essential for environmental sustainability and economic growth, this transition presents several workforce challenges.

One of the central challenges of this boom is the transition of workers from traditional energy sectors to renewables. Initiatives for reskilling and upskilling are crucial. Training programs and partnerships between educational institutions and the energy sector are vital to equip the existing workforce with the necessary skills for renewable energy jobs.

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