While Australia's policies, funding and ideas are well placed to push forward a speedy energy transformation, we are running the risk of being unable to meet the new climate targets unless we can find skilled workforce to keep pace with the change.
According to Clean Energy Australia's 2023 report, renewable energy workforce demand already outstrips supply and will most certainly expand substantially this decade. With global competition rising and skill shortages persisting, Australia requires a collaborative and coordinated approach across governments and different sectors to increase the attraction and retention of the clean energy workforce.
In this article, we will explore the skill challenges we are currently facing in the clean energy industries and the government's initiatives to address the shortage, before laying out the benefits of investing in clean energy workforce and Transgrid's commitment to creating job opportunities in the renewable energy sector.
The urgent need for skilled workers in clean industries
The share of renewable electricity generation in Australia has doubled over the last 10 years, this is putting pressure on clean energy projects with our ambitious emissions target. The transformation of Australia's energy system requires an urgent focus on upskilling tens of thousands of workers. This massive shift to clean energy requires not only the construction of infrastructure and enhancement of energy storage but also a substantial investment in training and education to support the transition to 100% renewables by 2050 because we anticipate these shortages are likely to increase over the coming decade.
The skills challenge in clean energy industries
As the demand for clean energy grows, so does the need for skilled workers in the sector. To reach our interim 70% emissions reduction target by 2035, Australia must address several key skill shortages, including:
- Engineering and technical expertise. Engineers, technicians, and specialists in renewable energy technologies are vital for the design, construction, and maintenance of clean energy infrastructure.
- Construction and installation. Skilled workers are needed to build and install clean energy projects at both a household and utility scale. Such as rooftop solar, solar farms, wind turbines, and energy storage facilities.
- Operations and maintenance. A workforce trained in maintaining and operating renewable energy systems is crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainability of these investments.
- Energy management and efficiency. Experts in energy management and efficiency can help businesses and households reduce energy consumption and transition to cleaner energy sources. Skilled workers are also needed for building and retrofitting energy efficient homes, and in clean transport.
Government initiatives to address the skill shortage
To tackle the skill shortages in the clean energy sector, the Australian government has implemented several programs and initiatives, as highlighted in the Federal Government's 2022-23 Budget:
- Investing in vocational education and training (VET) courses. The government is supporting VET courses focused on clean energy skills, preparing individuals for careers in the sector. They have committed $62 million towards the Skilling the Clean Energy Workforce, including financial support, assistance, and mentoring to 10,000 New Energy apprenticeships as part of a $100 million commitment over ten years.
- Building on transferrable skills. Australian governments are in the process of negotiating a new National Skills Agreement (NSA) which will lift the level of national investment in core skills programs like TAFE and apprenticeships, while also delivering new opportunities for cross-skilling and upskilling workers so that workers with existing skills can rapidly transition to clean energy jobs.
- Promoting diversity and inclusivity. A report published by the Clean Energy Council in 2021 showed that women are underrepresented in senior leadership across the clean energy industry, and only 0.8% of the clean energy workforce identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander compared to 3.3 % of the Australian population. Following last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit, there’s a strong recognition of the challenges and opportunities facing women and First Nations people participating in the clean energy transition, and that in order to attract a larger pool of talent, we need to create a diverse and inclusive clean energy workforce.
- Offering financial incentives. Grants and subsidies for individuals and businesses pursuing careers in clean energy can help drive interest in the sector and reduce the financial burden of training. The government has allocated $1.9 billion to establish the Powering the Regions Fund, which will support new jobs, decarbonisation of emissions-intensive industries, and help ensure regional Australians drive Australia’s transformation into a renewable energy superpower. Additionally, $71.9 million has been dedicated to building a Hydrogen Hub in Townsville to fast-track Australia’s green hydrogen industry, taking the Albanese Government's planned investments in regional hydrogen hubs to over $525 million.
- Collaborations with educational institutions and industry leaders. Partnerships between the government, educational institutions, and industry leaders can create tailored training programs that address specific skill gaps in the sector. The government is also investing $2.2 million towards developing a Guarantee of Origin Certificate scheme to allow markets to verify and value renewable electricity, hydrogen, and green commodities.
The Clean Jobs Plan outlines 12 major policy opportunities that can put 76,000 Australians to work, reboot the economy, and tackle long-term challenges including climate change. It also provides specific analysis for each state and territory, identifying 5 priority areas for each that will generate large numbers of jobs quickly, while also complementing current economic plans. For example, utility scale renewable energy in NSW can create 5,000 - 5,500 high and low skilled jobs:
The benefits of investing in clean energy skills
Investing in the upskilling of Australia's workforce has numerous benefits, as highlighted by the Climate Council’s Power Up report:
- Job creation. Investing in skill training for renewable energy can create an extra 30,000 jobs in Australia as we shift to net-zero emissions.
- Economic growth. A skilled workforce can drive economic growth by attracting investments in renewable energy projects and increasing Australia's global competitiveness in the clean energy market.
- Climate action. A skilled workforce is essential for meeting Australia's climate targets and transitioning to a low-carbon economy.
- Fostering innovation. Investing in skills development can lead to innovation in renewable energy technologies, contributing to the nation's energy security and resilience.
Transgrid's commitment to creating job opportunities
Transgrid is actively contributing to the upskilling of Australia's workforce and the development of the renewable energy sector through a range of projects and initiatives:
- Transmission project investment: We plan to invest $14 billion in transmission to help deliver AEMO’s most recent ISP actionable projects. This crucial infrastructure will also create 7,000 jobs and over 14,000 indirect jobs in regional NSW and $25 billion in economic benefits:
- EnergyConnect. Apart from enabling the sharing of electricity between NSW, South Australia and Victoria for the first time, this $1.8 billion transmission project is creating up to 1,500 jobs, and contributing $4 billion in net economic benefits.
- HumeLink. This transmission project improves the connection between renewable energy generation and demand centres, creating thousands of jobs during construction and ongoing employment opportunities for maintenance and operations.
- Regional development: We are also working with regional authorities, training providers, universities, and our own Registered Training Organisation to train and upskill regional workforce by providing new training opportunities in regional NSW. A recent example is our $1.5 million workforce development strategic partnership with Regional Development Australia – Riverina $1.5 millions partnership to deliver major jobs and skills boost in Riverina region as part of our EnergyConnect, HumeLink and VNI West projects. Transgrid and our construction partner SecureEnergy have also launched the nation’s first multi-million-dollar training initiative to boost skills in the power transmission sector across regional NSW. Legacy 100 will result in up to 100 candidates completing qualifications in Transmission Line Construction on EnergyConnect. The program will help grow Australia’s own transmission line construction workforce to support the nation’s clean energy future and reduce reliance on overseas workers.
- Engineering expertise: We actively work with training providers and universities to upskill the regional workforce by providing new training opportunities and funding. For example, in August 2022, Transgrid committed to a $2 million Engineering Scholarship Fund with Charles Sturt University. Each scholarship recipient will receive $5,000 annually over four years to support them during their studies, allowing them to focus on achieving their full potential while at university. We have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Newcastle to create education, training and employment opportunities for electrical engineering students.
- Future energy leaders: We are investing in the energy leaders of tomorrow through our Graduate Program, Apprenticeship Program, and Pre-apprenticeship Program for Women. These programs offer an unique opportunity for participants to learn from leading energy experts and play an important role in accelerating Australia’s clean energy transition.
Upskilling Australia's workforce is essential for the successful transition to a renewable energy future and achieving the nation's net-zero emissions target.
Governments, education and training agencies, regional development bodies, and industry leaders like Transgrid must collaborate and coordinate our efforts to create clean energy job opportunities, stimulate economic growth, and foster innovation.
By empowering individuals with the skills required to excel in the renewable energy sector, Australia can not only reach its climate targets but also solidify its position as a global leader in clean energy. The road to a renewable future may be challenging, but with a strong commitment to skilling Australians and collaboration across all sectors, Australia can build a thriving, sustainable, and low-carbon economy that benefits both the environment and its people.