Electrification nation – jobs on the path to net zero

We have been enduring a massive fossil fuel-induced cost of living crisis.

We have been enduring a massive fossil fuel-induced cost of living crisis. Photo: Getty

The path to net zero, and the workforce required, became clearer with the report by Jobs and Skills Australia, released by the federal Minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor at the National Press Club last week.

The Clean Energy Generation report details the skills required for Australia to reach the net zero targets which the government has committed to.

The “net zero transformation presents an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise the Australian education and training sector” and it “includes opportunities for our regional labour markets and industries that have long been in decline”, it states.

The report looks at 38 different occupations that will be in demand over coming decades and includes trades, managers, labourers and professional roles.

Put a little spark in your life

This probably won’t shock (first pun) anyone, but the report makes it pretty clear that the country is going to need to invest heavily in electrical trades  to ensure that we have the people power to juice up (second pun) the energy transition.

It’s a timely read for school leavers getting ready to embark on their future career too, because it maps out a wide range of jobs that will be in demand over the next 25 years to help Australia hit the net zero targets.

As the nation moves towards renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, the report confirms that “Australia’s remaining coal-fired power stations will gradually close over the coming 30 years, impacting workforces” that are located in the Latrobe Valley, Hunter region, Collie and Central Queensland.

But the modelling relied on shows that we will need an additional two million building and construction workers by 2050, which the report says is an increase of 40 per cent from current demands. Many of these jobs will be located in regional areas.

For electricians alone, the report estimates that we will need 26,000 to 42,000 more in the next seven years, and that demand for this trade will rise from around 160,000 now to over 240,000 by 2050.

That future sure is starting to look bright (third pun).

Sexual harassment an issue

The report states the “clean energy sector cannot grow at the scale required without the participation of half of Australia’s population [women], but this won’t happen without addressing significant barriers that exist”.

It also highlights that the energy sector has the third highest rates of workplace sexual harassment, with “71 per cent of women having experienced sexual harassment in the last five years”.

So, while the demand is high and opportunities abound, more needs to be achieved to ensure that women can be encouraged into trades, and then to be safe and to feel safe once they get there.

Fortune favours the brave

A big claim in the report which gives us something to think positively about is that “Australia can be a renewable energy superpower, but it will require significant effort”.

There is “a potential path for Australia to take even fuller advantage of decarbonisation, expanding its production of renewable energy beyond what is our current domestic requirement” that will enable us to export energy to the rest of the world, the report states.

To do that though, efforts will need to shift away from the “crowded” climate change policy space and focus on attracting, skilling and retaining the workforce of the future that will be required to deliver the grand ambitions.

Good jobs and a strong outlook

No amount of policy can pour concrete, install cables or build the infrastructure required, so industry will need to narrow its focus to ensure that we have the workforce to get the big jobs done.

For school leavers wondering what to do now that year 12 is almost over?

Tertiary education isn’t for everyone, and it certainly wasn’t for me when I left high school.

A trade career could be a rewarding and fulfilling pathway, and with
unprecedented levels of investment, encouraging growth prospects and demand for as far as the eye can see, now would be a great time for those who are interested to give it a go.

Another great upside? Unlike much of the white-collar workforce, these jobs aren’t likely to be vulnerable to AI any time soon, so you can sleep easier at night knowing that a computer isn’t breathing down your neck waiting to snatch your job away.

Scott Riches is a former union official with the Electrical Trades Union Victorian branch, and a practising employment lawyer. He is also a volunteer in the employment clinic at the Fitzroy Legal Service

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