Renewable Energy Jobs in Australia | The New Jobs Frontier

Renewable energy jobs in Australia are on the rise. Mounting investment into solar and wind power is leading to an urgent shift of workers from coal mines to renewable energy jobs. But this change isn’t simple.

The transition of workers from fossil fuel jobs to renewable energy jobs requires more than a clean workforce transferral. Training is the big issue here. Being able to retrain veteran workforces from coal mines to clean energy will take time and significant investment. Similarly, new workers to the sector will require training.

We are a nation that has historically championed coal and gas. It’s been a mainstay of our national economy, servicing both local and global markets. But now, given the sudden shift to clean power, the biggest challenge facing the industry is transitioning fossil fuel workers, to roles in wind and solar.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewables could create over 38 million jobs globally by the end of the decade. Meeting that demand without a labour shortage seems unlikely right now. So accelerated efforts to attract new talent to the industry and to retrain coal and gas workers, are required urgently.

Renewable Energy Jobs: An Opportunity For Talent

Coal’s supremacy is under threat in Australia, thanks to the rising availability of cheap, clean power. Just back in May this year, politicians on both sides of the aisle were trading promises before the federal election, over green jobs.

It’s a lightbulb moment (no pun intended) for Australia. Chris Briggs, Research Director at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures said: “The light is just going on across governments and industry”. By this, he means more investment in jobs training is needed, given the lack of skilled workers emerging for some existing clean energy projects. Also, Australia needs more robust plans to add clean energy projects to our current line-up if we’re going to meet our climate commitments.

“The light is just going on across governments and industry”

Chris Briggs, Research Director at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures

Renewable Energy Jobs

Change is happening.

In Ballarat Victoria, multiple organisations have funded Australia’s first wind power training tower where new industry talent and veteran coal and gas workers train for renewables jobs. This is Australia’s first local training facility that provides safety qualifications for work in the wind industry.

It’s a step in the right direction. To date, skills for wind jobs in Australia have been acquired by offshore talent coming to Australia, or local talent going overseas to get training.

The site is hosted by Federation University whose Vice Chancellor, Duncan Bentley, stated:

“At the moment, with these skills, you have to fly them in from outside, or send Australians overseas,” said Duncan Bentley, a vice chancellor at Federation University.

Duncan Bentley, VC, Federation University

Shifting from Coal to Renewables in Australia

In 2021, renewables accounted for nearly one-third of Australia’s electricity generation. This is double the level of four years prior. And increasingly, we’re seeing utility companies retiring coal-fired power stations earlier than planned. This creates even more urgency around the talent demand for the industry.

According to Chris Briggs, approximately 10,000 coal jobs in Australian mines and power plants will be lost by 2036. These jobs are specifically linked to domestic electricity supply. And more jobs will also go as coal exporters close.

In the same period, around 20,000 to 25,000 new jobs will appear in the construction, maintenance and operation of renewable power, Briggs said.

The political landscape is also starting to adapt.

Scott Morrison, our most recent ex-Prime Minister, defended fossil fuel jobs in the 2019 election, as a narrative supporting regional coal communities. Leading into May’s federal election, Morrison was still in support of coal but started to spruik new roles in clean hydrogen as well. And we all know how well that turned out for him.

Renewable Energy Jobs in Australia

Conversely, the new Labor government has already passed a bill in the lower house, with the support of the Greens and Independents, enshrining an emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030, and a net zero emissions commitment by 2050. Labor sees the climate emergency as an opportunity to create renewable energy jobs.

The world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity…

Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate and Energy

But there’s a caveat in the rush to the building of, and the expectations from, new sectors. Most renewable energy jobs offer lower salaries than the mining industry. And don’t forget, mining has been in our blood in this country for generations. It’s fostered most economic booms since the gold rushes of the 19th century. The attachment for generations has been real.

The Lived Experience

“As a young fellow it made sense to go straight to the mines, trying to chase money,” said Dan Carey. Don spent 12 years working in the remote iron ore hub of Port Hedland, Western Australia and in Karratha, Western Australia, another oil and gas town.

In January of 2022, Don sought a better lifestyle, so became a service technician at a wind farm in Warradarge, a three-hour drive north of Perth. His focus now is different. “It’s about enjoying the work,” Carey said. “In the mining world, everyone does sort of live for the money.”

And we can see why. The starting salary for an operator at AGL Energy’s Loy Yang coal power station in Victoria is about A$164,500 while a technician for wind turbine builder Suzlon is between A$100,000 and A$120,000, according to recent Fair Work Commission enterprise agreements.

In mining, the perks are also a major drawcard. They can include six weeks paid annual leave, subsidised housing and utilities, free holiday flights and significant bonuses. “It’s definitely going to be hard to retain people that have come from that world,” Carey said.

Where to From Here?

The gargantuan size of the energy transition in Australia will require the construction of large new solar and wind farms. This construction will go on for decades, steadily increasing the number of long-term jobs as new plants become operational.

And according to the IRENA, ex-fossil fuel talent are also well positioned to prosper. Staff on gas platforms typically have expertise suitable for offshore wind, while coal workers have been recruited into solar, and oil reservoir engineers can use their expertise for geothermal power.

It’s going to take time. But Australia’s transition to renewable energy jobs has a solid foundation for new talent and existing coal and gas workers.


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