On the 29th of June, Mick Cullen represented Future Energy Skills at the SEC Energy Jobs and Skills Forum in Melbourne. From the onset, the resounding message of coming together was noticeable, further highlighted by the Welcome to Country and the Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri women’s dance group performance.
The Victorian Premier, The Hon Daniel Andrews MP, commenced the conversation by detailing the importance of bringing back the SEC. He also noted the need for collaboration between the government, the opposition and the private sector to meet the State’s ambitious net-zero targets. The Minister for the State Electricity Commission, the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP continued the discussion, and the Minister for Training and Skills, the Hon Gayle Tierney MP highlighted the importance of training to ensure we have a workforce that is appropriately equipped to transition to the clean economy.
A panel of keynote speakers discussed the importance of developing the required workforce now and how consumers will be driving change. They also noted that the skills required in the future will not just be in construction and installation, but also in associated support services.
The following topics were then presented during the day.
- Women in energy
Discussions focussed on how inclusive employment initiatives can support employer efforts to grow their workforce and increase workforce participation of women. It was noted that the industry would struggle to meet projected growth if they do not attract and retain more women. To support this, it was identified that stamping out bad behaviour and taking a “no tolerance” approach is key. It was agreed that this will require strong leadership and, in some instances, cultural change, but that the outcomes of these actions were overwhelmingly positive.
- Best and brightest: Offering attractive careers
In this session, the following issues were discussed:
- The challenging labour market in relation to renewable energy
- What prospective renewable energy workers are looking for in their long-term career pathway?
- How renewable energy employers can offer good, secure and meaningful jobs,
- Inclusive employment practices to support meeting critical workforce demand.
The speakers for this session came from varying backgrounds and offered excellent insights into attracting, training and retaining staff. Alex Newman, CEO of the Centre for U, spoke about the changing dynamic of delivery models. An example provided was of the learners in the WAVE (Women in Apprenticeships Victoria Electrical) project who guided the RTO on a model of training that best suited the cohort. Alex stressed that it was imperative to offer a flexible model to support learners to meet their existing obligations outside of the classroom. This more supportive environment provides the best opportunity for greater completion rates.
- School pathways into renewable energy
Discussion in this session focussed on the status of high school pathways into the sector, as well as the challenges and opportunities that exist to better promote the sector with students. This better provision of information is important in building the next generation of renewable energy workers.
- Workforce demand: what is the job pipeline for the energy workforce?
Discussion in this session centred on the increasing levels of competition for workers on renewable projects, noting that over time this demand will transition to workers in operational roles. The issue of storage capacity is critical in the transition of workers within the industry, with new roles evolving through this.
It was highlighted that with more offshore wind projects being established that more maritime workers would be required. There is a limited number of training providers that are equipped to deliver training in this space, which could impact on the speed with which people are able to be trained for these roles. Transmission training is in a similar situation. This is of concern as we are at a time when the grid needs upscaling and more appropriately skilled workers are needed to support this.
A challenge facing the industry is that good data is currently not readily available to reliably measure employment in the renewable energy sector. This is, and will remain, a challenge as detailed workforce planning is required in order to build the workforce for the future and provide certainty for workers.
- Delivering quality training and skills: the blend of industry, higher education and VET
Trainer shortages, gaps in tailored training in renewables, and lack of training opportunities in the regions were discussed in this session.
Skills shortages remain a major bottleneck for renewable energy developments, whilst ongoing partnerships between industry and training providers continue to be aligned with quality training.
This session examined the opportunities as to how employers could assist in improving the current skill shortages through apprenticeships, graduate programs and mentoring arrangements.
Discussions were also held on various skills and training models that could be utilised to build the pipeline of skilled renewable energy workers, including how industry, unions, TAFE and higher education sectors can work together to achieve this.
- Right jobs, right places
This session considered the challenges and opportunities for attracting a skilled workforce and connecting them to jobs in regional Victoria, where many renewable projects are undertaken. At the moment, too few workers in regional locations have the right skills to support the renewable projects underway, and the stop start nature of demand means that it is difficult to maintain regional workforces. The lack of housing and other crucial infrastructure further exacerbates this challenge with suggestions being made that industry, government and local communities need to consider how best to share the responsibility around investment to support the infrastructure needs.
The ultimate goal of the day was to start to formulate an industry-wide workforce plan, or more to the point work together to develop a Victorian Energy Jobs Plan. This is planned for release mid-2024 and will be key to meeting Victoria’s emission reduction targets. It will also support Victorians to benefit from education, training and employment opportunities that come with the clean economy transition.
Future Energy Skills will continue to monitor developments and will provide more discussion in future editions.