As one of ten Jobs and Skills Councils established by the Federal Government in 2023, Powering Skills Organisation (PSO) is seeking to improve training for the energy, gas and renewable sectors and increase the number of apprentices. PSO recently released its first workforce report, underscoring the importance of diversity when it comes to carrying out the green energy transition.

In the energy and renewables sectors, labour and skills shortages present a significant hurdle in reaching emission levels of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Powering Skills Organisation’s (PSO) report Powering Up – Initial Energy Workforce Scan shows there are approximately 275,000 people in the energy workforce, with electricians making up about 50 per cent of the sector. However, an additional 32,000 electricians will be needed in the next seven years, and the country is facing a major shortfall in supply.

Many other energy occupations, including electrical lineworkers, technical cable jointers and gasfitters, also face shortages. The energy workforce will need to increase dramatically if the green energy transition is to be successful, while new skills are required for rapidly emerging sectors like hydrogen.

Enrolments, commencements and completion rates in the energy workforce will require a sustained boost to meet future demand. A key factor in addressing this challenge is boosting female participation in the energy sector. Only 3.6 per cent of the workforce is female, according to 2021 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Meanwhile, female participation accounts for five per cent of the total training activity, according to PSO’s report.

Urgent need for action

PSO CEO, Anthea Middleton, said PSO’s findings did not come as a surprise. “Industry and the training sector have been talking about these issues for a long time,” Ms Middleton said. “What has been missing is an end-to-end evidence base that links workforce research to system wide programs of action.

“We know there are systemic issues facing the capacity and capability within the VET sector to skill and train apprentices in a timely and industry focused way. In three years’ time we don’t want to be looking back to see that only minor changes have been made.”

With a broad range of issues facing the energy sector, PSO’s initial report offers five focus areas to begin addressing workforce challenges:

» Articulate pathways to trades to attract more diverse groups
» Determine if training capacity and capability of the VET system can meet future demand
» Assess barriers to commence and completion rates for energy trades
» Conduct a review of training packages in PSO’s remit to determine suitability
» Conduct a review of training packages to explore renewable pathways into the energy sector

Ms Middleton said the report has enabled PSO to identify which focus areas would add value to its stakeholders. “It gives us an opportunity to flip the script – no point going over information already out there looking for a new answer. We know some of the training and workforce data doesn’t align with the lived experience of those in the industry, and therefore we want to interrogate where there is misalignment.”

Improving diversity in renewables

PSO has ambitious plans to tackle challenges such as female and First Nations people’s participation in renewable energy careers. “First Nations people are critical to the success of achieving net zero,” Ms Middleton said. “A clean energy model is distributed at its centre, and this provides an unprecedented opportunity for First Nations people to own, control and benefit from reliable and affordable energy generation and distribution on country.”

Another major issue is female participation in the sector. “We can’t meet net zero targets without increasing participation of women in energy trades,” Ms Middleton said. “Currently, only two per cent of electricians are female. This number needs to change if we are to increase the workforce by 2030 to meet targets set at both federal and state levels.”

Promoting pathways in trades

Understanding why young people might not be choosing a career in energy trades, or otherwise be failing to complete their training, is a key focus area for PSO. “In some respects it’s a marketing issue,” Ms Middleton said.

“School leavers aren’t informed about vocational and apprenticeship pathways in the same way that university is understood. The secondary system continues to promote and prioritise a university degree as being the preferred ongoing education pathway. I think parents also see this as being the best means for their children to gain a successful career.

“The apprenticeship model is a paid employment and education pathway, and electricians in particular, have one of the most varied career path options of any occupation. A combination of on-the-job and college training means you are paid to learn, and this is of huge benefit when compared to the cost of a university education.”

Ms Middleton said many young people, predominantly young men, commence a trade because that is what their father or other relative does. “There is a complete lack of promotion within the secondary system, and this impacts the visibility for diverse cohorts to explore a VET pathway.”

A common misconception around energy trades is that there are only a few career pathways. “It is quite the opposite,” Ms Middleton said. “The clean energy workforce can have a career across multiple industry sectors such as renewable technologies, mining, construction, automotive, manufacturing, health, teaching and so many more.

“We boast an exceptionally high-quality training system in Australia, with the potential to lead the world in clean energy training. Australian tradespeople are highly respected overseas for their consistent and high-quality skills.”

The year ahead

As for 2024, Ms Middleton said PSO’s goals are simple. “We’ll continue to establish our stakeholder networks to ensure the voice of industry, training, regulators, government and the workers is being understood.

“We are an action-oriented organisation, led by evidence, and we plan to deepen our research and industry intelligence in 2024 to make informed decisions. These decisions will be a mix of short, medium and long term strategies that will guide our programs of activity.”

PSO is commencing a nation-wide roadshow in February and plans to hold workshops across Australia. “The aim of these roadshows is to take localised training and workforce research and test it with each state and territory. While we are a national organisation, our success lies in being able to contextualise national issues at a local level, and use this evidence to form a holistic national view.”

Diversity will remain a cornerstone of PSO’s mission. “Workplace diversity just makes sound business sense,” Ms
Middleton said. “We know that board and senior leadership diversity helps companies to thrive, and that is what our vision is at PSO.

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