Powering the workforce of tomorrow for a Net Zero Australia

Engineer servicing solar panel on electric plant
Engineer servicing solar panel on electric plant
Engineer servicing solar panel on electric plant

After declaring its plan to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 with technology as the cornerstone, Australia is finally on track toward Net Zero.

The landmark Climate Change Bill has passed the Senate with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving Net Zero by 2050.

For many areas across Australia this means major change. Entire regions and communities are dependent on coal, from mining to power generation and ancillary services.

With the shutdown of coal-fired plants, there is a critical need to upskill existing workers in these areas to meet workforce demand from wind and solar energy industries.

Not only will the energy sector encounter workforce shortages, but the developing electric vehicle industry is expected to find skills in short supply.

According to the June 2023 State of Electrical Vehiclesreport by the Electric Vehicle Council, 8.4 % of all new cars sold in 2023 so far have been electric vehicles (EVs).

This is more than a 120% increase compared to all of 2022, with 46, 624 EVs sold YTD June 2023. In addition, a June 2023 research by Roy Morgan states that over half a million Australians plan to buy a new EV in the next four years.

To encourage the uptake of eco-friendly transport in Australia, the Federal Budget 2023-24 has allocated AU$7.4 million over four years to support the introduction of fuel efficiency standards to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles.

Australia’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy will also ensure consumers have a better choice of electric vehicles and encourage greater use of cleaner, cheaper‑to‑run vehicles.

With increased options, better availability, and lower prices, demand for EV servicing and electrification services will escalate over the coming years.

Upskilling in declining industries?

One fundamental question that will arise amidst all this transformation is what will become of coal workers and traditional auto mechanics. Is there a way to ensure that Australians in declining industries are supported to upskill in innovative trades?

To address this need, the Federal government is funding 20,000 additional university places to tackle skills shortages. The additional places will be allocated over two years from the start of 2023, with an investment of up to AU$ 485.5 million over the next four years.

This initiative will provide more opportunities for Australians to enrol to study in areas of national priority, including education, health, engineering and technology.

The government is also delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education places as part of the broader commitment to create 480,000 fee-free TAFE and vocational education places to support industries experiencing skills shortages, such as manufacturing and technology.

Workers facing retrenchment as fossil fuels decline could upskill through trade-specific short courses, utilising their transferable skills on a wind farm or supercharger network.

But funding education places is not enough, most universities and TAFEs struggle to ensure their courses, curriculum, and resources keep up with the latest technological breakthroughs and innovation.

Some technologies are so new, like quantum charging, that courses on this haven’t yet been developed. Speed to market is critical; universities and TAFEs must be supported to activate contemporary courses, with as little red tape as possible, to meet demand.

Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) regulates the 4000+ registered training organisations (RTOs) nationwide in the vocational education and training (VET) sector.

ASQA has embarked on a digital transformationjourney putting people at the centre of its transformation by ensuring the products it builds meet the needs of its staff, providers and students and improves service delivery capabilities.

The digital transformation will enhance its data capture, storage, and analytical capabilities giving greater visibility of provider information and allowing implementation of data-driven and risk-based regulatory approaches.

According to ASQA’s Regulatory Risk Priorities 2023-24it uses an intelligence driven approach to determine the most significant risks to ensuring the quality of VET and the integrity of national qualifications issued by training providers.

ASQA conducts extensive research and synthesisesdata and information from a range of sources to understand what the greatest risks to the VET sectors are.

Driving economic transformation

By investing in training, Australia is positioned to propel its economy through a renewed manufacturing sector, exporting both intellectual property (IP) and physical products. For example, we currently have good mineral resources to make electric cars and batteries.

At the moment they’re mined and shipped off overseas for manufacturing, losing Australia huge a potential profit.

A country that is undergoing a similar transformation, from coal to renewables, is Germany. It isn’t an easy transition for the country, given the dependence of certain regions on coal for jobs and stability, and a sense of pride and history in the coal industry.

There are also fewer jobs in more efficient renewable industries than in labour-intensive coal power.

Quitting coal is painful, but government incentives are easing the process. These include building new economies based on tourism, improving infrastructure, and investing in attracting new jobs and industries.

While Germany’s experience may not be directly transferable to Australia, there are certainly interesting learnings we can take away and potentially replicate.

As the Australian government progresses its Net Zero strategy, other progressive nations may become important trading partners, both for knowledge exchange and products and services.

New industries that emerge from this transformative path toward Net Zero will help create different vocations and jobs that will demand a skilled and trained workforce.

With training and upskilling its talent, Australia will be well-positioned to capitalise on new global markets for exports in a Net Zero future.

By Georgia Lee, Senior Director at Publicis Sapient

This article was first published by People Matters