It was a clarion call to climate action in Melbourne last week, as a broad coalition of clean energy stakeholders urged governments to take real action to secure Australia’s emissions reduction and workforce goals, generating a quicker than expected response from one state.
The all-star lineup of speakers at the the high-profile Careers for Net Zero Fair included the newly-minted Premier of Victoria Jacinta Allan, Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew and international heavyweight Mike Cannon-Brookes.
The aim of the day was to connect students, educators, policy makers and industry leaders to learn more about how their skills can make a difference in the transition to a clean economy.
Building a broad coalition
The fair also provided the platform to launch the Careers for Net Zero campaign, a joint initiative of the Energy Efficiency Council (EEC) and the Clean Energy Council (CEC).
Holly Taylor, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at the EEC, officially launched the campaign asking governments to “Move beyond ambition to action”.
“With the support of more than 80 organisations, including Engineers Australia, Careers for Net Zero aims to demystify careers in the clean economy,” Taylor said.
Central to this is a career selection tool that allows students and jobseekers to explore roles that specifically contribute to a net zero emissions Australia, followed by an awareness campaign highlighting 10 champions of the clean energy transition.
Taylor spoke passionately of the need to act now on the clean economy.
“We have just six years to reduce our emissions by at least 43 per cent to have any chance of playing our part in staying within the Paris Agreement’s global carbon budget,” she said.
“It takes four years of training to become an electrician or an engineer, so we have absolutely no time to lose. We must take action now to grow Australia’s clean economy workforce.”
Young people are the key
Australia needs almost two million workers in engineering, building and energy trades between now and 2050, according to Anita Talberg, Director Workforce Development at the CEC.
Though this will involve retraining and redeployment, the majority of these roles will be filled by younger generations.
“The biggest current barrier we face is a lack of visibility and awareness among regular Australians, the career options that exist in a clean economy and the pathways into these careers,” said Talberg.
“We regularly hear from parents desperately seeking advice on how to guide their 17-year-olds to realistic and rewarding career pathways. And that is why we’ve created Careers for Net Zero.”
Following the launch, Madew echoed Talberg’s sentiments.
“Australia’s net-zero targets will only be achieved with sufficient engineering capacity and capability,” she said.
“When we consider the children who are passionate about this, when they’re at school, we need to show them what those opportunities are. There are wonderful initiatives happening around Australia to really attract kids into STEM careers.
“We also need to look at our education sector and the way STEM is taught. It needs to be flexible and adaptable in order to attract and retain as many young people in the system and studying these subjects, whether that is in higher education or [vocational education and training].”
Up to the lectern stepped Jacinta Allan, Premier of Victoria, who praised the Careers for Net Zero initiative before changing the script and delivering an announcement of her own.
“The SEC is back,” she said.
With it comes “the creation of up to 59,000 jobs, [including] 6000 apprentices and trainees”, Allan said.
These will be the people leading the charge to Victoria’s pledge of net zero emissions by 2045 — exactly the action the Careers for Net Zero initiative was calling for.
“Coordinating this workforce will be central to building, maintaining and operating the energy assets we need for Victoria’s renewable energy transmission,” she said.
But the new SEC will play a part in skills development and accreditation, including working with TAFEs to build specific courses to turn out graduates ready to work in the energy transition.
“As well as being a key employer in the industry, the SEC will develop a pipeline of skilled workers through its centre for training excellence,” Allan explained. “With overall responsibility for coordinating and accrediting courses, working with our TAFEs and registered training organisations, but also traditional owners, unions and industry.
“It will also play a big part in attracting talented Victorians into the sector, boosting the profile of renewable energy … The SEC will serve as a beacon to light the path into industry.”
Speaking on the post-announcement panel, Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Efficiency Council Luke Menzel said, “We need … to make sure the government steps up. And what we’ve had today with the Premier [of Victoria] is an example of the government stepping up”.
“The SEC [is] rolling up their sleeves and getting engaged in some of the really tricky problems.”
Australia’s golden ticket
In a packed program, Allan was followed at the lectern by Mike Cannon-Brooks who, as well as being co-CEO of Atlassian and Chair of Boundless Earth, is also the largest shareholder in utility giant AGL Energy and a vocal advocate for decarbonisation.
Cannon-Brooks has a track record in predicting future employment trends and he believes that climate jobs will be Australia’s next big employer, representing the biggest economic shift in Australia “since someone put rocks on a boat and shipped them overseas to be burned”.
“The green economy is Australia’s golden ticket,” he said. “But the biggest risk is not having enough people in the right places to execute on all this. Which is why today [Careers for Net Zero] is such an important moment.”
Cannon-Brookes believes Australia can be a prosperous, renewable energy superpower and a global force towards a decarbonised world and applauded the launch of Careers for Net Zero. But he cautioned that this was just the beginning.
“This transition is going to take decades,” he said. “Decarbonisation is the largest economic opportunity based in Australia right now [and] we’re just at the beginning of that bell curve.”
Competition is good
On the return of the Victorian SEC, Cannon-Brookes said it’s “fantastic” to see what’s occurring in Victoria.
“The breadth and scope of announcements and brave and bold choices … should make us all proud,” he said.
Encouraging other states to step up and compete, he reflected that, as a proud New South Welshman, it was great to be jealous of Victoria.
“Competition makes us all better,” he said.
Learn more about Australia’s clean energy transition — and hear from an array of industry experts in renewables — at Climate Smart Engineering 2023.