Australia will need at least 2.2 million workers in clean energy occupations between now and 2050, a new government report says.

Published by Jobs and Skills Australia, the The Clean Energy Generation report aims to chart a pathway toward development of a workforce with sufficient capacity to manage the nation’s clean energy transition.

According to the report, the size of the challenge should not be underestimated.

All up, it says that Australia will need at least 2.2 million workers across 38 occupational categories which are critical parts of the clean energy workforce.

As things stand, there are less than 1.6 million currently employed within these occupations (see chart).

The biggest area of demand will be electricians. The number of electricians who are needed is expected to grow by 84,000 from around 170,000 to more than 250,000 by 2050.

Across the building and engineering sector, meanwhile, the workforce will need to grow by around 40 percent to reach almost two million by 2050.

Whilst the report suggests that Australia is likely to have a sufficient workforce supply overall, it warns that shortages are expected in several occupational categories.

Of the 38 occupation categories referred to above, short or long-term worker shortages are likely or possible in up to sixteen categories.

Not surprisingly, the biggest category of shortage is likely to be electricians.

Shortages are also likely across many building and engineering occupations (see below).

“The preliminary modelling for the study suggests that in total, Australia is likely to have enough workers to meet demand for the transition period across all scenarios, but demand is likely to exceed supply for clean energy occupations in the first decade,” the report says.

“Electrical trade roles and nearly all the building and engineering trades that are critical to the construction and maintenance of renewable energy are likely to experience shortfalls. This will be apparent in regional areas across all three scenarios (of clean energy uptake) and is even the case under the low scenario.

“We are likely to have enough engineers but there are some gaps for some professional occupations like environmental scientists.

“These are the potential shortages Australia needs to plan for.”

The report comes as Australia aims to reduce carbon emissions by 43 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve NetZero by 2050.

The scale of effort to achieve this should not be underestimated.

In its 2022 Integrated systems plan, the Australian Energy Market Operator indicated that achieving NetZero energy by 2050 would involve a nine-fold increase in large-scale solar and wind, a five-fold increase in rooftop solar, a three-fold increase in firming capacity and an additional 10,000 kilometres of new transmission infrastructure.

Moreover, the report identifies barriers to workforce development in clean energy occupations.

To meet the scale of growth that is required, it says that Australia will need to attract a greater number of women and people of diverse cultural backgrounds into its clean energy workforce.

However, it notes that many clean energy occupations are male dominated and suffer from cultural issues which serve as barriers to greater female participation.

Other challenges include a low visibility of some clean energy occupations, a lack of understanding of entry pathways, the regionalised nature of many employment opportunities within this sector and challenges for workers in transitioning between projects.

To promote workforce development, the report says several things are needed.

These include:

  • Coordination between business, workers and governments to overcome structural challenges which arise out of climate change and environmental degradation.
  • Consistent strategies which look beyond jurisdictional boundaries and which are regularly updated to reflect changing policy settings and technologies.
  • Upscaling delivery of training along with top-up pathways for workers to bridge gaps and specialise as well as innovative and agile course design approaches.
  • A harmonised system of education, training and migration along with a step change training for trades and technical workers.
  • A shared responsibility for inclusive pathways for women, First Nations people, people with disability and recent migrants to join and thrive within the sector.
  • Support for workers who are undergoing transition, with consistency and coordination of supports being driven by the new Net Zero Authority.

Clean Energy Council Director of Workforce Development, Dr Anita Talberg, said that the importance of action should not be underestimated.

“The next seven years will be critical in establishing or strengthening the education, training, and migration systems to ensure that we have the workforce to deliver the energy transition,” Talberg said.

“We look forward to working with Jobs and Skills Australia and other Commonwealth departments and agencies to coordinate an approach towards building out the clean energy workforce over the next few decades tailored to industry needs, particularly across the engineering and electrical fields.”


Which Occupations Will be in Shortage?

According to the report:

  • The biggest area of shortage is expected to be for electricians. All up, Australia is likely to need an additional 85,000 electricians between now and 2050, including an additional 32,000 more electricians over the next seven years alone. On current projections, growth in demand is likely to exceed projected increases in supply to the tune of 27 percent between now and 2050.
  • Supply gaps are likely for occupations such as electrical engineering draftspersons and technicians, air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, electronics trade workers and telecommunications trade workers as supply of workers in these occupations is not anticipated to keep pace with demand notwithstanding that supply is increasing.
  • Shortages of Civil Engineering Draftspersons and Technicians are expected as an additional an additional 2,200 workers in this category will be needed.
  • Unless the education pipeline keeps pace with demand, an even bigger shortage of Architectural, Building & Surveying Technicians is likely across most of the transition period to 2050. By 2050, Australia is likely to need an additional 25,000 workers in this occupation – a number which is projected to exceed supply additions by a margin of 44 percent.
  • Within engineering occupations, an acute shortage of mining engineers is likely over the medium term on account of declining supply. Supply shortages are also possible for chemical and materials engineers, civil engineers and other engineers as expected demand is close to projected supply in these areas.
  • Whilst there is likely to be a sufficient supply of geologists, geophysicists and hydrologists, shortfalls of between 1,000 and 3,000 workers are expected by 2050 for both agriculture and forestry scientists and environmental scientists.
  • Shortages of metal fitters and machinists are likely notwithstanding potential growth in supply of these trades as growth in demand is likely to outpace that of supply. A shortfall of 5,000 workers is expected by 2030 increasing to 8,000 by 2040 before decreasing thereon after.
  • For similar reasons, there is also expected to be a supply gap for Structural Steel and Welding Trades workers that is expected to reach 10,000 by 2037 and hover around that mark until 2050.
  • Despite anticipated employment declines in fossil fuel power generation and gas production and distribution, shortages in chemical, gas, petroleum and power generation plant operators are likely to emerge from approximately 2030 on account of offsetting employment growth in renewable energy and hydrogen.