Antipodes focus: Jobs market - Prepare for jobs boom

With an Australian study citing a potential 14,000 jobs in wind by 2030, and similar optimism in New Zealand, the need for political dynamism and targeted training is clear, says Sarah Robertson.

The wind energy markets of Australia and New Zealand may be small in comparison to neighbouring giants, but their anticipated growth offers significant potential for local jobs and calls for investment in expertise to build a greener workforce.

In Australia, a study by the Climate Institute released early this year found that more than 14,200 wind industry jobs could be created by 2030, in an electricity market driven by strong and decisive climate and pollution policies, including the continuation of the renewable energy target (RET) for 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 and the introduction of a price on carbon.

The study assesses three key job categories: permanent workers employed to operate, maintain and supply fuel to electricity generators; construction and installation workers employed to build and install a new generation plant; and workers in the manufacturing sectors that supply components for electricity installations.

Of the 14,200 wind jobs, the study estimates 635 will be ongoing jobs, more than 9,000 will be in construction, and more than 4,500 in manufacturing. This is a significant advance on the present count of just over 2,180 full-time jobs directly involved with construction, installation, and operations and maintenance activities.

The Labor government has passed landmark legislation to introduce a price on carbon, but doubts remain over its longer-term future should the political landscape change.

Investing in training

Will McGoldrick, policy and research manager at the Climate Institute, says the study's job predictions will be accurate whatever the outcome for the carbon price, as the RET will be the main driver of jobs and industry development to 2020.

Regions with established mining or manufacturing industries and supportive state government policies for wind are best placed to benefit from industry growth. In areas with tourism or agriculture-based economies, training support will be important.

"That's where local government and regional development corporations, and even industry itself, should be looking to invest in those skills and make sure local technical and further education colleges are providing the right programmes," McGoldrick says.

One programme doing just that is Repower Australia's apprenticeships scheme, which is aimed at training young Australians to be the next generation of wind electricians. The four-year programme sees apprentices spend four weeks on site, return to Melbourne for a week's training, followed by a week's leave. Training is on campus at RMIT University in Melbourne, where they are exposed to commercial and domestic electrical skills.

The programme was set up in 2008 to address a lack of skilled technicians due to a thriving mining industry that offers more competitive salaries. Joachim Schalck, director and general manager of operation, maintenance and service at Repower Australia, says it is vital to introduce apprenticeships into colleges around Australia.

Schalck believes Australia's entire renewable industry will benefit from having more technicians to help create greater awareness and acceptance of the technologies. "In Australia, it's still a bit hard to get people to accept renewable energy because they see it as an increase in cost, or they don't like the visual impact," he says. "It will be good to have these apprenticeship programmes that create a path (for young people) in the renewables area."

Dan Hansen, Repower Australia's CEO, says growth of the industry over the past decade has seen a general uplift in homegrown specialists in wind analysis and engineering. While really experienced talent still needs to be sought abroad, there is a good flow of candidates as universities have established renewable-energy courses.

Across the Tasman Sea, Eric Pyle, CEO of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, says that with 615MW of installed capacity, the industry is reaching a stage of development where operations and maintenance are increasingly important, after 27% year-on-year growth in installed turbines between 2006 and 2010. A report by the association on the jobs being created in the industry is expected later this year.

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