Jobs summit: Union strikes historic deal with industry on training and skills

Electrical Trades Union

The Electrical Trades Union has formed a rare alliance with leading industry groups and key stakeholders on a new skills plan which is crucial to the nation’s energy transition.

In a major deal struck ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit, the union has joined with contractor associations Master Electricians Australia and National Electrical and Communications Association, as well as the Clean Energy Council, Smart Energy Council and Rewiring Australia to launch the Powering Australia Skills Plan.

Without a steadfast skills and training plan, Australia will fail to meet its target of a 43 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

The Federal Government’s Powering Australia policy is an ambitious program designed to increase renewable energy generation to 82 per cent of overall demand by 2030.

It will create 63,000 Powering Australia jobs, facilitate the creation of a further 604,000 jobs across the economy and directly support 10,000 energy apprenticeships.

But none of this will be achieved without a comprehensive skills plan.

Apprentice completion rates have stalled at just 52 per cent amid unprecedented labour shortages in energy and other sectors.

Under the plan, an industry-owned and led Powering Australia Skills Cluster would be established to cover traditional energy training areas, as well as an expanded scope in emerging industries such as renewables, EV charging, the internet of things, advanced programming and hydrogen.

Separately, the Powering Australia Skills Plan would create a dedicated Apprenticeship Support Network, to provide key mentoring and support services with a proven track record of boosting completion rates.

A recent survey of apprentices showed almost 90 per cent did not receive any mentoring during their apprenticeship and half received no support at all.

Between 2013 and 2015 E-Oz Energy Skills Australia ran a pilot program that achieved a 93 per cent retention rate up from an average of 62 per cent for the previous five years, showing the effectiveness of mentoring programs.

A dedicated, industry-led Power Australia Apprenticeship Support Network would deliver similar programs, as well as provide more advice on electives which are crucial to renewables training.

The alliance of key industry stakeholders also backed targeted wage subsidies for first- and second-year apprentices would boost intakes, noting the 50 per cent wage subsidy during Covid was an effective policy.

“This plan outlines how to provide good jobs during the energy transition. It will give government the social licence needed to end the climate wars,” ETU Acting National Secretary Michael Wright said.

“Powering Australia presents huge challenges with massive opportunities. If we get it wrong there could be dire consequences. But success will lead to hundreds of thousands of good jobs, lower energy prices and emissions reduction we can be proud of.”

“Unions and industry are on a unity ticket about the urgent need to address these major workforce challenges. Now we’ve struck a historic agreement on how to do it.

“This should be the Albanese Government’s blueprint on how to achieve its Powering Australia policy. Together we can transform the economy with benefits for workers, industry, households and the climate.”

The Powering Australia Skills Plan would also:

* Provide dedicated funding for Powering Australia registered training organisations, including dedicated industry-led Skills Centres, equipped to train apprentices with 21st Century technology * Build diversity by supporting women, First Nations, and culturally and linguistically diverse workers to join the energy industry * Ensure workforce mobility through nationally consistent training and licensing * Ensure Australia is a “Nation of Excellence” by supporting migrating overseas tradespeople to achieve the same level of technical expertise and focus of the Powering Australia sector

Attributable to Oliver Judd, CEO National Electrical and Communications Association:

“The Powering Australia Skills Plan is a clear roadmap to attracting and even more importantly retaining the skills required to achieve the Governments ambitious goals to make Australia the leader in renewables internationally. It is our industries agreed blueprint for success in providing a diverse and inclusive skilled workforce that will have rewarding and meaningful secure work both in the short and long term.

Attributable to John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Smart Energy Council:

“We have a smart energy skills crisis right now. We will have an even bigger crisis by 2030 unless we develop a comprehensive Powering Australia Skills Plan.

“The Smart Energy Council is very pleased to be working with trade unions and other industry bodies to ensure we have the right people in the right jobs, cutting emissions and building our smart energy future.”

Attributable to Saul Griffith, Rewiring Australia founder and chief scientist:

“Retrofitting Australian houses and businesses to drive electrification will require a lot of skilled jobs. We’re going to need more sparkies. Supporting apprentices and paying decent wages is critical, as is the industry working collaboratively. Rewiring Australia supports this joint initiative by the ETU and the industry.”

Attributable to Malcolm Richards, CEO of Master Electricians Australia:

“This plan provides us the platform to lead Australia into the future. This future will deliver inter-generational skills, jobs, and help develop new industries. It will secure our place as the world’s renewable energy shining light.

Attributable to Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton:

“Electricians and other electrical workers represent as much as 20 per cent of the clean energy workforce, and this figure is even higher in technologies such as rooftop solar. With a five-fold increase in small-scale generation tipped by 2050, a skilled and available workforce will be critical to Australia’s electricity needs.

“This is why one of the six key recommendations within the Clean Energy Council’s Skilling the Energy Transition Report is to enhance the Vocational Education and Training Sector’s capacity to understand and meet the demands of industry.”

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