Call to help coal, oil and gas workers cope with change

A leading think tank is calling for support for each obsolete worker as a shock absorber for the energy change that is sweeping through communities.

Economic modelling by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) suggests the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy will change a wide range of jobs without having a big impact on total employment.

But more than half of Australia’s coal mining, oil and gas jobs are located in a mere eight out of 107 regions and high-wage new energy jobs will require skills well beyond a high-school level education.

In the report released on Tuesday, CEDA urges the new Net Zero Transition Authority to focus on helping workers and communities.

“Clearly, our focus is on the need for this to be a jobs transition as well as an energy transition,” CEDA senior economist Andrew Barker told AAP.

The new authority’s stated role includes supporting investors and companies with “net zero transformation opportunities” in a carbon neutral economy.

The federal body, which is yet to be legislated, will also be responsible for making sure workers and communities get a fair go at new jobs, according to its draft design.

Mr Barker said government has a role in smoothing out the transition, but handouts for companies was not the right role for this body.

The education system, regulation and licensing are also falling behind, even as the construction and mining industries start to make the shift to hybrid – and eventually electric – vehicles.

“It’s making it difficult for firms to get the skills they need, because people need to have two apprenticeships that take four years each,” he said.

Thousands of electricians will be required to build new systems to power homes, business and industry.

Getting enough engineers is another expected bottleneck and a shortfall of 70,000 welders by 2030, without more migration or education.

Other industries, including transport and agriculture, also face significant change.

CEDA recommends workers receive personalised support, as those with low or medium skill levels in fossil-fuel industries will likely struggle to find jobs with similar wages.

“It is very important for businesses that the training system evolves and can therefore provide those skills,” Mr Barker said.

Meanwhile, Australia’s significant reserves of critical minerals could generate as many as 100,000 jobs to power the global energy transition.

But much of that future wealth is located in remote parts of Australia and far from traditional population centres around coal towns.

The energy efficiency and so-called demand management workforce for a more complex electricity grid will need to double to 400,000 by 2030.

Australia is aiming for 82 per cent renewable energy and reduction in emissions of 43 per cent by 2030, to get to net zero emissions by 2050.

“There is a real risk that skill shortages in clean energy may delay the energy transition and undermine energy security,” Mr Barker warned.

“This makes it critical to enable workers in traditional energy industries to retrain and reskill wherever possible.”


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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