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Renewable energy projects take off but where is the workforce?

The renewable energy industry has exploded in Victoria, with ambitious energy targets set by the state government and an abundance of employment opportunities in the nascent sector to be realized.

Gippsland in southeast Victoria has been touted as the golden child of the renewable energy industry.

The region has windy seas, vast land resources, and an existing network infrastructure in the Latrobe Valley thanks to its mining heritage.

Thousands of jobs are expected to be created during the construction and operation phases as part of the switch to renewable energy.

But in a job market clamoring for people to fill 86,000 vacancies in rural and regional Australia, doubts remain over the ability to fill vacancies in the new industry.

In Australia, the labor force participation rate stands at 67%, while in Gippsland the rate is lower and varies by local government area.

Training gap

A recent renewable energy conference held in the region has generated interest overseas and domestically.

Bernadette O’Connor of the Australian Renewables Academy (ARA) leads a local organization responsible for training the workforce needed to work on renewable energy.

Ms O’Connor said poor participation rates should be seen as an opportunity to attract more people into the labor market.

The group intends to retrain skilled workers away from the coal, oil and gas industries.

“We need to look at who’s in the sector to move into the renewables industry,” Ms O’Connor said.

“[We look at] what level and what skills. Who is not in the industry, but could be in the industry, because they have skills that could make the transition.”

Bernadette O’Connor, Director of the Australian Renewable Energy Academy, presenting at the Gippsland New Energy Conference.(Provided)

The federally-funded ARA identifies entry-level jobs and determines who can be recruited with basic training.

Given that offshore wind is in its infancy in Australia, the skills and knowledge needed to train the workforce in the new technology will likely come from overseas at first.

Ms O’Connor said the industry was changing at a rapid pace and communication around the sector’s resource needs was imperative.

“If we can have really good teachers who know how to teach and how to facilitate learning, in partnership with industry who know what industry needs, then that would be the perfect scenario,” Ms O’Connor said. .

Change of mentality

Historically, Gippsland’s offshore oil and gas industry has attracted overhead workers from around the country, but the number of interstate workers has dropped in recent years, unions say.

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