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Much is riding on the federal government’s jobs summit to be more than a chat fest.
Comparisons to the Hawke era’s National Economic Summit have set expectation levels high to produce an outcome that will chart a new course for the country.
Not unexpectedly the union movement are eager to change the drapes and throw babies out with bath water after watching their team lose the last three triennial grand finals that determine the government benches.
Despite this, the Prime Minister and his team have shown restraint since taking office. Instead taking time to appraise the state of the nation and comprehend the expectations for action on climate change that that put them on the blue carpet in Canberra.
With so many current Ministers serving in Cabinet during Labor’s last stint in office there’s many today who remember what follows at the ballot box when you come up short on the electorate’s expectations to deliver.
After the Prime Minister the one that should be most concerned about expectations is Chris Bowen as Minister for Climate Change and Energy. Faced with the Herculean task of switching the country over from fossil fuels to renewable energy without the lights going out is a job that requires determination and focus.
Renewable energy’s share of the electricity market needs to increase from 28% in 2020 to 82% by 2030. While the build capacity is there to deliver the thousands of turbines and solar arrays required to make this change, the army of operations and maintenance staff required to keep our future power plants up and running smoothly is not a given.
The primary workforce issue facing policy makers in renewable energy is that the operations workforce are primarily retrained from other industries. A successful renewable workforce requires established career pathways that school leavers can pursue knowing they’ll have a long-term career.
Competing industries in construction, mining or coal power generation benefit from incumbency and decades of development and investment into training pathways and careers.
The large-scale renewable industry will require similar levels of support infrastructure if it is to scale up to deliver on policy promises that are only seven years away.
It’s not contested that the most immediate and pressing issue facing renewables is transmission and connectivity to the electricity network but the medium-term challenge remains how an industry will manage to staff a dramatic increase of renewable assets in such a short period of time.
The jobs summit will be the opportunity to put the focus on the sector that will deliver the lasting climate impact that the community is expecting from government. Labor’s Powering Australia plan promised that five out of six jobs in renewables will be delivered in regional Australia but there needs to be a workforce plan and strategy for how this will be delivered.
The significance of these challenges no doubt are front and centre for Chris Bowen and he possesses the determination to make it happen. Any policy hawk should admire the enormous undertaking by the new government and its Energy Minister to satisfy an electorate hungry for action but addressing the workforce challenges will be pivotal to its success.