Jobs of the future will look similar to the jobs of today
Many of the opportunities presented by industries of the future will require the same skill sets as those required by existing industries. The committee heard that:
construction skills will be needed for renewable electricity generation and storage, transmission infrastructure, bio-innovation industries, and manufacturing facilities
electrical and mechanical trades are essential for the ongoing operation and maintenance of a range of industries including advanced manufacturing, bio-innovation industries, renewable energy generation and storage
plant operators and truck drivers will be required for mine restoration and to transport raw materials to, and take finished products away from, manufacturing, bio-innovation and recycling facilities
researchers will be required to develop and improve processes associated with energy export industries, bio-innovation, agricultural technologies, mineral processing and value-added manufacturing.
However, appropriate skill development and training are vital to ensure all workers are able to take advantage of these opportunities. People living in the regions will require an increasing level of technical skills and professional knowledge in order to take advantage of the jobs that may be on offer in the regions. As part of this, workers will be expected to be more technologically adept as digital technologies and automation become increasingly integrated into working environments.
Given increased connectedness and advanced digital technologies, the Mayor of Townsville City Council noted the need for workers to have these skills to take advantage of opportunities, particularly in providing services to the defence industry, and for local training opportunities so that workers do not have to leave the region to undertake training.
Automation will reduce the number of low-skilled, entry level roles so it is important that appropriate education and training provides the skills required by employers in the future.
Dr Chris Briggs noted that at least half of jobs will be delivered by small businesses:
I think it's an interesting point to understand that 50 to 60 per cent of these jobs are in small businesses employing less than five people, so electricians, roofers, drivers and office staff spread right out across Australia. A lot of them are out in regional Australia. In terms of supply chain we're finding more jobs there than we probably expected to find. We're not going to be making solar cells and modules but there's quite a raft of different types of manufacturing that do exist in Australia currently—towers, hub trains at assemblies for wind farms, power transformers, big bits of kit that go onsite to convert the power into the grid, inverters, cabling and quite a dynamic software manufacturing sector emerging for solar.
Transferability of skills in coal mining regions
As the mix of economic activity changes in a specific region, the skills and training required to fill the available jobs will also change.
Some skills will be transferable, particularly trade qualifications, and can easily adjust to similar work. The Monash Sustainable Development Institute discussed the transferability of skills through the transition process using international examples:
In speaking with workers on the ground in biogas plants in Germany, wind farms in Scotland, bio-refineries in Belgium and circular systems in Finland, it is evident that many skills from carbon-intensive industries are transferable to new, sustainable industries. We have met former boilermakers, mechanics and fitters at biogas plants, wind farms and battery storage facilities who came from oil and gas refineries, coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
Other current jobs are relatively low skilled with high pay (for example, truck driving) and these workers may have difficulty finding employment with similar conditions. This is particularly important in regional areas as outlined by the Centre for Policy Futures, which submitted that 'a high proportion of the population in regional areas has not attained a year 12 or equivalent qualification making transition to employment in industries with higher skill requirements challenging'.
Concerns about the skill differences between workers currently employed in coal mines and power-stations were highlighted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures:
The nature of the workforce in coalmining means that the transition there is going to be more challenging than it is in power generation. Power generation has a lot of trades, technicians and professionals. One in two coalminers is a truck driver or a machine operator—the second-lowest skill category. So it is going to be a lot more challenging than power generation, where you've got a relatively skilled workforce.
Indeed, Mrs Sharon Hutch from Singleton Council noted that many students in that region were not currently interested in undertaking skills training, instead believing that they would get a well-paid job in the mines.
That said, there could be no shortage of forklift or truck driving work available in mine and contaminated land restoration, and in a growing recycling industry where there is latent demand presently.
Concerns were raised that the level of remuneration for similar or available work would not be commensurate with the remuneration currently being delivered by the mining industry. Mr Charles Jenkinson from Regional Development Australia South West noted that:
Average wages here in the mining sector are $137,000. Average wages in tourism are $49,000. You can't replace those mining jobs with tourism jobs. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with tourism—and it's a help—but you're not going to replace a $137,000 pay cheque with a $49,000 pay cheque.
It was also noted that technological advances, including increased automation, would change the nature of less skilled work. Mr Adrian Price from the Ai Group Hunter Region outlined that:
We do know already that the technological changes that are impacting us come from things like greater automation, machine learning and the like. Clearly-visible ones are automated mine dump trucks, for instance, that are controlled from a control panel somewhere, with no drivers on them at all. Those are quite complex, difficult machines to understand with current technology, so employees have to be retrained and brought up to speed with the latest equipment and technologies.
While acknowledging that there were jobs available for every worker who might potentially be displaced from the closure of coal-based electricity generation, Dr Amanda Cahill from The Next Economy also noted the challenges facing these workers, stating that 'I am not sure whether those jobs can be similar and in the same place. There is a lot of retraining to be done'.
More generally, Professor Babacan from the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence highlighted why regional employers might be reluctant to invest in upskilling their employees:
That's now either up to the employer or up to the individual, and sometimes in regional areas employers don't have the capacity to invest or are not willing to invest because the bigger companies poach their trained employee or the retrained employee, and individuals don't have the economic means to [upskill].
Engaging the unemployed in new industries
New industries can also offer opportunities to connect unemployed people with the workforce. Ms Anna Freeman from the Clean Energy Council explained what had occurred during the construction of the Karadoc Solar Farm in Victoria:
The EPC contractor—the construction company that built that—is a company named Beyond Energy Solutions Group. They decided that the biggest impact they could deliver in that region by building that solar farm would be to provide an opportunity to long-term unemployed people within the region…
The project ended up employing over 200 locals: 90 were long-term unemployed; 38 were Aboriginal people; 12 people were on community-based orders; 14 people were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and there were four people with a disability. Many of those workers have gone on now to work at the Yatpool solar farm, which is under construction at the moment. So it's provided a very important opportunity for people who most likely otherwise wouldn't have had one by working together with the employment services there to provide a new pathway.
While this inquiry is focused on jobs for the future in regional areas, the committee is cognisant that there is a significant level of current vacancies in some regions and industries.
Contrary to common perception, the Regional Australia Institute noted that there are jobs in regional areas from the high to the low end of the skills spectrum. In some regions, there are signs of skills shortages with the number of advertised vacancies growing by over 30 per cent in the last two years. Further, the Regional Australia Institute highlighted that 'Anecdotal evidence suggests that labour shortages are having a negative impact on investment and growth in regional Australia across a range of industries'.
Dr Amanda Cahill from The Next Economy noted that there is a mismatch between jobs that are available and the workforce in particular regions. Dr Cahill cited an example from Townsville where there were 5000 renewable energy construction jobs within 400 kilometres of Townsville but not enough skilled workers to fill these roles.
Similarly, Ecosure highlighted that it was difficult to get mid-level and senior specialists to work in their field, particularly with competition from the
much-higher paid mining sector and stable and secure government jobs.
Skills development and training need to adapt
Many stakeholders advocated for more skills and training opportunities to be adapted to, and delivered in, regional areas. The quality and accessibility of vocational training opportunities varies by region and stakeholders would like to see more flexibility in delivery and offerings tailored to what each region needs.
Associate Professor Ben Lyons highlighted that in many regional areas:
We often have a classic case of underemployment—there are jobs there but not the qualified workforce to meet that skillset. There's a training need where they either have to go to a metropolitan centre or even to Toowoomba, whereas there could be some precincts set up in those centres like a Roma, a Longreach or a Goondiwindi that could service that local need quite effectively and cost effectively.
Per Capita argued that public investment in technical and further education in the regions is critical in addition to getting the private investment settings right.
Many stakeholders argued for local training to meet local needs. Evidence suggested that at the local level, links need to be established and maintained between what industry needs, what education providers have the capacity to provide and the requirements of potential employees.
For example, Mr Allen Grundy from Tourism Whitsundays noted the lack of advanced education facilities in that region, especially for specialist skills relating to maritime industries.
Mayor Jenny Hill from Townsville City Council argued for TAFE Queensland to offer cybersecurity courses in Townsville:
TAFE Queensland offers one of Australia's best cybersecurity courses, which we could put people through up here. Why not bring that training here? Why not allow us to develop that industry here? We can do that work anywhere across Australia.
But some stakeholders noted that they were working with TAFEs to develop courses to give workers the skills they will need in the future. Mr Adrian Price from the Ai Group Hunter Region noted that:
We are working with TAFE New South Wales to put together a new training program called a diploma in applied technologies, which will provide tradespersons with a broader base of knowledge and ability to deal with the data-driven world that we live in—the data that's collected off machinery and what we do with that, and those sorts of things...Of course, the rate of technology means that people have to be upskilling and retraining, basically, their whole working lives.
The Centre for Policy Futures highlighted the need for life-long learning, particularly as the need for digital literacy increases:
University and TAFE campuses in regional areas are paramount in ensuring young people stay in the regions and older workers can up-skill to transition to new opportunities.
Mr Paul Sloman from Cotton Australia noted that the combination of flexible learning, short courses and on-the-job training was necessary for agricultural occupations. Mr Sloman noted that the AgSkilled partnership between Cotton Australia, the Grains Research Development Corporation and the NSW Government is:
…making the cotton and grains industry the employer of choice and also ensuring that the employees coming into both those industries are skilled and ready to go. This was all driven by the need and the necessity from employers and employees of not fully qualified accreditation—that partial qualification, more user-friendly currently than the time commitment and the dollar commitment of full qualifications. We're now two years into a three-year program—it's currently under its mid-term review—with absolutely fantastic results partnering with RTOs such as Tocal College to really deliver essential training, such as in the spray drift awareness area, so conducting advanced spray application workshops, right through to safety and awareness, business training.
RDA Townsville and North Queensland highlighted the importance of developing a skills pipeline:
To attract industries you need to demonstrate that you've got the skills pipeline, because they'll look where that is. So transitioning an economy from one industry to another is about understanding it and addressing the skills needs, and then you've got the base to attract new industry and new business.
RDA Hunter has invested significantly in the development and delivery of innovative Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and skills development programs to meet industry needs, including in the mining, defence and aeronautical industries.
RDA Townsville and North Queensland outlined a collaborative partnership they have implemented to increase STEM skills in that region:
RDA has recognised this demand and is developing a project in partnership with Townsville Enterprise to connect educators, students and industry to maximise the development of STEM-related skills. Anticipated results, based on a model already developed in the RDA Hunter region, with whom we've developed an MOU [Memorandum of Understanding], include an increasing uptake of STEM subjects at high school, micro-credentialling of workers in STEM-area employment already, an increase in vocational and university training in STEM and an increased pool of STEM-trained candidates for apprenticeships and future jobs. The development of a pipeline of STEM-equipped students and potential employees will ensure we have an innovative workforce ready for the jobs of the future…
Ms Rachel Lamaro from Regen Australia was concerned about the inconsistency between TAFE courses in ecological restoration:
Here on the Gold Coast in recent years, that subject was actually dropped from the TAFE program, and South-East Queenslanders are limited in where they can undertake that particular subject and know they're getting quite highly skilled and trained staff. We actually have trainees undertaking the subject down in New South Wales, in Kingscliff, because the quality of the training is so much higher than what we're receiving here on the Gold Coast.
… I think a standardised course is definitely required, across the board.
Concerns about the development and delivery of vocational training courses were not shared in all areas. For example, in Western Australia, Mr Charles Jenkinson from Regional Development Australia South West argued that:
…we do have a very good TAFE system in this state. If someone comes along and says, 'I need people to be trained like this,' they will respond to that and provide that necessary training…
That said, there does seem to be an issue with the consistency of vocational training between regions and between providers.
The issue of apprenticeships was raised by some stakeholders. The AMWU-NSW Branch emphasised the decline in apprenticeships in manufacturing industries. Mr Phillip Walters, AMWU delegate, noted that at the UGL Bayswater facility:
I did my apprenticeship back in 1981. I was one of 16 fitters and turners. There were the same amount of boilermakers, half a dozen electricians et cetera. Next year, we are taking on four apprentices: two electricians, two fitters.
And Mr Cory Wright from the AMWU-NSW Branch argued that:
Infrastructure projects in New South Wales should be a haven for young people getting a start, whether it is an apprenticeship, traineeship or any other opportunity that they can take up. It's so desperately needed in the Hunter.
The AMWU-NSW Branch also discussed the perceived lack of a social contract in the private sector in relation to employing apprentices:
We have lost that social contract between employers and apprentices, particularly in regional areas. As has been reported, the industries all across Newcastle used to do the heavy lifting when it came to training apprentices, and those apprentices, including people that I did my own apprenticeship with, would go anywhere in the country to work. A significant number, around about 50 per cent, of apprentices drop out of their apprenticeship after the first year and there is a number of factors included in that. One is wages, of course. The other one is the way that apprentices are treated. The intel that we have is the way that TAFE is structured now is an impediment to apprentices finishing their time. If you think about an apprentice being paid the award rates of pay and the only TAFE they can go to is four or five hours away then they have got to stay away for a whole week and they have to wrestle with their employers, who largely say, 'I am not paying for any of this.' It actually becomes a barrier to wanting to complete the trade.
The AMWU-NSW Branch indicated that a lack of certainty for businesses is contributing to a reluctance to engage apprentices.
The lack of certainty in energy policy was cited by Mr Kane Thornton from the Clean Energy Council as a reason why renewable energy companies were reluctant to engage apprentices and invest in workers:
I think one of the biggest challenges for our industry, and therefore the extent to which the industry has not only employed people but invested in the workforce, has been the stopping and starting, the booms and busts…That, probably more than anything else, really undermines industry's ability and willingness to invest in people. Whether that's about bringing apprentices into the industry, whether that's about training and development et cetera, I think that has certainly been a major challenge.
Mayor Jenny Hill from the Townsville City Council highlighted that the council was the second largest employer of apprentices and trainees in Northern Queensland, telling the committee that 'Other than Energy Queensland, we are the biggest employer of apprentices and trainees. That shouldn't be the case, but it is'.
However, just down the road in Mackay, the private sector was providing opportunities for apprentices where skilled worker numbers allowed:
There is that balance of how many apprenticeships we can offer, because you need to have those skilled workers. If we could have more skilled workers here now, the businesses could take on more apprenticeships at the same time. We realise that the apprenticeship numbers dropped off in the downturn, but you need to have that skilled worker to actually train them on the floor and look after them. You can't just take five apprentices and have one person there.
The costs associated with the formal training part of apprenticeship courses are also causing concern:
If they fail a theory test they now have to pay extra money to resit that part of the test, which, for a young person who is already living in poverty, is very hard to do. It's even worse when they fail a practical. The money for a practical exam is something like $450…So, coupled with making it harder to get access to TAFEs, they're also making it more costly. If you do fail, if you're not up to speed and if you're not up to the mark with the theory side of it or the practical side of it, you'll now be charged more to complete and finish. So someone who has learning difficulties or incapacities is now going to be more challenged with the TAFE system. It's going to be more costly for them to get training, which we don't think is fair.
And there may be missed opportunities for businesses to engage mature-aged apprentices. An example by Ms Liz Ritchie from the Regional Australia Institute illustrated how difficult it was for one mature-aged worker to transition to an apprenticeship:
…having left the mining sector and deciding that an electrical career was a long-held ambition, he sought out a mature-age apprenticeship. It was actually more difficult than you would imagine. It took about three or four months to find that mature-age role. I know in the past there have been many different programs to assist businesses in providing more apprenticeships, but at the moment they tend to be focused on a couple of areas and not necessarily focusing on mature-age workers. I definitely feel that when we think about this issue for regional Australia and the multiple transitions that are happening, there should be a real focus on mature-age workers.
Ms Ritchie also queried whether the time required to complete an apprenticeship could be reduced to reflect prior knowledge:
To draw on the example that I spoke about earlier: the ability to transition from running a mine of the future to becoming an electrician, regardless of your age and stage in prior learning, is still a four-year process. I would question if that were correct or if there were opportunities for these apprenticeships to be sped up, if you will, to think about the prior skill set in a more adaptable and flexible way.
Partnerships can help identify skill needs and appropriate training
A number of stakeholders were supportive of the need to develop partnerships between employers and training institutions.
Germany was cited by the Centre for Policy Futures as having an approach that closely matched skills with jobs:
Germany is an exemplar in its ability to train people at all levels and has developed an ecosystem around advanced manufacturing education and training. In this example, the German government recognises it is not beneficial to place targets on the percentage of the population that received a university education – rather there is a focus on the pipeline of roles required and training is offered at all levels.
In this context, the Mayor of Townsville noted that 'you need the companies to be willing to settle here and set up here. You can't just produce graduates for the sake of producing graduates'.
Professor Babacan from the Rural Economies Centre of Excellence contended that reforms were needed in the vocational and high education sectors so:
…there's a better relationship between industry needs and what education providers are doing… A lot of the employer bodies told us that what TAFE provides, or the packages or the degrees, is too generic. What we're needing is more specific knowledge, so maybe looking at some part of public private partnership that enables the micro-skilling that industry needs to happen.
Some stakeholders indicated that collaborative engagement between employers and education providers was already occurring to overcome current and prospective skill shortages. For example, Ms Sherry Smith from the Greater Whitsunday Alliance explained that:
I actually was part of a workshop a few weeks back that was hosted by the mining sector and brought those partners on board into one room—ourselves, the university and all those training providers—because they identified the best way for them as a business to survive going forward was to work together to make sure that they're all on the same page—understanding what the skill demand might be as we're all trying to identify this and look at how we can better service that.
The Centre for Policy Futures emphasised the role of industry skills councils in ensuring training matches the available jobs:
The role of industry skills councils is critical in ensuring such a pipeline. These councils must be part of the community consultation process; work with the public authority to identify what future employment opportunities might look like; and determine the future employment, reskilling and retaining opportunities that might be available.
Although this issue is discussed in chapter 5 in more detail, the role of government policy in providing certainty for businesses to invest in and train staff cannot be overstated:
…the use of government options with criteria for local jobs is a mechanism that has worked within Victoria and the ACT but also internationally. The interface between our skills system and the renewable sector doesn't always work very well. Some of the developers tell me that they have to ship in, for example, power systems engineers because they can't find any around Australia. They haven't been trained for some time, they tell me. So there is a big gap. The wider question of better investment certainty and investment in key things like transmission investment to help the growth of renewables is another way that we could grow jobs.