Once the design and planning stage is complete, a renewable energy project is built and then run on the ground by teams of skilled tradesworkers, technicians and machine operators, plus labourers.
In general, technicians with electrical, mechanical or civil backgrounds are highly valued, but specific technologies call for specialised skills or global accredited safety training (see Wind Careers or Small-scale Solar Careers).
Electricians and other electrical workers represent as much as 20 per cent of the entire clean energy workforce, and this figure is even higher in some technologies – such as rooftop solar – or during certain phases of the project. For example, on a solar farm, electricians might represent up to 30 per cent of the construction workforce or more during final commissioning.
In the electrical space, the Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician is the pathway to an electrician’s license, which is needed to carry out much of the electrical work in installation, commissioning or operations. Training in high voltage work is also needed.
For work in small-scale systems, a Certificate IV or relevant skills sets in design and installation of solar/batteries are needed for Clean Energy Council accreditation (see Small-scale Solar Careers).
However, there are other electrical qualifications in electricity supply and/or distribution, such as for linesworkers (Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Overhead) and cable jointers (Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Cable Jointing). For those starting out their careers in the electrical industry, they might consider the pre-vocational qualification, such as the Certificate II in Electrotechnology.
In the mechanical space, a Certificate III in Engineering – Mechanical Trade would provide a solid foundation for a career as a mechanical area superintendent or as a mechanical wind, solar or hydro technician for example. For a career as a blade technician, a Certificate III in Engineering – Composites Trades would be valuable. Federation University is currently designing bespoke offerings of that qualification contextualised to the blade technician’s role.
In the civil space, a Certificate III in Civil Construction provides a broad range of opportunities across multiple project types. These types of skills are generally not employed directly by renewable energy owners or developers, but construction contractors that provide services to solar, wind, battery or hydro projects.
The construction/installation and operating environments of renewable energy can be hazardous areas dealing with live energy. They can also be in elevated (top of a wind tower) or confined (inside a wind tower or underground for hydro) spaces where trust in one’s competency and that of one’s team members are fundamental.
On site, personal and communication skills are therefore essential, both of which go hand-in-hand with a strong focus on safety and quality. Strong problem-solving skills are also important due to the dynamic and innovative nature of the industry. For some industries, particularly in the large-scale clean energy sector, employers will look for people that are willing to travel for varying periods of time and to work in often remote locations. In many cases, shift work will be needed.
The National Skills Priority List of 2021 noted a shortage of electricians in all states except Queensland and strong future demand in both general and specialist occupations, such as solar installations. The Clean Energy Council’s Clean Energy at Work report noted that already in 2020, in the small-scale sector, around 40 per cent of respondents faced medium to high difficulties finding electricians and 25 per cent in finding appropriately experienced roofers. Across both the large-scale and small-scale sectors, the primary reason given for recruitment difficulties was the lack of candidates with specific experience in renewable energy.
Fitter and turners, fitter-welders, diesel mechanics, line workers, and cable jointers were also all roles listed as facing national shortages in the National Skills Priority List with moderate future demand. Roles such as blade technicians in wind power are not listed in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) but wind farm operators report growing challenges in filling such positions.
Half the small-scale solar workforce is trade-based and more than a third is made up of electricians, apprentices, electrical trade assistants and roofers with solar expertise. Electricians are in particularly high demand across the country as demand for residential and commercial solar systems continues to grow.
Electricians are often supported by apprentices and trade assistants. The trade assistant role can serve as a pathway to an electrical qualification. Roofers often also support the work of rooftop solar installations. To be a roofer, a trade is needed in building and construction.
The design phase of a solar and/or battery system can be undertaken by either university-qualified engineers or electricians, with the most important factor the end-to-end knowledge of the individual rather than the training pathway.
However, installation of the system is always performed by a licensed electrician. The Clean Energy Council is an accreditation body for rooftop solar and battery designers and installers in Australia.