Release type: Transcript


Interview - ABC Radio National, AM with Rachel Mealey


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

RACHEL MEALEY, HOST: The Federal Government wants to see Australia transition to renewable energy and achieve net‑zero carbon emissions. A new national battery strategy announced yesterday aims to make the country a globally competitive battery maker. But who's going to fill the jobs in the renewable energy sector? Last week's budget allocated $91 million over five years on top of the $30 billion Skills Agreement with State and Territory Governments to allow for training people to work in the renewable sector. Brendan O'Connor is the Federal Minister for Skills and Training. We spoke earlier.

MEALEY: Brendan O'Connor, your government says Australia has a clean energy future, but do we have a workforce to get us there?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, MINISTER FOR SKILLS AND TRAINING: Well, we need to invest in skills to make sure that we do have sufficient skills in the labour market and make sure that we have enough electricians and other occupations to transform the energy sector. That's critical if we're to move to net‑zero and build A Future Made in Australia.

MEALEY: Why would a school‑leaver this year take up an apprenticeship to be trained in the renewable sector when the jobs don't really exist yet?

O'CONNOR: Well, firstly, there are skill shortages in the energy sector right now for traditional trades. So, there are shortages and therefore there are opportunities to acquire skills in the energy sector. But, of course, the future is, and this is the study by Jobs and Skills Australia, that we'll need an additional 240,000 extra people in the energy sector by 2030, an additional 32,000 electricians in particular.

So, there are great opportunities. This is a sector of the economy that's going to grow. You're going to have high‑skilled, secure, well-paid work and I think the story of trades is that people are realising what great opportunities there are to acquire skills in this area.

MEALEY: We've heard arguments before about re‑skilling workers from fossil fuel industries like coal mining. Is there an active recruitment drive happening to help that process?

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. So, we identify what skills are needed, whether it's in the traditional trades. You know, when you're looking at the energy sector it's in transition so that you really need to have current and new skills over time. And that's why we expanded the eligibility of the apprenticeship scheme for new energy, so that people are, of course, working in the traditional energy areas. Because that's going to continue.

But we also need to make sure we're ensuring that apprentices are acquiring new and additional skills because of the changing of energy sources, because of the move to renewables, and because of the need to decarbonise the economy we need people equipped to do that.

So, we have a great opportunity here. This is not only a challenge, it's a great opportunity for people to acquire skills that will be in much demand today and tomorrow.

MEALEY: We're hearing from small and medium companies in the renewable sector that they say they're almost in a holding pattern while they wait for the market in renewables to catch up, meaning that they can't employ staff until the demand hits the market. Are you hearing that? And what can be done there about that catch‑22 situation?

O'CONNOR: Yeah, so look, this is obviously a challenging time. That's why we've expanded the support for new energy apprentices to $10,000 per apprentice, which is more than most support for most apprentices traditionally, because we understand the pressures on small and medium enterprises.

Part of this initiative today is also encouraging small and medium businesses to work with group training organisations to take on apprentices. That's where the group training company employs the apprentice but places them in a small business. That takes pressure off the small business and allows a larger company to be the primary focus of employing the apprentices, mentoring them, and taking care of them, along with the business.

So, we are looking at innovative ways to make sure that apprentices get the right support, but so too do small and medium enterprises.

MEALEY: Brendan O'Connor, thanks very much for joining AM.

O'CONNOR: Thanks Rachel.

MEALEY: And Brendan O'Connor is the Federal Minister for Skills and Training.