Sharan Burrow: Green Jobs and Green Skills

Australia, indeed the world is facing the double crunch.

How to achieve a low carbon economy must be seen as both an imperative and an opportunity. As we rebuild our economy from the financial crisis, we can set Australia up for a sustainable future. 

Australia must position itself to ensure that we have the knowledge and skills to capture at least a quarter of a trillion dollar share of what will be a global green products market of more than three trillion dollars.

The challenge is to re-skill workers in existing blue collar jobs to ensure they can manufacture, install and operate new technologies and to educate generations of students and young workers to take up new green jobs.

Industry, being business and unions, must drive demand for an intensity of skills effort like never before and governments must be a partner in this endeavour.

Phillip Bullock, our chair this morning, is, as you know the chair of Skills Australia, and Skills Australia is well placed to deepen workforce planning and frame the necessary priorities for skills development in partnership with the VET community.

These measures are essential for competitive advantage in a low carbon future.

Professor Garnaut’s report tells us that decisive and early action is needed if Australia is to enjoy sustained economic growth and prosperity.

We can and must grow jobs for our economy and reduce our environmental footprint at the same time.

Yet far too little attention has been paid so far in Australia to the skill requirements for a more sustainable economy.

The Challenge
To understand the green skills we need now and into the future, we need to have some idea of what employment in a sustainable Australia will look like.

People talk of a new ecological industrial revolution, and of the potential for extraordinary growth in new “green” markets.

This has been reinforced by China’s massive spend of more than one fifth of its six hundred billion dollar stimulus package on renewable energy and related construction, products and services. 

And before President Obama declared a US spend of $115 billion, he stated the following:

“…everywhere we look there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift and we will act…We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”.

If Australia is not to be left behind, to miss out on a solid share of these new economic and environmental imperatives, then we need the policy settings that:

  • drive increasing demand for the design and construction of energy and water efficient buildings, infrastructure and transport systems,

  • ensure jobs are created in new eco industries – solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and hybrid combinations of these, and

  • plan for additional jobs – in design, development, installation and operational pursuits.

  • Australia is well placed to benefit from increasing demand for clean technologies.  'The Green Gold Rush’ is a study commissioned from Cambiar by the ACF and the ACTU. Based on the premise that by focusing on the segments with existing competitive advantages Australian policy makers and industry will maximise the chances of Australia succeeding in green markets, Cambiar assessed 30 potential green industries.

    As a results Australia’s best bets are in six sectors:

  • renewable energy
  • energy efficiency
  • biomaterials
  • green buildings
  • waste and recycling

  • It is also our assessment that, based on Australia’s capacity, we can, with the right policy settings, achieve an extra 800,000 jobs within 15 years.

    There are small but viable operations in all these sectors and they are set to expand.

    Demand is also increasing for measures to make existing structures and processes more environmentally friendly. 

    This market for “retro-fitting” is enormous and government policy setting can drive this to new heights.

    The residential initiatives for insulation and solar in the recent stimulus package …the pink bat strategy…for more than 2 million houses is a great boost to our effort in energy efficiency to lowering utilities costs for vulnerable households and for the demand for skills.

    Likewise the green screen for schools will drive demand for renewed skills from more and more workers in construction and related manufacturing and services.

    Then consider the potential for retro-fitting existing commercial buildings.

    Buildings account for around 23 percent of Australia’s green house gas emissions. Ninety-eight percent of Australia's office blocks are regarded as energy inefficient.

    According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, retrofitting and replacing equipment in buildings has the largest potential within the building sector for reducing greenhouse gases by 2030.

    Even with the continued growth of the building sector, most of the structures that will be built in 2030 have already been built. Retrofitting will play a critical role in reducing emissions.

    The industry argues that “accellerated depreciation” or a “green depreciation” incentive for a transition period will kick-start a major effort. We urge government to consider this as a matter of some urgency.


    The skills challenge

    Sustainability will become central to business strategy. Integrating sustainability into all aspects of their business – into the products they make, into their operations and processes, and into their accounting practices, they will increasingly demand green skills and knowledge.

    Are we up to it?  As an education and training community can we do it.

    As I said earlier, in preparing for a greener economy today and into the future, we face two major skills challenges.

    The first is to green existing jobs. This is crucial to meet current demand for retrofitting and the re-tooling of industry so vital to ensure our existing industries continue to grow.

    The second is to train new workers in the appropriate skills, so we can meet the demand for employees with the right skills in renewable industries and new green technology as they develop.


    Greening old jobs
    A greener, more sustainable economy doesn’t mean that we just train up some new workers in green skills and they clean up after the rest of us.

    Greening existing jobs is critical to reducing greenhouse emissions.

    It is particularly important in sectors with a high environmental impact – including building and construction, energy, transport and agriculture.  Activities in these high-impact areas account for around 70-80% of overall resource use and emissions. They employ around 3 million workers. 

    A recent report by the CSIRO suggests that, even with major environmental reforms, employment in these industries will continue to grow strongly.

    As these industries respond to the demands of a greener economy and policy environment, jobs will require new skills.

    Workers in these industries need training and up-skilling so that they can adapt to new technology and new ways of working.

    And it has already been said that we need to up-skill existing workers so that we can respond to the present and ever-growing demand for retrofitting. 

    Demand for energy efficient alternatives is already outstripping the number of workers who can do this kind of work.

    A good example was the government subsidy to encourage the conversion of cars from petrol to LPG. People who were keen to take up this opportunity found themselves waiting in a long line, because there simply weren’t enough mechanics with the skills to do this work. 

    There is a similar story on the take-up of solar energy. And, as we have noted, we don’t have nearly enough skilled workers in the range of occupations needed to retrofit buildings. 


    New green jobs
    Our second skills challenge will be in anticipating the future demands for green skills in emerging industries.

    We need to prepare new workers for the skill requirements inherent in green jobs.  We also need to ensure that our transition to a greener more sustainable economy is not stymied by a shortage of adequately trained workers.

    A recent report by the CSIRO for the Dusseldorp Skills Forum found that our current approaches to green skills are grossly inadequate. No-one collects systematic data on the skills and knowledge base of the workforce necessary to sustain the shift to a low carbon economy. Yet a good understanding of green skill requirements in a range of industries is a precondition to taking action.

    We also need much better data on consumer demand for green products and services. We need this so we can anticipate future demand and ensure we train an adequate number of workers in green skills.
    Unlike nations like Germany or the UK, we do not have a green skills jobs target. We must rectify this to drive ambition, investment, planning and skills demand.


    Our response
    The massive mobilization of skills and training required will require commitment and efforts by everyone - by governments, businesses, unions, the community sector, environmental organisations and VET institutions.  We all need to do our bit.

    And we need to deepen our efforts now.

    There are already a lot of good initiatives and efforts out there. Industry Skills Councils have begun to respond to the growing need for VET to accommodate green skills and knowledge.  There are now specific, industry-based competency standards for sustainability and guideline competency standards that can be taken up in any industry sector.  Green apprenticeships exist in a range of industries, including in construction and manufacturing.

    A number of the states have provided funding to industry associations to develop green plumbing initiatives, which assist plumbers to become trained and accredited in household water and energy efficiency. There is also great demand for ‘eco-smart’ electricians.

    In July this year, the ACTU issued a Joint Statement with the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Council of Social Services and the Climate Institute. This statement called for a fair and effective response to climate change. It recommended the following for greening Australian jobs:

  • Skills Australia should lead a national program to identify and stimulate the green skills, knowledge and work needed for a low-carbon economy;

  • By the end of 2010, at least 40,000 training opportunities in the Productivity Places Program should be allocated to the development of green skills in priority areas. This includes building and construction, energy, agriculture, and green finance, auditing and accounting;
  • Australia’s universities, TAFE and training sectors should create ‘green collar partnerships’ to advance the workplace and industry skills, knowledge and innovations required for the transition to a low-carbon economy;

  • Funds should be allocated immediately for sustainability training, skills and workplace programs. This should be boosted from 2010 with a proportion of revenues from the proposed Emission Trading Scheme.

  • As we propose in the Green Gold Rush, we need to:

  • Expand green education in executive, strategy and finance roles, to meet needs from increases in corporate responsibility for environmental management and risk, and enable integration into business strategy and planning. 

  • Assist in the penetration of skills and tools to comprehend environmental impacts and mitigation measures with model ‘organisational environmental management systems’. 

  • Support the funding needed for professional development training to address environmental challenges and their solutions - for example, skills shortages in environmental impact and cost benefit analysis was brought to our attention in roundtables. 

  • Integrate environmental education across all curricula.   Greater awareness of environmental issues and their solutions helps drive regulatory, consumer and business responses, and

  • Share best practice across sectors.  Government can help ensure the many examples of best practice are shared across the diverse group that provides environmental education and skills training.   An important part of this process is ensuring the transfer of best practice across the interface between education, training and industry. 

  • Conclusion
    Climate change and the environment is the challenge of  this era. The ACTU rejects the notion that climate change solutions are a growth deficit. If we’re smart about it, responding to climate change can mean massive opportunities for the creation of sustainable, quality jobs.

    We now stand at the beginning of a major structural transition towards a greener, more sustainable Australia. We need to intensify our efforts to ensure that we have the right policies in place.

    The right policies are fair ones – ones that ensure that working Australians and their families are not put at risk and that assist low-income households with the costs associated with transition.

    The right policies are also ones that make the most of the opportunities that the transition to a low carbon economy will bring for working Australians and for the Australian economy.

    Green skills shortages already exist. The pace of green job creation will only accelerate in the years to come.

    As we intensify effort and investment in skills we need to strike the right balance between re-training and up-skilling existing workers and investing in skills for new green jobs.

    Because in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly Australia, all jobs must be varying shades of green.

    Thank You


    More information
    Green Gold Rush report: almost a million green jobs for Australia by 2030