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Utilities

Overview

This page provides high level information and data on the Utilities industry which comprises four main industry sectors:

  • ESI Generation
  • ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail
  • Gas
  • Water.

For more information on the ESI Generation, ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail, Gas and Water sectors, their Industry Reference Committees, Skills Forecasts and Training Packages, follow the links to their respective sector pages.

Data and information on the occupations of Electricians and Plumbers (which make up a significant proportion of the utilities workforce), are contained within the Electrotechnology and Construction industry clusters.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

    IRC and skills forecasts

    IRCs now submit comprehensive Skills Forecasts to the AISC every 3 years, with abridged annual updates submitted in the intervening 2 years.

    The ESI Generation IRC was not required to submit an annual update to their 2019 Skills Forecast during 2020. As such, the version published in 2019 remains the most recently published Skills Forecast for this industry.

    ESI Generation IRC

    ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC

    Gas IRC

    Water IRC

    Industry cluster snapshot

    Employment and training snapshot

    The largest Utilities industry sector by employment is Electricity Transmission, Distribution and Rail (which also includes Electricity Supply, nfd). Employment in this sector increased between 2019 and 2020 to 54,200 following a decrease between 2018 and 2019 from 50,600 to 39,500 and is projected to increase to around 43,100 by 2024. Note, however, a new version of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification came out in 2006, which may affect the employment level time series.

    Employment in the Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services sector has also grown significantly since 2000, peaking in 2012 at 44,200, and employment is expected to increase until 2024 to 38,200 following a decline between 2019 and 2020 (approximately 36,800 and 30,100 respectively). Employment in Electricity Generation (21,200 in 2020), and Gas Supply (15,800 in 2020) are projected to decrease until 2024.

    There were approximately 9,010 program enrolments in the four Utilities Industry Training Packages during 2019, and more than 2,190 completions. Both program enrolments and completions declined between 2015 and 2018, however, both have increased between 2018 and 2019. The proportion of subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised training program has decreased overall between 2015 and 2019, with 44% in 2015 and 25% in 2019.

    Industry insights on skills needs

    The four skills forecasts for the Utilities industry have identified the common challenges and opportunities experienced by all subsectors as:

    • New technologies including automation, smart technologies, remote operations and data analytics will require investment in educational programs to train the future and upskill the existing workforce in digital literacy. The uptake of new digital technologies increases exposure to cyber security threats, making it imperative to have a tailored cyber security training program that provides the industry workforce the skills and knowledge to be able to resolve them. Soft skills and lifelong learning will be integral to having a resilient workforce ready to adapt to change.
    • Environmental factors are driving change within the subsectors. The energy sector collectively will face significant challenges and opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels pledged in the Paris Climate Agreement. The speed at which decarbonisation and diversification innovations are being introduced could potentially result in skills gaps, particularly if the existing workforce does not have access to funding for training.

    Other issues discussed in the Skills Forecasts include an ageing workforce for the Gas and Water sectors, and challenges recruiting into roles that are perceived to be unattractive. However, the increase in the uptake of technology was noted as an opportunity for a more diverse workforce.

    In the 2020 annual updates for the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail, Gas and Water sectors, technological change remains a common challenge and opportunity. Analysis conducted for Technology and the Future of Australian Jobs finds the Utilities industry's need to merge operational and digital skills due to technological change presents a significant challenge. Demand for data analytics, science and automation skills is being created through the increased usage of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and collaboration and systems thinking skills by smart city initiatives requiring companies work together. The analysis suggests that over the next decade, there will be an acute skills shortfall in programming, technology design and installation if appropriate action isn't taken. The report Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce states that while a large number of the roles in the Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services workforce could be affected by automation in the next 15 years, roles will be more subject to augmentation than replacement. The Australian Government has released a discussion paper for a Technology Investment Roadmap, seeking stakeholder’s views to help prioritise investment in new and developing low emissions technologies. For the Utilities industry, the discussion paper includes key technology challenges and opportunities in record investment in renewable energy, increasing energy productivity, establishing and scaling hydrogen production with a view to establishing export markets, and the electrification of industry and transport.

    COVID-19 impact

    The Utilities Industry provides an essential service to Australians. The Industry has moved quickly to support its continuation through implementing workforce protection measures and engaging with suppliers, and to reassure the users of their services. Of concern to the industry has been the large volume of customers who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and may not be able to pay their bills. The Australian Energy Regulator released a Statement of Expectations of energy businesses, updated on 28 July, extending protections to energy customers. Energy retailers must not disconnect, refer to debt collection agencies or credit default listing until at least 31 October 2020. To prevent multiple retailer failure, the Australian Energy Market Commission formally agreed in August to allow some retailers to defer network bills for 6 months to help keep the energy market resilient.

    Australia’s future energy needs have attracted a considerable amount of attention from governments, industry, associations, interest groups and the media as a means of promoting recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic by attracting investment and creating employment opportunities. While many of the projects announced and promoted have potentially long lead times before they commence, they emphasise the concerns raised in the Industry Skills Forecasts that training entrants and upskilling the current workforce in renewable and new technologies needs to begin promptly to be ready to adapt to thes changes and those that have already begun. A report published by PwC states the pandemic has made Australia’s skills challenge more complex and urgent. Skilled migration has traditionally been used to fill skills gaps, but it is expected with border closures migration will be reduced by 85% over the next year.

    ESI Generation and ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail

    A high proportion of the recent discussion regarding Australia’s future energy needs and reduction in carbon emissions, accelerated by the recent bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, impacts the ESI Generation and ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Industries. The Commonwealth government released a discussion paper to seek input to inform its Low Emissions Technology Statement, acknowledging the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must continue to prioritise investment in technologies that improve productivity and support a resilient economy.

    Rystad Energy reported in April that economic factors exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted many projects, with up to 3 gigawatts of utility wind and PV projects postponed or cancelled. PwC Australia released COVID-19 and the Solar Industry in March to help project owners and solar industry participants negotiate impending legal and financial implications of the disruption and delay of manufacturing and supply of equipment materials needed in the construction of solar facilities.

    Key findings of the scenario analysis conducted for the Renewable Energy Employment in Australia: Stage One report include the renewable energy industry could create 20,000 new jobs in the next five years or lose 11,000 jobs by 2022 depending on government COVID-19 stimulus measures and wider energy policy. The Clean Energy Council A Clean Recovery report recommends increased government support for rooftop solar, home battery storage, large scale wind, solar and energy storage projects, and a stronger transmission network. The report also highlights clean energy projects primarily benefit regional and remote areas and have many characteristics that reduce the risk factors associated with COVID-19 transmission including household installations are undertaken by small workforces , and large scale project sites are distributed over wide areas in non-urban areas. The Clean Jobs Plan, produced by AlphaBeta for the Climate Council also includes installing utility-scale renewable energy and community-scale grid systems as components of its 12 policy decisions. It also highlights funding education and training to transition workers into new roles would create 1,000 jobs.

    Some of the projects for the ESI Generation and ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail industry sectors that have been discussed or announced as potential contributors to Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 include:

    • New South Wales announced a plan to develop a second 8,000 MW Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in New England, which is expected to support 1,300 ongoing jobs. A REZ involves the coordinated development of new grid infrastructure in energy rich areas, to connect multiple generators in the same location. The most promising potential sites for pumped hydro development are in the New England area. Also in New South Wales, the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project received Commonwealth environmental approval on 30 June 2020 following planning approval granted by the New South Wales government in May. Approximately 4,000 jobs may be supported over the life of the project, estimated to be completed in 2025.
    • The Tasmanian Government has stated renewable energy initiatives including the Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link will assist the economic recovery from the pandemic of both Tasmania and the rest of Australia by driving investment and creating thousands of local jobs.
    • The Western Australian Government announced a $66.3 million package focused on renewable energy technologies, including 50 standalone power systems, the installation of nine Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) in nine regional communities, and infrastructure upgrades in remote Aboriginal communities, installation of solar panels on social housing properties, transforming up to 10 schools into smart, green Virtual Power Plants and installing solar panels at up to 60 bus and rail stations.
    • The Victorian Government announced a market sounding process for hundreds of megawatts of electricity that will test industry interest and capacity for new solar, wind and other renewable energy projects. It will also explore the potential for electricity-reliant industries and businesses to buy renewable energy along with government through this process.
    • In Stage Two of the Queensland government economic recovery strategy, a $23 million renewable energy training facility was announced. As part of their economic recovery plan $145 million has been allocated to establish three Queensland renewable energy zones (QREZ) and government support for the deployment of new energy storage.
    • The Star of the South project, an offshore wind farm proposed for the ocean off the south coast of Victoria, is awaiting a commercial licence. The Australia Government is developing a new regulatory framework to enable offshore clean energy projects by providing a pathway for their construction and operation.
    • The Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL) to be developed in the Northern Territory was given Major Project Status by the Northern Territory Government in July 2019 and by the Australian Government in July 2020. The AAPL will integrate the world’s largest battery, solar farm and a 4,500km transmission system from the solar/storage facility in the Tennant Creek region to Darwin, Singapore and Indonesia, providing dispatchable electricity to the Northern Territory, 20% of Singapore’s electricity demand and 300 operational jobs.
    • A proposed $1.53 billion electricity interconnector between Robertstown in South Australia and Wagga Wagga in New South Wales has been given approval by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER). The interconnector will allow up to 30 renewable energy projects to progress. Modelling undertaken by the Australian Energy Market Operator for the South Australian government showed the state was at risk of restrictions on further expansion of rooftop solar installations without the interconnector included as a component of the government’s renewal energy plan.

    Gas

    The Gas Industry associations have offered recognition that the supply of gas is an essential service, and reassurance on the continuity of its supply. Government recognition as an essential service has enabled the continuation of transport of gas including Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG), Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and continuation of gas supply network operations. Gas Energy Australia reports more than nine million LPG outdoor leisure cylinders, 350,000 light vehicles and 2 million households and businesses are reliant on LPG for cooking and heating. They also emphasised the importance of the gas fuels supply chain including trucking and gas tank and equipment maintainers, repairers and suppliers that support the gas fuels distribution network being recognised as an essential service in the same way as the maintenance of the electricity network infrastructure. The Australian Gas Networks – Response to COVID-19 states their operational focus to safely maintain the reliability of gas supply for their customers and the broader community has not been impacted and they would still be carrying out emergency repairs, performing works and reading meters. The Australian Gas Association has continued its certification and laboratory testing services. On a lighter note, SA Water reported that millions of litres of beer that expired while the hospitality industry was shut down boosted the renewable energy generation of the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant. Adding 150,000 litres of expired beer per week, it generated a record 355,200 cubic metres of biogas in May and another 320,000 cubic metres in June, which is enough to power 1,200 houses.

    The Gas IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast reports additional Gas Supply infrastructure will be needed, especially from 2030 onwards, to meet future demand. The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019: Energy chapter shows many states have high levels of households with gas connections in their capital cities and new or expanded sources of supply are likely to result in a need for new pipelines and processing facilities. While biogas may be injected into the distribution system without causing any issues, a technical report prepared for Gas Vision 2050 shows only a small proportion of the gas used by households for their heating and cooking needs can be replaced with hydrogen. It has been widely reported in the media there is potential for new gas infrastructure to be constructed as part of the government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy. A pre-feasibility study conducted by ACIL Allen Consulting and GHD in 2018 estimated the construction of a west-east pipeline could take four to five years and support up to 1,300 jobs. The Queensland government has committed to investigating the feasibility and options for a new transmission pipeline to connect the Bowen Basin’s gas reserves to the east coast of Queensland as part of their economic recovery plan.

    Water

    Water Industry associations and suppliers have focussed on ensuring the continuity of water and wastewater services, particularly the work practices of operators and supply of chemicals, and allaying potential concerns of consumers about safety and the financial hardship they may be experiencing (links to examples are provided in the Relevant research section below). Water Services Association of Australia has produced a factsheet to help providers reassure consumers about the safety and continuation of the supply of drinking water in relation to COVID-19. Water Research Australia reports that while it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 may be present in wastewater where COVID-19 infections are present, the same is true for a wide variety of pathogens and the controls already in place to protect persons working around wastewater are based on keeping workers safe from much more readily transmissible and established pathogens still apply, and no special or specific changes need to be made due to the SARS-CoV-2. Water Research Australia has established a Community of Interest to provide a central place for water utilities to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 and the implications for the water sector. Water Research Australia is also leading the ColoSSos (Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2) Project, collaboration between water utilities, health departments and researchers to track and monitor the presence of the virus in the sewerage network. The Queensland government has included continued investment in water infrastructure as part of their economic recovery plan.

    Links and resources

    Below is a list of industry-relevant research, organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

    Utilities-related research organisations

    Australian Institute of Energy

    Energy - CSIRO

    Melbourne Energy Institute

    The Australian Institute

    University of South Australia, Barbara Hardy Institute – Sustainable Energy

    University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas

    University of Queensland – Energy Initiative

    University of Western Australia – Centre for Energy

     

    Relevant research

    A Changing Electricity Industry, a Changing Workforce: A Discussion Paper on the Future Skilling Implications of the Smart Grid – Energy Skills Queensland

    A Hydrogen Roadmap for South Australia – Department of the Premier and Cabinet

    Bioenergy State of the Nation Report – KPMG

    Biogas Opportunities for Australia – ENEA Consulting

    Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap: Final Report – Energy Network Australia; CSIRO

    Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap: Future Workforce Skilling Impacts – Energy Skills Queensland

    National Hydrogen Roadmap – Bruce S, Temminghoff M, Hayward J, Schmidt E, Munnings C, Palfreyman D, Hartley P.

    National Hydrogen Strategy – COAG Energy Council Hydrogen Working Group

    Occupational Profile of the Water Industry Workforce in NSW Local Government – NSW Water Directorate

    Queensland CSG to LNG Industry Workforce Plan 2014–2034 – Energy Skills Queensland

    Queensland Hydrogen Industry Strategy 2019–2024 – Queensland. Department of State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning

    Quick clean energy jobs for Victoria – Clean Energy Council (Australia)

    Renewable Energy Jobs: Future Growth in Australia – Climate Council

    State of the Water Sector Report 2015 – Australian Water Association

    Technology and the Future of Australian Jobs – Oxford Economics

    Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce – Faethm

    Technology Investment Roadmap Discussion Paper – Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    The 2018 Queensland Urban Water Industry Workforce Composition Snapshot – Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

    Western Australian Renewable Hydrogen Strategy – Western Australia. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

     

    COVID-19 references

    $23 million Renewable Energy Training Facility Gets Green Light to Create Jobs – Queensland Government

    $66.3 million Renewable Energy Technologies Boost in WA Recovery – Western Australian Government

    AER Statement of Expectations of Energy Businesses: Protecting Customers and the Energy Market During COVID-19 – Australian Energy Regulator

    Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL) – Sun Cable

    Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019: Energy – Infrastructure Australia

    Battery of the Nation – Hydro Tasmania

    Battery of the Nation White Papers Released – Tasmanian Government

    COVID Energy Market Resilience Measure Gets AEMC Green Light – Australian Energy Market Commission

    Current Major Project Status projects – Australian Government

    COVID-19 Community of Interest – Water Research Australia

    COVID Expired Beer Brews Energy Ale – SA Water

    COVID-19 – SA Water

    COVID-19 – VicWater

    COVID-19 and the Solar Industry – PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia

    COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – Our Response – Water NSW

    COVID-19 Forum – Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

    COVID-19 to Pause Up To 3GW of Wind and PV Projects in Australia – Rystad Energy

    COVID-19 Support and Updates – Water Corporation (Western Australia)

    Current Major Project Status projects – Australian Government

    ElectraNet - SA Energy Transformation regulatory investment test for transmission (RIT-T) – Australian Energy Regulator

    Environmental Approval for Snowy Hydro 2.0 – Prime Minister, Minister for Environment, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction

    Energy Industry Managing COVID-19 Pandemic – Australian Energy Council

    Gas Fuels Industry Committed to Maintaining Supplies During COVID-19 Pandemic – Gas Energy Australia

    Gas Vision 2050 – Energy Networks Australia

    Identifying the commercial, technical and regulatory issues for injecting renewable gas in Australian distribution gas networks – Energy Pipelines CRC

    Major Project Status Awarded to Sun Cable – Northern Territory Government

    Marinus Link – Tasmanian Networks

    New England to light up with second NSW Renewable Energy Zone – New South Wales Government

    Offshore Clean Energy Infrastructure - Proposed Framework – Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Our Response to COVID-19 – Sydney Water

    Queensland's Economic Recovery Plan – Queensland Government

    Renewable Energy Jobs in Australia: Stage One – Chris Briggs, Jay Rutovitz, Elsa Dominish, Kriti Nagrath

    SA-NSW Interconnector Gets Regulatory Go-Ahead to Unlock Slew of Renewable Energy Projects – Marija Maisch, PV Magazine

    SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Water and Sanitation (March 2020) – Water Research Australia

    SA Utilities Adapt to Overcome COVID Risks to Major Solar Project and Keep Economy Moving – SA Water

    South Australia's Energy Solution: A Secure Transition to Affordable Renewable Energy – South Australia. Department for Energy and Mining

    Snowy 2.0 – Snow Hydro

    Snowy 2.0 - Main Works – New South Wales. Department of Planning, Industry and Environment

    Star of the South – Star of the South Wind Farm

    Technology Investment Roadmap Discussion Paper – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    West-East Pipeline Pre-Feasibility Study – John Nicolaou, Paul Balfe and Ryan Buckland

    Where Next for Skills? – PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia

     

    Industry associations and advisory bodies

    Australia New Zealand Industrial Gas Association

    Australian Energy Council

    Australian Energy Market Commission

    Australian Energy Regulator

    Australian Gas Association

    Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association

    Australian Pipelines and Gas Association

    Australian Water Association

    Clean Energy Council

    Clean Energy Regulator

    Energy Networks Australia

    Energy Safe Victoria

    Energy Skills Queensland

    Future Energy Skills

    Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association of Australia

    Gas Energy Australia

    Gas Technical Regulators Committee

    Industry Skills Advisory Council NT

    Pump Industry Australia

    Queensland Water Directorate (qldwater)

    Safe Work Australia

    The Australian Power Institute

    Utilities and Electrotechnology Industry Training Advisory Board - NSW

    Utilities, Engineering, Electrical and Automotive Training Council - WA

    Victorian Registration & Qualifications Authority

    VicWater

    Water Directorate - NSW

    Water Industry Operators Association of Australia

    Water Services Association of Australia

     

    Employee associations

    Australian Services Union

    Australian Workers Union

    Electrical Trades Union

    Transport Workers Union

    United Services Union

    Data sources and notes

    Department of Employment 2020, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

    • Employment projections to May 2024, by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry
      • 260 Electricity Supply, nfd
      • 261 Electricity Generation
      • 262 Electricity Transmission
      • 263 Electricity Distribution
      • 27 Gas Supply
      • 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), sex, state and territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 – EQ06, viewed 1 August 2020 https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6291.0.55.003May%202020?OpenDocument

    • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry, 2000 to 2020, May Quarter
      • 260 Electricity Supply, nfd
      • 261 Electricity Generation
      • 262 Electricity Transmission
      • 263 Electricity Distribution
      • 27 Gas Supply
      • 28 Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Services.

    Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET students and courses, 2019 Program Enrolments by:

    • UEP Electricity Supply Industry – Generation Sector Training Package
    • UET ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Training Package
    • NWP National Water Training Package
    • UEG Gas Industry Training Package.
    Updated: 25 Sep 2020
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