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ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail

Overview

This page provides information and data on the Electricity Supply Industry (ESI) – Transmission, Distribution and Rail sector, which is one component of the Utilities industry.

The ESI – Transmission, Distribution and Rail sector in Australia refers to infrastructure networks that transport high-voltage electricity from generators to distribution networks, and then directly to domestic and industrial users. The transmission sub-sector includes power lines and substations employing more than 4,500 people and generated revenue of more than $3 billion. The distribution sub-sector is significantly larger generating $193.57 billion in revenue and employed more than 31,800 people in 2018.

Vocational education and training is required for occupations involved in:

  • Transmission structure and line assembly
  • Transmission overhead (erection of towers, poles, structures and associated hardware)
  • Distribution cable jointing.

Nationally recognised training for ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail generation occupations is delivered under the UET – ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Training Package. For more information on ESI Generation, Gas and Water sectors, please visit the respective pages.

Information sourced from the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast and the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast.

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.

ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC

Employment trends

Please note: any employment projections outlined below were calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics prior to COVID-19.

Employment snapshot

The employment level in the Electricity Transmission industry sector declined sharply between 2006 and 2009 and has fluctuated since then. The employment level increased significantly between 2019 and 2020 (2,100 and 3,800 respectively) and is projected to decrease to 2,500 by 2024. Employment levels in the Electricity Distribution sector grew overall since 2000 to 27,600 in 2020 and is projected to decrease to 19,500 until 2024. Employment levels for Electricity Supply increased over all since 2008 to 22,800 in 2020 and is projected to decrease to 21,100 by 2024. A new version of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification came out in 2006, which may affect the employment level time series.

Electrical Distribution Trades Workers are the largest VET-related occupation, making up 14% of the total Electricity Transmission and Distribution industry sector workforces. The number of Electrical Distribution Trade Workers is projected to remain relatively steady until 2024 with an increase of less than 1%.

Electricians also make up a significant proportion of the Electricity Transmission and Distribution industry sector workforces (11%), and this occupation is expected to see an increase (5%) in employment levels over the next four years to 2024. Electrical Engineers will see also see an increase in employment levels until 2024, by about 3%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were roughly 5,890 program enrolments during 2019 and approximately 1,400 completions. Program enrolments have increased in 2019 following a decrease between 2017 and 2018. Completions have steadily decreased between 2015 and 2018 but have increased between 2018 and 2019. The proportion of enrolments in subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised program decreased since 2015, with 22% in 2019.

Enrolments in 2019 were mainly at diploma or higher (49%), certificate II (31%), and certificate III (18%) levels. Students enrolled in the Power Systems qualification, which had 68% of enrolments in this sector, were mainly training towards the intended occupations of Electrical Engineer and Electrical Distribution Trades Workers. For qualifications in Transmission and Powerline Vegetation Control, students were training towards the intended occupation of Electrical or Telecommunications Trades Assistant.

The majority of training was delivered by either TAFE institutes (54%) or private training providers (38%). For TAFE institute subject enrolments, more than 96% were funded by international fee for service whereas for private providers 96% was funded by domestic fee for service, while 89% of subject funding for enterprise providers was through Commonwealth and state funding.

Nearly half of all students who enrolled during 2019 resided overseas (48%). Students residing in Australia were from Victoria (17%), New South Wales (16%) and Queensland (9%).

Approximately half of all training was delivered overseas (48%) followed by Victoria (19%), New South Wales (18%) and Queensland (6%).

Apprentice and trainee commencements have generally declined since 2010, down to approximately 180 commencements in 2016; however, they increased in 2019 to almost 300 commencements. Completion levels have remained fairly stable between 2017 and 2018 but have declined sharply by more than half between 2018 and 2019. The majority of apprentices and trainees were training towards the occupation of Electrical Distribution Trades Workers, however, there were also some aimed at the occupation of Electrical Linesworker. More than 27% of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported in Queensland, followed by New South Wales (25%) and Victoria (20%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, visit NCVER’s VET students by industry. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The top priority skills in the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast required for the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail sector are health and safety and coding/programming. The top priority industry and occupation skills include cabling, electrical and transmission.

According to the job vacancy data, the top advertised VET-related occupations in the Electricity Supply industry are Other Building and Engineering Technicians and Electricians. Job vacancy data suggests the top generic skills in demand are communication and planning. The top employers for workers in this industry were Origin Energy Limited and Energy Queensland.

The top generic skills listed in the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast in order of importance to the industry are:

  • Technology
  • Design mindset / Thinking critically / System thinking / Solving problems
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  • Learning agility / information literacy / intellectual autonomy and self-management
  • Language, literacy and numeracy (LLN).

The way electricity is stored and distributed is undergoing a period of technological change. Industry reports and the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast have identified this shift in technology as a key challenge in skill development for the workforce.

Challenges and opportunities for this sector identified in the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast include:

  • Emerging technologies: The future grid will require the deployment of new smart technologies such as computer diagnostics of device faults and advanced communications requirements to provide two-way flows of data/energy and a workforce that has been prepared to work with intelligent technical support equipment. Rail signalling is moving towards fully digital control systems that monitor and manage train movements in response to the use of driverless trains. Robust training and assessment regimes are required to ensure the future safety and integrity of rail signalling systems.
  • Environmental concerns and diversification of the network: The adoption of renewable electricity, including sources from wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy is becoming more prevalent and important. For example, the proliferation of wind and solar generating units, battery storage, hydro power, etc has given rise to Distributed Energy Resources (DER), small-scale units of local generation connected to the grid at distribution level. It is predicted that up to 45 per cent of all electricity in the grid will be generated by customers in 2050. Such changes will present significant challenges and opportunities to develop a skilled workforce to meet the technical and regulatory challenges in the future.
  • The electricity grid has become more dependent on digitally connected information systems which requires Skill Sets of highly trained individuals to protect not only consumers' personal information but also grid infrastructure. The current cross-sector project addressing cyber security skills may afford the opportunity to develop an ESI-TDR Skill Set utilising imported Units of Competency developed to meet this need.

The ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2020 Skills Forecast (Annual Update) highlights the challenges and opportunities discussed in the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast are still transforming the electricity distribution sector. The Annual Update identifies several technological impacts that require workforce planning and skill development including: the Internet of Things (IoT), connection of devices, sensors and data collection tools are enabling real-time data on electricity use; new software technologies are altering the operation of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) by forecasting peak demand periods; Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) are allowing integration of electricity generated by solar panels, wind farms, and consumers with stored solar power; smart energy networks. The importance of an industry specific cyber security training program is also reiterated. Other industry workforce, skills developments or trends to emerge since the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast include:

  • Energy literacy – a recent report commissioned by National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) suggests there needs to be a greater industry impetus to improve energy understanding in the community and a co-ordinated national approach to enable a transition to a carbon-free future.
  • Energy pricing – cost containment is a high priority for the industry, and strong policy design and smart meters could assist consumers spending a high proportion of their income on electricity.
  • Renewable technologies – the skills needed for the installation, maintenance and operation of hydropower, solar and wind generation will be focus of the industry for the next few years as the energy sector shifts to higher proportions of generation from renewable sources.

Distributed energy resources were investigated in the Western Australian Inquiry into the Emergence and Impact of Microgrids and Associated Technologies in Western Australia. The final report notes the rapid pace of change, the extent of innovation, and the opportunities along the value chain that include their ability to act as reliable, dispatchable energy and over-generation balancing resources and can reduce system costs by deferring or removing the need to invest in new or replacement infrastructure. Smart meters and telecommunications technology are integral to the success of implementation. To take advantage of these opportunities, the regulatory structure will need to be updated and remain flexible to be able to incorporate future innovation.

The report The Future of Energy and the Energy chapter of the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 support the trends highlighted in the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast, discussing shifts towards higher uptake of renewable energy generation and issues with the cost of energy to consumers. While the Future of Energy report models outcomes to 2040, it states the need for decisions on the types of generation to meet Australia’s energy requires to be made within the next two years, which reinforces workforce skilling and upskilling as a priority.

The Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap: Future Workforce Skilling Impacts forecasts the continuous adoption of emerging technologies between now and 2027 will require ongoing skill development for the electricity transmission and distribution workforces.

A discussion paper on the Future Skilling Implications of the Smart Grid suggests transitioning to a smarter grid will have the largest impact on the distribution network operator workforce and electrical contractors. New roles not previously part of the distribution network operator workforce may be required, particularly in the areas of Engineering, ICT and Data Analytics.

The ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast reports 27.7% of respondents (from an online survey of industry stakeholders) experienced a skills shortage in the last 12 months in the occupations of Educators, Trainers and Assessors, Line Workers, Electricians, Cable Jointers and Transmission (overhead/underground). The reasons for this include an ageing workforce and staff retiring, the cost and time to achieve a qualification, competition from other organisations, salaries considered too low, and geographic location of the vacancy.

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

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

  • employment projections to May 2024, by ANZSIC 3 digit industry:
    • 262 Electricity Transmission
    • 263 Electricity Distribution
    • 260 Electricity Supply, nfd.
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2024:
    • 3422 Electrical Distribution Trades Workers
    • 3411 Electricians
    • 2333 Electrical Engineers
    • 3123 Electrical Engineering Draftspersons and Technicians.

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 3 digit industry, 2000 to 2020, May Quarter
    • 262 Electricity Transmission
    • 263 Electricity Distribution
    • 260 Electricity Supply, nfd.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census – employment, income and unpaid work, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

  • Employment level by:
    • 262 Electricity Transmission
    • 263 Electricity Distribution
    • 4 digit level occupations to identify the relevant VET-related occupations in the industry as a proportion of the total workforce.                                                                                                              

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET students and courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • UET ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Training Package
  • Power Systems
    • UET30512 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Transmission Overhead
    • UET30612 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Overhead
    • UET30619 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Overhead
    • UET30712 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Rail Traction
    • UET30812 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Cable Jointing
    • UET40512 - Certificate IV in ESI - Power Systems Substations
    • UET40612 - Certificate IV in ESI - Power Systems Network Infrastructure
    • UET50109 - Diploma of ESI - Power Systems
    • UET50212 - Diploma of ESI - Power Systems
    • UET50312 - Diploma of ESI - Power Systems Operations
    • UET60109 - Advanced Diploma of ESI - Power Systems
    • UET60212 - Advanced Diploma of ESI - Power Systems.
  • Transmission
    • UET20412 - Certificate II in Transmission Structure and Line Assembly
    • UET20511 - Certificate II in National Broadband Network Cabling (Electricity Supply Industry Assets)
    • UET20612 - Certificate II in ESI - Asset Inspection
    • UET30109 - Certificate III in ESI - Transmission
    • UET30206 - Certificate III in ESI - Distribution
    • UET30209 - Certificate III in ESI - Distribution
    • UET30306 - Certificate III in ESI - Rail Traction
    • UET30309 - Certificate III in ESI - Rail Traction
    • UET30409 - Certificate III in ESI - Cable Jointing
    • UET30912 - Certificate III in ESI - Remote Community Utilities Worker
    • UET40206 - Certificate IV in ESI - Substation
    • UET40412 - Certificate IV in ESI - Network Systems.
  • Powerline Vegetation Control
    • UET20312 - Certificate II in ESI - Powerline Vegetation Control
    • UET20319 - Certificate II in ESI - Powerline Vegetation Control.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 subject enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

UET - ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2019 commencements
  • 2010 to 2019 completions
  • 2019 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2019 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2020, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2020, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2017 and June 2020 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

  • Generic skills / Occupations
    • Machinery Operators and Drivers
    • Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 26 Electricity Supply.
  • Employers
    • 3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 3411 Electricians
    • 3422 Electrical Distribution Trades Workers
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 3232 Metal Fitters and Machinists
    • 26 Electricity Supply.
Updated: 30 Oct 2020
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