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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 Construction and Electrotechnology industry clusters.

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

    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 slightly between 2021 and 2022 to 46,400 and is projected to decrease to around 39,300 by 2025. 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 2002, peaking in 2012 at 44,200. Employment levels declined between 2019 and 2020 (from 36,900 to 30,100 respectively) before increasing over the next two years to 35,200 in 2022. Employment is expected to increase further to 38,300 by the year 2025. Employment in Electricity Generation (19,300 in 2022), and Gas Supply (12,800 in 2022) are also projected to increase until 2025.

    There were approximately 9,000 program enrolments in the four Utilities Industry Training Packages during 2021, and nearly 3,320 completions. Program enrolments in 2021 returned to a similar level to 2019 following a sharp decline by nearly a third in 2020. Program completions have steadily increased from a decline in 2018. The proportion of subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised training program has decreased from 32% in 2017 to 20% in 2021.

    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, and 2021 Industry Outlooks for all four 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 Technology Impacts on the Australian Workforce report 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, these roles will be more subject to augmentation than replacement.

    The Australian Government discussion paper for the Technology Investment Roadmap includes key technology challenges and opportunities such as 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. The First Low Emissions Technology Statement: 2020 for the roadmap states the priority low emissions technologies identified are: clean hydrogen, energy storage (initially pumped hydro), low carbon materials (steel and aluminium), carbon capture and storage, and soil carbon. The second statement includes the aim for aims for solar photovoltaic to achieve 30% efficiency at 30 cents per installed watt by 2030, conducting a National Hydrogen Infrastructure Assessment, investing in seven clean hydrogen industrial hubs to concentrate demand for hydrogen in one geographic region to reduce costs and enhance skills and training efforts, developing a voluntary zero emissions gas market to increase early demand for clean hydrogen and other zero emissions gases, and investing in enabling infrastructure such as battery charging and hydrogen refuelling stations, and a digital grid to support rapid growth in solar and wind generation.

    For the ESI Generation, ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail, and Gas Industry sectors, the transition to sustainable energy resources is a key issue highlighted in their respective 2021 Industry Outlooks. Decarbonisation Futures: Solutions, Actions and Benchmarks for a Net Zero Emissions Australia shows all eight Australian state and territory governments have committed to, or aspire to, net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. State and Territory Climate Action: Leading Policies and Programs in Australia reports the current state and territory 2030 renewable energy targets represent an implicit Australian renewable energy target of approximately 55 per cent. Tasmania has already achieved 100% net renewables and has legislated to achieve 200% renewables by 2040. South Australia intends to achieve 500% renewables by 2050.

    In Developing the Future Energy Workforce: Opportunity Assessment for RACE for 2030 it is stated the energy systems in 2030 and 2050 will be very different and will require significant shifts in skills along with a larger clean energy workforce. There will be a growing demand for skilled tradespeople and energy professionals, including a digitally enabled workforce. A detailed mapping of the future workforce is required, with the mapping of the occupational breakdown within fossil fuel industries essential to enable a just transition for workers. The time needed to develop skills and training is an important consideration, with university and vocational training able to deliver skilled workers over the medium to long term, whereas short courses and other pathways can upskill the existing workforce to fill skills gaps rapidly. Making the industry more appealing for diverse groups, including women, will be key to addressing skills shortages. Current programs can tend to address diversity issues once the person has already made the decision to join the workforce, and the pathway may need to be made more attractive to people while they are still in secondary education.

    COVID-19 impact

    The Utilities Industry provides an essential service to Australians. The State of the Energy Market 2021 by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) reports that in 2020, many consumers experienced an increase in financial stress. However, the pandemic only had a moderate impact on broader energy market outcomes, with increased household consumption partially offsetting the drop in commercial usage due to closures during lockdowns. In early April 2020, AER released the first Statement Of Expectations Of Energy Businesses: Protecting Consumers and the Market During COVID-19, which has been subsequentially amended four times. The statement released in June 2021 acknowledges the uncertain nature of the pandemic and is in place to provide protection in the event of further stay at home orders. To prevent multiple retailer failure, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) published a final determination and rule that introduces a mechanism to allow some retailers to defer network charges to distribution network service providers (DNSPs) incurred between 6 August 2020 and 6 February 2021 for eligible customers for six months.

    Australia’s future energy needs have attracted a considerable amount of attention from governments, industry, associations, interest groups and the media. The pandemic recovery process has been seen as an opportunity to accelerate the uptake of renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, and thereby create employment opportunities. For example, the Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia suite of measures from the Commonwealth Government 2021-22 Budget includes investment in new dispatchable generation, battery and microgrid projects, gas generators to become hydrogen ready, hydrogen hubs, and water and natural disaster resilience. While many of the projects announced have potentially long lead times, they highlight 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.

    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 impacts the ESI Generation and ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Industries. The Commonwealth government released a discussion paper in 2020 to seek input to inform its Low Emissions Technology Statements (2020 and 2021), acknowledging the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must continue to prioritise investment in technologies that improve productivity and support a resilient economy. Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan summarises the Australian, state and territory government co-investments in energy and emissions reductions projects for transmission, interconnectors and renewable energy zones. Examples in the plan include Snowy 2.0, the MarinusLink interconnector, Project EnergyConnect interconnector, Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation, and the Regional Australia Microgrids Pilots program. The Commonwealth Government Budget 2021-22 Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia document includes funding to assist new gas generators to become hydrogen ready. The JobMaker Plan was introduced to stimulate economic growth in response to the pandemic, a key feature of which is the Modern Manufacturing Strategy. The six priority areas include recycling and clean energy, with the roadmap identifying opportunities for Australian manufacturers benefit from large energy projects.

    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. 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. Clean Jobs for Communities: How Local Governments Can Create Sustainable, Strong Economies is based on the Clean Job Plan and shows how local governments can deliver and advocate for opportunities to ensure an economic recovery that empowers. In the clean energy section of the report, it is stated that local governments can drive the transition to clean energy through large and small projects that can provide opportunities for local investment and job creation.

    Gas

    The Australian Gas Networks AGN – 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 if access is unhindered. During lockdowns, disconnection orders were cancelled and returned to the respective retailer. COVID-19 Economic Assessment by IBISWorld reports that the pandemic has moderately affected the Gas Supply sub-sector, with the global downturn in economic conditions reducing demand for natural gas in 2020-21. Lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria in 2021 are expected to have hindered demand from the manufacturing sector, which is the largest domestic market for natural gas accounting for about 60% of industry revenue, but this will be partially offset by increased demand from people working from home.

    The Australian Government Gas-Fired Recovery was announced 15 September 2020. Part of the Government’s JobMaker plan, the initiative intends to create a more competitive and transparent Australian Gas Hub by unlocking gas supply, delivering an efficient pipeline and transportation market, and empowering gas customers. New measures were included in the 2021-22 federal budget, and the National Gas Infrastructure Plan: Interim Report (Interim NGIP) has been released, providing a blueprint of infrastructure requirements for Australia’s east coast gas market to 2027. The budget commitments also include funding for infrastructure projects and support the 2020 and 2021 Low Emissions Technology Statements, Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy under the Technology Investment Roadmap, and the National Gas Infrastructure Plan. In 2018, a pre-feasibility study 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

    The Water Industry has played a pivotal role in monitoring and tracking COVID-19 infections. A collaboration between CSIRO and The University of Queensland in early 2020 provided proof that wastewater surveillance could detect COVID-19 prevalence in a community. The validated method built on work by research groups in the Netherlands and the United States of America. 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.

    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. 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, the same is true for a wide variety of pathogens. The controls already in place are based keeping workers safe from much more readily transmissible and established pathogens, and no special or specific changes need to be made due to SARS-CoV-2. The Water Sector Macro Trends: Analysis Report for the Victorian Water Industry states it is possible there will be less acceptance and implementation of recycled water due to public concerns over the transmission of the virus.

    The analysis report also suggests financial constraints may affect the ability of utilities to increase water supply resilience, particularly in regional areas where revenue has been strongly impacted by drought, floods, bushfires and COVID-19, and recovery may take many years. The Water Services Association of Australia submission to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission states that in addition to investing in capital project, investment is needed to develop the capability and capacity of people living in regional Australia. The Queensland government has included continued investment in water infrastructure as part of their economic recovery plan. The 2021-2022 New South Wales Budget Regional NSW paper includes funding for critical local water infrastructure to maintain and improve town water supplies.

    Links and resources

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

     

    IRC and skills forecasts

    ESI Generation Industry Reference Committee

    ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail Industry Reference Committee

    Gas Industry Reference Committee

    Water Industry Reference Committee

     

    Utilities related research organisations

    Australian Institute of Energy

    Energy - CSIRO

    Melbourne Energy Institute

    The Australian Institute

    University of Queensland Centre for Natural Gas

    University of Queensland – Energy Initiative

    University of Western Australia – Centre for Energy

     

    Relevant research

    Decarbonisation Futures: Solutions, Actions and Benchmarks for a Net Zero Emissions Australia – ClimateWorks Australia

    Developing the Future Energy Workforce: Opportunity Assessment for RACE for 2030 – Jay J Rutovitz, Dirk Visser, Samantha Sharpe, Holly Taylor, Kate Jennings, Alison Atherton, Chris Briggs, Franziska Mey, Sarah Niklas, Annette Bos, Scott Ferraro, Farzaneh Mahmoudi, Scott Dwyer, Darren Sharp, Genevieve Mortimer

    First Low Emissions Technology Statement: 2020 – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Lower Emissions Technology Statement 2021 – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    State and Territory Climate Action: Leading Policies and Programs in Australia – ClimateWorks Australia

    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

     

    COVID-19 references

    State of the Energy Market 2021 – Australian Energy Regulator (AER)

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

    Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia – Commonwealth of Australia – Commonwealth of Australia

    Rule Determination: National Electricity Amendment (Deferral of Network Charges) Rule 2020 – Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC)

    Electricity

    A Clean Recovery – Clean Energy Council

    Australia’s Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan – Australian Government

    Budget 2021-22 Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia – Australian Government

    Clean Jobs for Communities: How Local Governments Can Create Sustainable, Strong Economies – Climate Council

    Clean Jobs Plan – AlphaBeta

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

    First Low Emissions Technology Statement: 2020 – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Lower Emissions Technology Statement 2021 – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Make it Happen: The Australian Government's Modern Manufacturing Strategy – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Recycling and Clean Energy: National Manufacturing Priority Road Map – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

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

    Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia – Commonwealth of Australia

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

    Gas

    Advancing Australia's Gas-Fired Recovery – Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction

    Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy – COAG Energy Council Hydrogen Working Group

    AGN - Response to Covid-19 – Australian Gas Networks

    First Low Emissions Technology Statement: 2020 – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Gas-fired Recovery (media release) - Prime Minister, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia

    National Gas Infrastructure Plan: Interim Report – Australia. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

    Queensland's Economic Recovery Plan – Queensland Government

    Securing Australia’s Recovery: Building a More Secure and Resilient Australia – Commonwealth of Australia

    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

    Water

    Australian researchers trace sewage for early warning COVID-19 spread – Helen Beringen

    COVID-19 Community of Interest – Water Research Australia

    Fact Sheet: COVID-19 – Water Services Association of Australia

    Fact Sheet: COVID-19 and Wastewater – Water Services Association of Australia

    Monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 – CSIRO

    NSW Budget 2021-2022: Regional NSW – NSW Treasury

    Queensland’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Plan: Budget Update – Queensland Government

    Urban Water’s Contribution to the COVID-19 Recovery – Water Services Association of Australia

    Water Sector Macro Trends: Analysis Report for the Victorian Water Industry – Water Services Association of 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

    NSW Utilities and Electrotechnology Industry Training Advisory Board (UENSW)

    Utilities, Engineering, Electrical and Automotive Training Council (WA)

    Victorian Registration & Qualifications Authority (VRQA)

    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 2021, Industry Employment Projections viewed 1 August 2021, Labour Market Information Portal

    • by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry employment projections to May 2025
      • 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 2022, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ06 - Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), Sex, State and Territory, November 1984 onwards, viewed 1 August 2022, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2022

    • Employed total by ANZSIC 2 and 3 digit industry, 2002 to 2022, 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 and Total VET students and courses, for 2017-2021 program enrolments, subject enrolments and program completions 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: 30 Nov 2022
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