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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 ESI – Transmission, Distribution and Rail sector in Australia had an estimated annual revenue of $18.04 billion, adding $13.36 billion to the Australian economy in 2019-20 and employs over 36,280 people across its sub-sectors.

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.

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

Employment trends

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 decreased sharply between 2020 and 2021 (from 3,800 to 1,500 respectively) and is projected to decrease to 700 by 2025. Employment levels in the Electricity Distribution sector grew overall since 2001 to 26,200 in 2021, however it is projected to decrease to 22,700 until 2025. Employment levels for Electricity Supply also increased overall since 2008 to 17,600 in 2021 however it is projected to decrease to 15,900 by 2025. 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 2025. 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 (7%) in employment levels until 2025. Electrical Engineers will see a very slight increase in employment level until 2025, by less than 1%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

There were roughly 3,810 program enrolments during 2020 and approximately 1,180 completions. Program enrolments have decreased in 2020 following an increase between 2018 and 2019. Completions have fluctuated, decreasing overall between 2016 and 2020. The proportion of enrolments in subjects delivered as part of a nationally recognised program increased overall since 2016, with 80% in 2020.

Enrolments in 2020 were mainly at certificate III (36%), diploma or higher (31%), and certificate II (31%) levels. Students enrolled in the Power Systems qualification, which had 69% of enrolments in this sector, were mainly training towards the intended occupations of Electrical Distribution Trades Workers and Electrical Engineer. For qualifications in Transmission and Powerline Vegetation Control, which had 22% of enrolments in this sector, students were training towards the intended occupation of Electrical or Telecommunications Trades Assistant.

During 2020, 42% of the training was delivered by private training providers, 37% by TAFE institutes and 21% by enterprise providers. Around 94% of TAFE institute subject enrolments were funded by international fee for service, whereas for private providers 92% were funded by domestic fee for service and 85% of subject funding for enterprise providers was through Commonwealth and state funding.

Around 29% of all students who enrolled during 2020 resided overseas. Students residing in Australia were from New South Wales (27%), Queensland (15%) and Victoria (14%). Approximately 31% of training was delivered in New South Wales, followed by overseas (29%), Victoria (14%), and Queensland (12%).

Apprentice and trainee commencements declined sharply between 2011 and 2016 from approximately 670 to around 180. Since 2016 commencement numbers have generally trended upwards and there were around 330 in 2020. Completion levels declined by more than half between 2018 and 2019, although they recovered slightly in 2020 to roughly 190 completions. The majority of apprentices and trainees were training towards the occupation of Electrical Distribution Trades Workers. Around 26% of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported in New South Wales, followed by Queensland (25%), and Victoria (20%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry group or training package, visit NCVER’s Data Builder.

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 transmission, cabling and electrical.

According to the job vacancy data, 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
  • Learning agility / information literacy / intellectual autonomy and self-management
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  • 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 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.

The ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook continues the discussion on the effect on the sector’s workforce by the decentralisation of the electricity network and DERs. It states the interaction of consumers with the grid is changing radically, including the ability to store surplus energy, inject it back into the grid, or buy and sell energy from, for example, peer-to-peer (p2p) trading platforms. The workforce will need digital and customer service skills to enable them to meet changing customer expectations. In relation to safety and skills currency, the IRC has identified a need to review refresher units for workers in the ESI industry, and to develop a new unit for live low voltage energised work. The report also notes there are number of large scale projects for electricity interconnectors requiring construction of new transmission infrastructure, and changes in the processes regarding working with live lines in the Rail Traction sub-sector.

The UET Power and Network Systems: Case for Change states energy networks within Australia are evolving on an unprecedented scale requiring an electricity system that can support these changes. Distributed Energy Resources (DER) such as solar PVs, battery storage, and wind generating units connecting to the electricity grid can improve electricity supply reliability and reduce load on grids at peak times. The national electricity grid needs to be maintained and expanded with greater connectivity of grids on a broader scale.

The Lower Emissions Technology Statement 2021, the second statement to accompany the Commonwealth Government Technology Investment Roadmap, introduces the category of investment in enabling infrastructure which includes a digital grid with enhanced management systems and capabilities to support rapid growth in solar and wind generation. This investment intends to complement the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Integrated System Plan (ISP). The ISP is updated every two years, and AEMO states the ISP aims to maximise value to end consumers by designing the lowest cost, secure and reliable energy system capable of meeting any emissions trajectory determined by policy makers at an acceptable level of risk. It fully utilises the opportunities provided from existing technologies and anticipated innovations in Distributed Energy Resources (DER), large-scale generation, networks and coupled sectors such as gas and transport. Scenario analysis for the 2020 ISP estimates DERs could double or triple by 2040, and DER could provide up to 13% to 22% of total underlying annual National Energy Market energy consumption by 2050.

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.

Major transmission projects are also progressing, which include the EnergyConnect interconnector between New South Wales and South Australia, the Marinus Link between Tasmania and Victoria, and the Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL) which will connect the solar/storage facility in the Tennant Creek region to Darwin, Singapore and Indonesia.

The ESI Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC’s 2021 Industry Outlook shows the current workforce average age is 42.5, and the ageing rate is 1.5 times faster than all industries. The Infrastructure Workforce and Skills Supply report states over 40% of the current workers comprising the infrastructure workforce are likely to retire within the next 15 years. The report, and the related Infrastructure Market Capacity report, includes Electrical Linesworker among the occupations likely need to increase by a minimum 50% and to experience shortage within the next five years. The Skills Priority List includes Electrical Linesworker, Technical Cable Jointer, Electrical Engineering Draftsperson, and Electrical Engineering Technician under occupations in national shortage, with moderate future demand. Occupations in national shortage, with strong future demand include Electrician (General), Electrician (Special Class), and Electrical Engineer. Market Capacity for Electricity Generation and Transmission Projects reports growth in demand for labour within large-scale renewable energy, rooftop solar, battery storage and transmission construction is projected to climb to over 40,000 for most of the study period (2021 to 2036) and towards 50,000 jobs at times, but the volatility in demand makes it difficult to attract and retain workers. Industry concerns in relation to shortages were especially acute in relation to transmission lineworkers and electrical specialists for substations, and the shortages were due to a combination of factors including significant lead-times for retraining lineworkers from other sources, limited training providers and training packages, and the project length is generally shorter than the length of an apprenticeship.

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 Transmission, Distribution and Rail IRC

 

Relevant research

2020 Integrated System Plan – Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)

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

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

Building Australia’s Energy Literacy – Sue Hogan, Andrew Pascale, Audrey Cetois & Peta Ashworth

Infrastructure Market Capacity – Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure Workforce and Skills Supply – Infrastructure Australia

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

Market Capacity for Electricity Generation and Transmission Projects – Infrastructure Australia

Skills Priority List – National Skills Commission

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

Taking Charge: Western Australia’s Transition to a Distributed Energy Future – J. J. Shaw

UET Power and Network Systems: Case for Change – Australian Industry Standards

 

Industry associations and advisory bodies

Australian Energy Council

Clean Energy Council

Energy Networks Australia

Energy Skills Queensland

Future Energy Skills

Industry Skills Advisory Council NT (ISACNT)

NSW Utilities and Electrotechnology Industry Training Advisory Board (UENSW)

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

Victorian Registration & Qualifications Authority (VRQA)

 

Licencing / Regulatory

Australian Energy Market Commission

Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)

Australian Energy Regulator

Clean Energy Regulator

Energy Safe Victoria

Safe Work Australia

 

Employee associations

Australian Services Union

Electrical Trades Union

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2021, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • employment projections to May 2025, by ANZSIC 3 digit industry:
    • 262 Electricity Transmission
    • 263 Electricity Distribution
    • 260 Electricity Supply, nfd.
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2025:
    • 3422 Electrical Distribution Trades Workers
    • 3411 Electricians
    • 2333 Electrical Engineers
    • 3123 Electrical Engineering Draftspersons and Technicians.

 

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ06 - Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), Sex, State and Territory, November 1984 onwards, viewed 1 August 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2021

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 3 digit '260 Electricity Supply, nfd', '262 Electricity Transmission', '263 Electricity Distribution', 2001 to 2021, May Quarter.

 

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 and 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
    • UET30519 - 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
    • UET30719 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Rail Traction
    • UET30812 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Cable Jointing
    • UET30819 - Certificate III in ESI - Power Systems - Distribution Cable Jointing
    • UET40512 - Certificate IV in ESI - Power Systems Substations
    • UET40519 - 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
    • UET50219 - 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
    •  UET60219 - 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
    • UET20619 - 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
    • UET30919 - 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:

  • 2016 to 2020 program enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 subject enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 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:

  • 2011 to 2020 commencements
  • 2011 to 2020 completions
  • apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2020 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

 

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2021, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2021, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2018 and June 2021 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

  • Generic skills / Occupations
    • Labourers
    • Machinery Operators and Drivers
    • Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 26 Electricity Supply.
  • Employers
    • 3129 Other Building and Engineering Technicians
    • 3411 Electricians
    • 3999 Other Miscellaneous Technicians and Trades Workers
    • 7331 Truck Drivers
    • 3232 Metal Fitters and Machinists
    • 26 Electricity Supply.
Updated: 21 Jan 2022
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