Offshore wind turbines producing renewable energy and green energy in the Belgian North Sea

Empowering tomorrow’s workforce: learnings from Gippsland and Victoria

The energy transition is bringing the promise of jobs to regional Australian communities. Some communities will be experiencing an influx of energy projects for the first time. Others, like the Latrobe Valley (‘The Valley’) in Gippsland, Victoria, are moving from coal fired power generation to new decentralised renewable energy projects. Our approach to workforce readiness and coordination in regional Australia will vary depending on the skill sets available within the local labour market. For example, preparing the renewable energy workforce in The Valley will be a very different endeavour compared to the New England region in New South Wales.

For regions that have played a key role in producing coal fired power, news of alternative livelihoods on the horizon is providing a much needed sense of security as the coal power sector contracts. As we decarbonise, we must embed protections, such as skills (re)training and alternate job creation, for workers and communities economically reliant on the fossil fuel industry. These are important aspects of a just transition – a transition that is fair and just. 

In this way, the task of worker transition and workforce readiness has many moving parts; like building a house, foundations need to be laid, and things need to fit together at incremental stages. Flourishes can be added, but the labour of some key groups will be instrumental in making it a smooth process. In the case of Gippsland, workforce readiness and transition is being shaped by government (state, local and to a lesser degree, federal), industry (coal and renewable energy), education providers (TAFE, Universities and registered training organisations (RTOs)), unions and community. Importantly, much of this work has been done through partnerships and collaborations.

The Victorian state government has ambitious renewable energy targets – 40% by 2025 and net zero by 2045. To achieve this, the government has established a mix of policies and initiatives including: 

  • six renewable energy zones (REZ) across the state (one of which sits across Gippsland)
  • a new government body to coordinate transmission infrastructure upgrades and development (VicGrid), and 
  • Australia’s first offshore wind (OSW) zone located off the coast of Gippsland. 

The Latrobe Valley, in Gippsland, Victoria has produced the state’s energy for over 100 years. In 2017, one of its brown coal power stations Hazelwood – Australia’s (then) most polluting – closed with only 5 months’ notice, meaning 400 staff and 300 contractors were set to lose their jobs. A range of reactive measures put in place meant that many workers were able to find new roles, move into retirement or retrain. Yet the lesson from Hazelwood has been that worker transition takes time and has deep flow on impacts in communities. There are now three remaining coal power stations all likely to close by 2045, meaning a carefully orchestrated approach to moving workers into new industries will need to take place. Sitting at the nexus of a fading industry and an emerging one means the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland are arguably at the epicentre of Victoria’s energy transition.

But what does this mean for the workers? How can jobs be created in a coordinated way? Who are the players shaping regional livelihoods?

Government: Federal and state 

As we mentioned in a recent blog, the federal government recently formed Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) and commissioned it to undertake a Clean Energy Capacity Study. The study is yet to be finalised and findings released, yet the energy transition continues apace. Like the Net Zero Authority, these are critical pieces of work that are catching up on a decade of delay in federal politics.

While there are several election promises that are yet to materialise, the Victorian state government has a few examples of tangible workforce coordination efforts already in place. Its promise to revive the former State Electricity Commission (SEC) was largely well received. The SEC’s remit centres on funding and investing in skills, training and coordination of the renewable energy transition workforce. The state government anticipates that the SEC and the state’s renewable targets will create upwards of 59, 000 new energy related jobs. Attention is also on supporting secondary students with stronger VCE pathways to working in the renewable energy sector. Soon vocational education and training delivered to secondary students (VETDSS) will become compulsory, with renewable energy subjects being taught in the future. Further investment has been earmarked for a SEC Centre of Training Excellence that will oversee courses and accreditation for the renewable energy industry, and hydrogen and wind worker specific training centres.

The Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA)

More locally, the Latrobe Valley Authority, a decentralised arm of state government that oversees regional development in the Valley has been working to map, analyse and coordinate energy sector employment. In partnership with the local university, Federation Uni and TAFE Gippsland, the LVA produced the Gippsland Energy Skills Mapping Report. They’ve also just released a Latrobe Valley and Gippsland transition plan.

Education providers

Melbourne University has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Flotation Energy, an offshore wind company with plans to develop in the Gippsland OSW zone. Their collaboration will extend from a research / industry partnership, to providing a pipeline of graduates ready for the OSW sector.

Federation University, which has campuses in Gippsland and Ballarat, plays a significant role in preparing the workforce of tomorrow. Through its Asia Pacific Renewable Energy Training Centre (APRETC), it offers training on Australia’s first 20-metre replica wind tower and it is the first provider of apprenticeships for Blade Technicians. APRETC is a unique industry, government and tertiary provider collaboration and is a Global Wind Organisation (GWO) certified training institute. Federation Uni is also a partner in the Morwell Innovation Centre, Gippsland Hi-Tech Precinct – along with TAFE Gippsland, Gippsland Tech School and Latrobe City Council.

TAFE Gippsland offers certificate III in engineering with a pathway to a degree in engineering offered in collaboration with Federation Uni. It also offers short qualifications like the course in New Energy Technology Systems that trains electricians (and others) to become accredited technicians in the design and installation of new energy systems that are grid-connected. The TAFE is also working on developing the certifications needed to work in the offshore wind sector. 

TAFE Gippsland and the ‘jobs and skills expo working group’, led by TAFE Gippsland, Latrobe Valley Authority and Gippsland East Local Learning & Employment Network GELLEN, recently held a youth jobs and skills expo to coincide with the Gippsland New Energy Conference. Over 300 high school students from the region got a taste of the many different available jobs and pathways. With the long lead times, young people are well positioned to benefit from new industries such as OSW, but more needs to be done to get students excited about the opportunities and to have clear pathways for them. This year’s jobs and skills expo will hopefully be the spark for some local secondary students to become the renewable energy workers of the future.


Star of the South (SoS), Australia’s most advanced OSW project, has been on the ground in Gippsland for several years, participating in various region wide forums and initiatives. Recently SoS commissioned and released a report that analysed the compatibility of skills from other sectors and the OSW industry. Targeted primarily at workers looking to transition, it identified that there is a high amount of skills cross-over from coal, gas and oil, and offshore oil and maritime services with OSW.

Industry representatives, from old energy to new energy, actively participate in a monthly Regional Skills Network coordinated by TAFE Gippsland. It has 40-60 members from the energy sector, and there is a real sense of collaboration; the sector is coming together and genuinely trying to build something new and effective.

Worker transition at Yallourn power station

In 2021 EnergyAustralia, owners of Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley, Gippsland, confirmed they would be closing the power station earlier than planned with closure finalised by 2028. Having seen firsthand the community impacts of a poorly managed closure with nearby Hazelwood power station in 2017, EnergyAustralia committed to a worker and community focused transition approach.

EnergyAustralia has adopted a transition plan worth 10 million dollars. A core part of this has been listening to the needs of workers (including contractors), and supporting them to retrain, establish a business or move into retirement. For those wanting to retrain, EnergyAustralia is paying for their studies (with no cap on course costs), offering study time and flexible hours.

190 of the 500 workforce at Yallourn expressed an interest in finding out more about working in the clean energy sector and 20 indicated a first preference to work in offshore wind ahead of other local industries. EnergyAustralia has been collaborating with offshore wind proponents in the region to look at ways these workers can transition into this new emerging industry. It’s early days for this exciting initiative, but long lead times and industry collaboration are important first steps.

But is this all enough?

There is a significant amount of effort being put into not only preparing Gippsland (and Victorians) for the jobs of tomorrow, while also ensuring that we can achieve our emissions reduction targets as we have the skills, knowledge and expertise to do so. But are all the activities listed above enough? 

Gippslanders still fear that the large-scale projects, like transmission lines, battery storage projects, renewables and OSW will still require a large influx of workers, which will put pressure on already strained services like housing, childcare and education. Although the region may already have a workforce with similar skills to new emerging sectors like offshore wind (OSW), it’s not a simple case of switching jobs for jobs; there is already a strain on the skills and training system and a shortage of apprentices in trades. 

In Gippsland, locals often refer to the ‘De-Sal effect’, being the rapid and region-wide drain of apprentices and skilled workers drawn to a big infrastructure project, in this case the Wonthaggi desalination plant that became operational in 2012. Young apprentices were lured to the higher wages offered by the project, leaving not only their apprenticeships behind, but later when the project ended they also left the region in search of the next opportunity. This drain of workers from Gippsland created a sense of boom and bust, with long term ripple effects still felt through the social fabric of the community.

Renewable energy projects tend to have uneven job cycles with more jobs during construction than in operations; hence, there is a real need to try to sequence construction timelines across the region to help create a pipeline of work. Similarly, there is a whole suite of professions in the wider renewables ecosystem, such as ecology studies, cultural heritage, community engagement, maintenance, operations and project management that all inherently benefit from being locally-specific and locally based. Global companies need to be incentivised or regulated to have local offices so that the full benefits of renewable energy employment can be realised by regional host communities.

Coordinating the workforce in order to meet our emissions targets, is not solely about having the right number of training and job spots. It’s also about supporting people to know about them and have the confidence to take them up. Reaching labour needs of the transition will require supporting people into the workforce who face significant barriers, e.g. long term unemployed, migrants, folks on correction orders – these people will require specialised and coordinated support at a very local level to be able to join the workforce opportunities of renewables, but with a lot of very rewarding outcomes.

But if transition is done right, and locals across Gippsland are supported into meaningful, well-paid work in their communities, then the opportunities are huge! The energy transition can play a lead role in creating thriving, dynamic, connected and prosperous regional futures.

By Elianor Gerrard, Community Power Agency Engagement Coordinator

Building local capacity now to get renewable-ready

The renewable energy transition could be the opportunity needed to breathe new life into rural and regional Australia. It offers a huge opportunity, too, for regions who have hosted fossil fuel extraction or processing as one of their key economic activities in the past. 

More to the point, the renewable energy transition needs rural and regional Australia in order to meet the emission-reduction targets set by state and federal governments to prevent excessive global warming and to keep the lights on as coal fired power stations retire. The time is now for governments to work collaboratively with regional communities around issues such as workforce and local business readiness. When Prime Minister Albanese announced at the Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022 that he would task Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) to commission a capacity study on the clean energy workforce, JSA was not yet in existence. While its research, once completed, may prove useful in forming a national approach, starting from scratch is a time and cost-intensive approach that has seen deadlines being pushed back for its Clean Energy Capacity Study, originally expected in June this year.

Since then, we’ve also seen the announcement  of a new National Net Zero Authority

While a strategic, coordinated and quality approach is much needed, we’ve no time to lose in readying our regional and rural communities for the changes that are already, in many cases, underway. 

We need an approach to workforce and local procurement that works to build capacity in existing organisations and businesses in communities; even while those at the top are deliberating on how to solve the skill shortages and worker availability that we are seeing across the country. 

There’s a whole suite of jobs created by renewable energy projects coming to regional towns, such as: 

  • Professional services such as cultural heritage and archeology, planning, surveying, ecology, project management, business, communications, recruitment, engagement, technology and agricultural consultants.
  • Civil services such as earthworks and road construction, along with fencing and landscaping. 
  • Trades of different kinds, with electricians, building and construction among the most in demand. 
  • Supporting services such as hospitality, health and accommodation.

Regional and rural communities are well-placed to navigate resourcing and preparing for the renewable energy transition. Yet, they need assurance that the work they are doing, or the initiatives they may take to scale-up to meet new opportunities from the clean energy industry, will not be undermined by city-based decision-makers who are currently shaping a centrally-controlled, rather than co-designed approach to the challenge.

This lack of involvement creates an environment of uncertainty for our regional communities that does not favour growth and capacity building.    

Community groups, small businesses and social services that hold regional communities together as they adapt to changing local environments – neighbourhood centres, crisis accommodation for those feeling the impacts of a sudden tightening of the housing market, and assistance with job readiness – are also key players in managing social cohesion, as well as workforce coordination. 

Last month, the Centre for Economic Policy Development released Making our way: Adaptive capacity and climate transition in Australia’s regional economies. The study recommends that with an “adaptive capacity framework, governments can better understand the specific strengths, needs and capabilities of local communities, and work with them to develop more effective and appropriate responses. This approach will increase economic diversity, build resilience and deliver investments that take communities where they want to go.” 

What might this look like on the ground in regional communities, in the case of renewables? We need a resourced approach to helping local organisations and businesses work with state governments and project proponents to understand the upcoming opportunities and what is needed to take these up. Where there are gaps, people need to be supported to co-design localised solutions. Where there are challenges, they need to be supported to work collaboratively to solve them. There also needs to be hyper localised support to assist people to understand the opportunities for training and work, and encouraged to see a future for themselves in the renewables boom.

It also means investing in (rather than cutting the budgets of) the training organisations that are going to be delivering key courses, of which TAFE is a key player.

There are many things we could be doing on the ground to get our workforces and businesses ‘renewable-ready’. What the Government could do right now is to acknowledge the work organisations are currently doing on the ground, and provide some confidence that this work will continue to be valued into the future. 

Regional and rural Australia don’t want things done to them; it’s time to move towards policy design and project roll-outs that happen with regional communities. 

Really, there’s no time to waste.

Wombat munching grass in Tasmania grasslands

Tasmania Mapping Important Places in the North West REZ

The Tasmanian Government has just launched an interactive mapping tool to seek input from the community on where their “Important Places” are in the North West of the State. In December 2022 the Tasmanian Government announced that the North West region of the state would be the first region to be studied in detail and considered for being a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ). This collaborative mapping tool feeds into the state’s planning process for the REZ.

In a media statement made yesterday, Minister Barnett said “Community input is critical to understand the places where REZ may be best located and what communities expect in the way of benefits if they are to host a REZ”. He added that the mapping tool “allows community to contribute their local knowledge by identifying places that are important, whilst also identifying places where they think renewables may be best placed in the region”.

As state governments throughout the National Electricity Market progress planning and policy design to establish Renewable Energy Zones it is commendable to see the Tasmanian Government creating opportunities and using innovative engagement techniques for community participation early in the design phase. 

“We believe this is an Australian first, to see a participatory community mapping process where individuals can identify their own important places and have it feed into the REZ planning” said Ms Kim Mallee, from Community Power Agency.

Community Power Agency is passionate about enabling communities to be at the heart of the energy transition and to reap the benefits that this transformational change can bring. For this to occur and for the community’s voices to be heard, excellent engagement opportunities must be conducted early in the development process. Whether it is an individual project or a State REZ policy, the path to better social licence and understanding starts with good listening. 

We encourage everyone from North West Tasmania to get involved, spread the word and add your important places to the map”, Ms Mallee said. 

The “Mapping Important Places” engagement opportunity will be open for the month of July 2023 and is available here

Worker installing solar panels on a roof

Community energy upgrade fund – here’s what you need to know

Last week the Federal Government announced a new $100 million Community Energy Upgrades Fund. At first glance, the words “community energy” sparked excitement. However, after some further digging we discovered that while it is welcome news for local councils, grassroots community energy groups unfortunately miss out. 

Grants will be available for local councils who are looking to do energy efficiency upgrades on community facilities such as libraries, pools, sporting fields and community centres. Efficiency upgrade examples include replacing energy-intensive heating in council pools with heat pumps and installing energy efficient lighting and battery storage. The aim of the program is to upgrade local facilities that simultaneously lowers energy costs and emissions. The fund adds to the $1.6 billion Energy Savings Package the Federal Government announced in the 2023-2024 budget. While the fund shows promise, it’s important to mention that the guidelines are still being developed. If you work for a local council – keep your eyes peeled for updates. 

While the fund doesn’t extend to grassroots community energy groups, a quite disappointing aspect, it is clear that the Government has taken inspiration from the community energy sector. Community energy groups around the country have been driving clean energy initiatives for over a decade, often relying on their own resources. Many of these groups have delivered projects on community facilities, like installing solar panels, to decrease carbon emissions at the same time as reducing electricity bills of key infrastructure in their town.

At Community Power Agency, we strongly advocate for a more inclusive approach to future funding. By fostering collaboration between councils and community energy groups, we can tap into the invaluable insights these groups possess and a huge amount of passion for driving projects forward, ultimately maximising the positive impact of energy upgrades. 

Grassroots groups who have paved the way

Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance (SHASA) have had a huge impact in their region. By partnering with Micro Energy Systems Australia, they have been able to help over 23 community groups through three different pathways: 

  1. Fully gifting PV Solar systems free of charge to community not for profit organisations, such as the Bodalla Local Aboriginal Land Council. 
  2. Sourcing grants to support the installation of PV Solar systems to community not for profit organisations, such as the Moruya Preschool.
  3. Supporting community organisations to install PV Solar systems through their Eurobodalla Solar Bulk Buy program including the Kyla Park Community Hall in Tuross Head.
Brigitte Warburton, Cathi Young, Marie Sutton and Ammanda Donnelly, with Stephen Cornthwaite (far right) of Micro Energy Systems Bodalla, who installed the school’s new solar system. Photo: SHASA.
TRY Founder, Matt Charles-Jones gives thanks at the launch event for the many collaborators on the EV Charger project.

In 2022, the town of Yackandandah celebrated another great partnership with the launch of the town’s first EV charging station. Including Victorian Government funding, community advocates, Totally Renewable Yackandandah (TRY) partnered with community social enterprises, YCDCo (fuel and rural supplies) and Indigo Power and alongside Indigo Shire to deliver the charger to support their drive toward 100 renewables. This being just one of many innovative collaborations in new energy. 

Queenscliffe Climate Action Now (QCAN) have collaborated with the local Borough of Queenscliffe Council and Vortex Electrical to run a community solar program, aimed at increasing the uptake of solar in their community. They are doing this by leveraging the buying power of the community and partnering with contractors to make the installation of quality solar, battery and heat pump hot water systems easy and affordable. And the best part, for every solar and/or battery system installed as part of this program, Vortex is making a donation back to the community in the form of solar and/or battery products which will be used to install renewable energy systems on community buildings throughout the Borough.

QCAN treasurer Neil Mathison, Mayor Isabelle Tolhurst, QCAN secretary Peter Cook and QCAN president Kitty Walker at the Point Lonsdale Bowls Club. Photos: Vinnie Van Oorschot

These are just some examples of community energy groups taking the power into their own hands to progress climate action and deliver local benefits. We hope that in future, funds can be directed towards these groups to increase collaboration and impact.

On the ground in the New England Renewable Energy Zone: mid-year wrap

In January, our New England Renewable Energy Zone (NEREZ) team received a boost with the recruitment of Heidi McElnea as Engagement Coordinator. Heidi lives within the New England REZ, and she’s been building local connections, facilitating information flow and working on strategies to increase local participation in the renewable energy transition since her role got underway.

We’ve been continuing our collaboration with community groups for support, connection and capacity building.

In March we hosted a community energy information evening with ZNET Uralla and local solar energy company Meralli. The focus of the evening was to walk though different models of community owned energy models and consider the opportunities of co-designing projects with developers. Kim gave an overview of the Haystacks Solar Garden project, a cooperative arrangement that Community Power Agency is facilitating which enables people to purchase a solar garden plot. 

We worked with the UNE’s Smart Region Incubator on an Energy Roundtable and Innovation Challenge. Both were very successful, with lots of strategies developed at the Roundtable, and some new start-up enterprises with a renewable energy focus that grew from the Innovation Challenge. 

CPA Director Kim Mallee with Kate Hook, Community Engagement Manager for RE-Alliance and Heidi McElnea, CPA Engagement Coordinator.

Councils play a significant role in the renewable energy transition, and we’ve been meeting with Mayors and senior staff to co-design a joint council capacity building workshop which we will hold in August. 

Other work has included an initial gap analysis of workforce training, employment and procurement, and taking a proactive role in information sharing with media and stakeholders. We strongly advocate for the importance of community participation in the current consultation around preliminary transmission line corridors at every chance we get. It is exciting to see the transition unfolding in the region and all the possibilities these activities brings to regions. Over the next few months we will continue our work on the ground to improve the social outcomes for communities in the NEREZ.