Turn­ing jobs green

De­mand for greener life­styles means sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are look­ing up, Michael Milnes dis­cov­ers.

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SUS­TAIN­ABLE in­dus­tries will pro­vide some of the big­gest op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment growth in the next 10 years, in­dus­try re­search pre­dicts.

Mod­el­ling com­mis­sioned by the Clean En­ergy Coun­cil shows that re­new­able en­ergy jobs are ex­pected to grow to about 55,000 by 2020, with a large part of these fig­ures in so­lar en­ergy.

Clean En­ergy Coun­cil spokesman Mark Brether­ton says there are huge long-term em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for so­lar power, which are tem­pered by chal­lenges over the next cou­ple of years.

‘‘Years of stop-start pol­icy from gov­ern­ments of all sizes has led to a se­ries of boom-bust cy­cles that the in­dus­try has en­dured at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals since the mid­dle of the last decade,’’ Mr Brether­ton says.

‘‘These well-mean­ing ini­tia­tives have vastly un­der­es­ti­mated the ap­petite among the pub­lic to in­stall so­lar power, pro­tect­ing them­selves from ris­ing elec­tric­ity prices and tak­ing in­di­vid­ual ac­tion on cli­mate change. The only thing we know for cer­tain at the mo­ment is that Aus­tralians love so­lar power.’’

He says in­cen­tive schemes still are re­quired in the short-term to sup­port the in­dus­try and rough patches will grad­u­ally smooth out as the cost of so­lar con­tin­ues to fall and sup­port is ramped off.

A re­cent sur­vey of so­lar panel and so­lar hot wa­ter in­stall­ers from around Aus­tralia finds most are op­ti­mistic about the per­for­mance of their busi­ness and their po­si­tion within the in­dus­try in the next year.

So­lar panel and in­verter in­staller Sun Con­nect op­er­a­tions man­ager James Stra­han says many com­pa­nies are keen to put on ex­tra staff and nearly all ex­pect pos­i­tive fi­nan­cial re­turns.

‘‘From our col­lated re­sponses of more than 100 so­lar busi­nesses, it looks as though so­lar com­pa­nies are on tar­get to add jobs at a greater rate than the ma­jor­ity of busi­ness sec­tors in the econ­omy,’’ Mr Stra­han says. ‘‘In Au­gust 2010, the Aus­tralian so­lar in­dus­try em­ployed an es­ti­mated 11,500 so­lar work­ers and over the next 12 months, our re­search shows that 89 per cent of so­lar firms ex­pect to add jobs while only 3 per cent ex­pect to cut work­ers.

‘‘You don’t have to have a de­gree in so­lar en­gi­neer­ing to work in this field. It’s sim­i­lar to how you can be a great sales­per­son in re­tail or in­surance or med­i­cal equip­ment; with the right train­ing you can use your skills to sell any­thing.’’

He says that their re­search finds man­u­fac­tur­ing, whole­sale trade and in­stal­la­tion are the pri­mary sec­tors poised for growth.

‘‘Within each group, there are a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing so­lar in­stall­ers or tech­ni­cians, plum­bers with spe­cific skills in so­lar in­stal­la­tions, pro­duc­tion work­ers, mar­ket­ing and legal staff, fi­nance staff, su­per­vi­sors, pro­duc­tion man­agers and op­er­at­ing work­ers,’’ he says.

An­other com­pany within the so­lar in­dus­try is ZEN Home En­ergy Sys­tems, which has in­creased its staff num­bers by more than 50 per cent since the be­gin­ning of the year.

ZEN chief ex­ec­u­tive Richard Turner says his com­pany has taken on 27 new em­ploy­ees since Jan­uary, tak­ing the to­tal num­ber to 75.

‘‘Many of ZEN’s lat­est re­cruits are new to the so­lar in­dus­try and bring with them a wide range of knowl­edge and skill sets,’’ he says.

‘‘The so­lar in­dus­try is prov­ing to be an at­trac­tive ca­reer choice for peo­ple of all ages, de­mo­graph­ics and at all stages of their work­ing lives. Some of the newly cre­ated po­si­tions are in sales, man­age­ment, re­cep­tion, mar­ket­ing, hu­man re­sources, ac­counts, ICT, ad­min­is­tra­tion and IT.’’

One of ZEN’s new re­cruits, wa­ter sys­tems man­ager Tim Ie­lasi, says his ca­reer has been a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

‘‘The first man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany I was with about 10 years ago was into plumb­ing and gas. They made a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion into the so­lar in­dus­try and so did I,’’ Mr Ie­lasi says.

‘‘I over­see the prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and test­ing and ap­proval pro­ce­dures of all of our wa­ter prod­uct, in­clud­ing so­lar hot wa­ter and rain­wa­ter, and we are look­ing at get­ting into pool and un­der­floor heat­ing. ‘‘It is still a rel­a­tively new in­dus­try. ‘‘There are up to 750,000 hot-wa­ter sys­tems sold in Aus­tralia yearly and only 8 per cent of the mar­ket is so­lar hot wa­ter, and that fig­ure will only go up.

‘‘As we push to­wards re­new­able en­ergy, there is a lot more fo­cus on the homeowner to push into be­ing sus­tain­able in their own home.

‘‘. . . how­ever small the in­dus­try may seem at the mo­ment, it is ever grow­ing and will con­tinue to ma­ture.’’

Pic­ture: Mark Brake

Tim Ie­lasi, from ZEN Home En­ergy Sys­tems, in­stalls a so­lar hot wa­ter sys­tem.

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