Turning jobs green
Demand for greener lifestyles means sustainable employment opportunities are looking up, Michael Milnes discovers.
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.’’
Tim Ielasi, from ZEN Home Energy Systems, installs a solar hot water system.