A fast and fair energy transition demands a skilled, diverse workforce

The clean energy transition is set to create millions of new renewable energy jobs worldwide. It will, however, also bring major change for workers and communities who currently depend on carbon-intensive industries.

This leads to two major challenges:

  • how can the clean energy sector find enough skilled workers to enable the mammoth task ahead of us?
  • how can we make sure that no one is left behind so that the transition is both fast and fair?

These are enormous questions for the clean energy sector as a whole, not for hydropower alone. All players in the sector need to own our part of the challenge and act urgently to find and implement the solutions that are right for us.

Tammy Chu (second from left) with session participants at the World Hydropower Congress.

At the recent International Hydropower Association Congress in Bali, I facilitated a panel discussion on these issues. With hydropower globally already experiencing staffing and skills challenges, our panellists agreed that the sector needs to plan and act now on at least five fronts:

1 Retaining organisational knowledge

The sector will need a strong focus on knowledge transfer, especially as talented and deeply experienced professionals retire from the industry. It’s estimated that as much as 25% of the hydropower workforce will reach retirement in the next decade, taking their knowledge and skills with them.

2 Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce

All clean energy technologies will be competing for talent as the energy transition accelerates towards 2050 net zero targets. Hydropower will need to consider how to remain competitive in this tight employment market. The fact that hydropower plants are often located in remote areas can be a barrier to some people. Scholarships, subsidies and payment levels may help to offset some of the barriers, as will creating supportive, flexible and safe workplaces with attractive terms of employment.

There’s also a need to ensure, and promote, hydropower’s environmental and social sustainability, as more and more workers are increasingly motivated by purpose, values, integrity and sustainability. It’s important that we demonstrate how a career in hydropower can be enormously fulfilling, with so many opportunities to make a meaningful difference to society and a sustainable future.

Another important consideration is that we’re not talking about engineers and electricians alone, although priming the pipeline of STEM students and apprentices is particularly urgent in these areas. We’ll also need a vast range of other professionals, with skills in finance, law, project management, people management, IT, environmental science, planning, community engagement and more. Workforce planning needs to take these role into account.

3 Activating a range of options for skills development and training

We will need to ensure that we’ve got the right mix of different training options available – from formal tertiary and vocational training, through to customised and on-the-job training (such as the skills and capacity development that Entura’s clean energy and water institute provides) and less formalised upskilling. The next seven years will be critical here, so that the workforce is ready as we hit the major escalation of clean projects in the race towards 2050.

4 Mapping opportunities in the sector to support a ‘just transition’

What can we do to find mutually beneficial opportunities for workers and communities affected by changes in carbon-intensive industries? The transition to clean energy industries isn’t necessarily a straightforward switch for workers (for example, are the jobs of the right quality, in the right places, and at the right time?) – but could hydropower be an option for some? How can we support displaced workers to adapt to the jobs of the future? To drive policy, countries need to move quickly to analyse their current and future workforce capacity and needs, and their transition challenges and opportunities – as Australia is doing. Take a look at the recent report from Jobs and Skills Australia, The Clean Energy Generation: Workforce needs for a net zero economyand, to see what’s happening in this space around the world, read the International Energy Agency report on Skills Development and Inclusivity for Clean Energy Transitions.

5 Maximising women’s participation in the sector

It’s well recognised that women are still underrepresented in engineering, in the overall clean energy workforce, and in hydropower. The gender gap becomes larger at senior and managerial levels. Women also leave the hydropower sector more often than men (whether that’s changing sectors, changing companies, or leaving the workforce altogether). As I’ve said many times before, our industry simply cannot afford to miss out on the talent of half the population. We need greater action to maximise opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in the hydropower workforce and access the widest pool of diverse talent.

So what can we do about this? We can:

  • address the ‘pipeline problem’ – by raising the profile of STEM as a path for schoolgirls/ university students / apprentices
  • create incentives to attract women into the industry (e.g. scholarships)
  • ensure unbiased recruitment approaches
  • adopt flexible, supportive and equitable workplace strategies to help attract and retain women in the industry, particularly women balancing caring responsibilities
  • ensure that hydropower workplaces are secure and safe for women with appropriate facilities
  • fix the pay gap
  • create opportunities for networking and mentoring to encourage career progression and industry retention
  • ensure that women are encouraged to apply for senior positions, and that women in senior roles are visible role models for others
  • involve men in understanding and remediating existing gender barriers – a particularly powerful action, as identified in the recent World Bank report on gender equality in the hydropower sector
  • think, talk and act on gender issues every day, not only on International Women’s Day!

In short, there’s no lack of action we can take to make the hydropower sector more inclusive and diverse, even if those actions look a little different or take more time in different regions. The most important thing is to move forward.I strongly recommend that you read Power with Full Force: Getting to Gender Equality in the Hydropower Sector, which has just been released by the World Bank. It’s a powerful study of these issues, and, for me particularly, a strong reminder that the conditions we might take for granted in countries like Australia, such as paid parental leave and anti-discrimination laws, are not enjoyed by all women in the global hydropower sector, particularly in developing countries.

Clearly, to secure the next-generation workforce needed to deliver the renaissance in hydropower, we’ll need to work together to tackle the challenges and make the most of the opportunities ahead. None of the five actions I’ve listed in this article are surprising and none are merely a ‘nice to have’ – they are all essential and urgent.

Talking about these issues at global conferences is important, but it’s not enough. Now is the time for meaningful and urgent action to turn observations into actions and intentions into results.

We would like to acknowledge the panel participants: Kate Lazarus, ESG Advisor – IFC, Martin Stottele, Team Leader of RESD (Renewable Energy Skills Development, Indonesia) Programme, and Josef Ullmer, Director Andritz Hydro, Andritz.

Click here for more information about the Entura clean energy and water institute. For more information on our work in sustainability and planning, please get in touch.

About the author

Tammy Chu is the Managing Director of Entura, one of the world’s most experienced specialist power and water consulting firms. She is responsible for Entura’s business strategy, performance and services to clients, and is part of Hydro Tasmania’s Leadership Group. As a civil engineer, Tammy specialised in the design and construction of mini-hydro and hydropower systems, project management, hydropower investigations, prefeasibility and feasibility studies, environmental assessments and approvals, resource investigations and resource water management. Tammy is a member of the Board of the International Hydropower Association. She was the first female and now past president of the Tasmanian Division of Engineers Australia, and was an Engineers Australia National Congress representative.


November 10, 2023