As the world slowly realises the primary task of the century is to decarbonise electricity generation, renewables workers will be in hot demand. The Bradman Recruitment-EcoGeneration Renewable Energy Salary Survey 2021 shows how they fare in Australia. Shuchi Gupta reports.

As the clean energy industry is pulled between a federal government that fails to support it with clear policy directives and states that are eager to build vast renewable energy zones, workers in the sector are reporting varying levels of satisfaction. Some have not had a pay rise in four years, while others are managing to do rather well out of the energy transition. Sadly, some have reached the conclusion that although working in renewables is “the right thing to do”, you can still get paid more working in oil and gas.

The transition to clean energy is unstoppable, however, and there is much more work to be done.

The Bradman Recruitment-EcoGeneration Renewable Energy Salary Survey 2021, conducted over five weeks to the end of July, has returned a detailed picture of remuneration levels for clean energy workers in Australia, following up from the first survey in 2017.

The invitation to participate in the anonymous online survey was accepted by 477 people, who provided data to help develop an understanding on how Australian employees are compensated. 

A talented bunch

Over the past few years the clean energy industry has continued to grow as solar, wind and storage assets are connected to the grid. The survey showed there is a heavy reliance on talent from overseas. One of the most interesting statistics revealed by the survey is that more than half of respondents – 53% – were not born in Australia, compared with about 30% of residents (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Australia’s borders have been closed for 18 months and are likely to remain closed for some time, limiting resources entering this sector at a time when it is starting to boom. This is likely to put severe upward pressure on salaries and make it difficult for new projects to get off the ground. Conversely, this will also give people with transferrable skills more opportunity to enter the renewables market, especially those professionals from the fossil fuel sector who wish to leave.

Two-thirds of respondents are located in NSW (33%) and Victoria (32%), a similar result to the 2017 survey. The remainder can be found in Queensland (13%), Western Australia (7%), South Australia (3%), the ACT (3%) and Tasmania (3%). About 5% of respondents said they do not live in Australia. About 80% of respondents work in the major metropolitan centres.

The clean energy sector is highly educated, with four-in-five of those surveyed holding a tertiary qualification. Of these, most had a masters or bachelor’s degree (41% and 33% of respondents respectively), while 6% had completed a PhD. About 13% held a technical or occupational certificate. Only 3% within the sector had no further education beyond completing high school.

As in 2017, solar PV continues to be the most popular sector among the renewable energy workers, with more than 60% of respondents involved with solar in some capacity. A quarter of those surveyed associated with working with large-scale solar PV (over 10MW), a fifth with small-scale PV (up to 100kW), with 16% with PV sized between 100kW and 10MW.

Almost a third work in the wind sector (30%), mostly onshore technology. Other renewable sectors identified were hydrogen (8%), hydro (5%), electric vehicles (5%) and biofuels (4%), with an additional 12% working with energy efficiency measures. Energy storage solutions is a growing field within the industry, with 5% of participants employed in the space.

Almost half of respondents work in project management (including senior management) (31%) or sales/business development (16%). A further 12% are involved in design engineering, 5% in research roles and 5% in utility scale development. The remainder are employed across other job functions, such as finance, legal, marketing, investment management and construction and trades. Most are employed full-time (around 80%).

The types of organisations that clean energy employees work for are varied, with power utility generation, manufacturer, engineering consulting, EPC and developer the most common areas. The result highlights the breadth of skills required for this relatively new sector in the economy and the versatility of employees in this space.

The average annual salary package is $170,000, up from around $140,000 in 2017. However, this result may be skewed by large senior management salary packages, as the median salary is about $150,000.

Almost half of employees earned between $100,000 and $200,000, but two-thirds of those (29%) earn between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.

A quarter of workers earn between $200,000 and $350,000. About 4% – those in senior management positions – have an annual salary package of more than $350,000. A few workers – 6% of those surveyed – earn between $40,000 and $60,000.

Some employers should take note that maybe it’s time to offer pay rises? A staggering 27% of respondents have not received a pay increase for over three years. It could be argued that lockdowns due to covid-19 have stifled economic activity, but three-quarters of the clean energy industry have still managed to look after employees, and 39% seeing small pay rises and 34% describing increases as “reasonable”.

Pay levels for clean energy workers have beaten historically low inflation levels. Four years ago, a third of workers were paid less than $100,000, whereas today the proportion is just over a fifth. The industry also revealed an average bonus of $50,000, although only roughly half received any bonus at all.

When respondents were asked to rank their level of satisfaction with their salary on a scale where 0-4 is highly dissatisfied, 5-7 is considered indifferent and 8-10 was highly satisfied, the survey indicated an average satisfaction level of 6.5. More than a third of people are highly satisfied with their salaries and bonuses, recording a score of eight or higher.

Opinions vary

Opinion on how renewable energy industry salaries compare to other sectors is undecided. Thirty percent of respondents felt that salaries are comparable to other sectors, while another 30% say the sector is under-compensated. Numerous people felt that salaries are highly variable between different renewable energy organisations and roles, with a participant commenting: “There is a large variance between employers – some seem to not be willing to pay what people are worth and lost good employees in the longer term…” There is the view that agencies such as recruitment companies can assist in generalizing and standardizing salaries across companies in this industry. 

A quarter of respondents were unsure how the industry compared in the economy, with one commenting it is hard to benchmark an engineering job in the renewables industry against other engineering jobs due to a lack of renewables-specific job salary data.

New work, new world

Respondents’ average experience in the clean energy industry is 9.8 years, with almost two-thirds indicating less than 10 years’ experience. Only 7% of employees had more than 20 years’ experience in the sector.

Half of the respondents have been in the workforce for 20 years or more, with an average 21.6 years of experience. This is reflective of how the clean energy industry has grown in the past 10-15 years in Australia, and that not only are career starters (such as graduates) choosing to study and work in this space but that experienced professionals are also entering it.

One project manager in the power utility generation sector remarked that “[the] industry has very little skilled labour [and we] need to consider attracting better candidates from other industries”.

Several commentors felt that given the benefits the clean energy sector provides to society that “renewables should be given high consideration in development and salaries”. Moreover, many believe that “below-industry-average salaries” will soon change because “the next decade will hold enormous opportunity” for the clean energy market, as “the sector is only going to grow”.

Compiled by Bradman Recruitment and GHD sustainability engineer Shuchi Gupta.