It’s a boom year for renewables but are pay packets managing to keep pace? Australia’s first national renewable energy salary survey takes a look at conditions across the industry.
After a few years in the doldrums of political uncertainty the clean energy market is gearing for growth. In July Cranfield Projects in association with EcoGeneration initiated Australia’s first Renewable Energy Salary Survey, inviting workers in the clean energy industry to participate in anonymous online research.
About 400 people participated, providing data which demonstrated how the Australian employees of the renewables industry are compensated. The survey can also help develop an understanding of the equity that has been shaped by an industry that is always creating and changing opportunities, captured in the comments of the participants.
More than a third of the respondents were located in NSW (34.3%) and less than a third were from Victoria (30.9%). Over a quarter were from Western Australia (10.0%) and Queensland (16.1%). The remainder came from South Australia (4.7%), the ACT (2.1%), Tasmania (1.3%) and Northern Territory (0.5%).
Among those who responded to having a tertiary education, 77% had studied in Australia, including universities such as the University of NSW, University of Sydney and RMIT. The remaining 23% had studied overseas in countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2015-16 the renewables industry saw a 16% year-on-year decline in employment. However, 2016-17 shows promise due to larger investments and implementation in storage and large-scale projects.
Over a third of participants were in medium to large-scale solar PV and roughly an eighth was working in the storage and off-grid sectors.
Over the horizon
Some respondents who commented on the once decreasing and “flat-lining” remuneration in the industry say it is now increasing, helped by the rising demand for skills in utility-scale projects. One engineer commented that although prospects may be stagnant for some roles the prospect is “rising for some roles such as project management utility scale … I believe a majority of people who choose this path, in my profession, do it for meaning and are open to taking an initial pay cut to support the industry’s growth … versus working in other less sustainable and less dynamic industries”.
About half of respondents were from sales/business development (20.1%), engineering/design (17.1%) or project management (13.3%). The remainder were employed across other job functions such as administration, construction and maintenance.
The average annual full-time salary package in the industry was about $140,000, where 82.7% of participants are full-time employees and the remainder part-time (5.8%), temporary/contract (3.7%) and casual (7.1%). Of the respondents, slightly less than half do not receive bonuses.
A third of participants were earning annual salaries within the $60,000-$99,999 range. The participants who were earning salaries of $200,000 and more were noticeably in senior roles such as managers and directors. However, it is important to note that 8% of that salary range are consultants on temporary contracts and earning a full-time equivalent salary higher than $200,000.
Some participants had speculated that the salary levels do not match to other industries, such as mining, oil and gas. However, many believe these remuneration levels “will [change] and are changing” to become higher and acceptable by the employees.
A business development manager’s perspective raises the “economic and strategic importance” the renewable energy industry has for the long-term state of Australia, and how remuneration is “one significant driver to attract the best minds” to the industry.
The long game
The average number of years of renewable energy industry experience is 8.8 years, where more than half of the respondents had six to 15 years’ of experience. In comparison, the overall work experience was averaged at 20.7 years, with a third of respondents having 30 or more years’ of overall work experience.
Among the respondents, only 14% have received a year-on-year pay increase larger than or equal to 10%. They tended to be in senior and management roles, such as director or head manger. A considerable number of respondents (more than 65%) believe their pay increase does not align with their experience.
An energy analyst, director and sales manager, each with between three and five years of experience working in the renewable energy industry (and more than 25 years of overall work experience) shared the view that salary levels may be low due to increased competition in the job market, keeping remuneration levels low.
In response to the question on salary satisfaction levels, the respondents were asked to rank their level of satisfaction with their salary levels from 0 to 10, where 0 is most dissatisfied and 10 is most satisfied. The survey found that the overall average satisfaction level was 5.21 (see chart).
Some respondents who were satisfied with salary levels nevertheless were critical of the government and its efforts in effective deployment of renewable energy policies. Some responses realised that many passionate people “lining up to be involved in the industry” although it is often hampered by “unstable short-term-thinking government energy policies”, negativity in the mainstream media and the “irresponsible government policy vacuum”.
The salary survey was sponsored by renewable energy recruitment specialists Cranfield Projects and developed in conjunction with the UNSW industrial internship program, with EcoGeneration as media partner.