Skills shortage in clean-up science

Monday, 04 December, 2006

Australia needs to train over 1000 new experts in environmental remediation if it is to become an international leader in the "˜clean society'.

A severe shortage of skills in risk assessment, remediation and bio-remediation threatens to hamper the emergence of a billion dollar industry in cleaning up past contaminated sites and preventing future industrial contamination.

The managing director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), Professor Ravi Naidu says technology is already under development which could make Australian industry the world's cleanest.

"There are some magnificent new approaches and technologies on the way for dealing with problems like heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants.

"But we are desperately short of the people who will deliver this new knowledge to industry and help them to implement it. At present, Australia has to import these skills from the UK and elsewhere."

Environmental risk assessment and remediation is a major new industrial field, using the latest advances in physics, biology and chemistry to lock up, break down or make safe the toxic by-products of past industrial activity.

"The fact that 13 of CRC CARE's 24 partners are from industry is a strong indicator of the level of interest and enthusiasm which this new science is generating," Prof Naidu says. "Also, we have already formed partnerships in places like China, South Korea and Bangladesh, pointing to the huge export potential.

"Besides cleaning up past contamination, the technologies we are working on will turn low-value land into prime urban real estate, help reduce the level of environmental ill-health in the community and deliver affordable, clean industrial processes that recycle waste.

"The most urgent need is for skilled Australians who can deliver this suite of new clean-up solutions. Market surveys indicate a demand for at least 1000 jobs in this area." Prof Naidu said a particular concern was the need for skilled biotechnologists who can deliver biological solutions to contamination. At present, the world biotech market is booming and Australians are being lured overseas with promises of large salaries and research budgets.

To address the problem, CRC CARE itself plans to train a total of 75 researchers to PhD level over the next six years, and assist up to 500 technical staff to acquire skills bridging industry and research.

"However, we acknowledge that this is only a part of what Australia needs if this new clean-up industry is to achieve its full potential. There is a need for urgent focus by governments and industry on how we train more experts in risk assessment and remediation."

Professor Naidu called on industry leaders, environment protection agencies and governments to address the critical shortage in skills in clean-up and prepare a national plan to resolve it.

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