Women powering the renewable energy sector

Ashlee Richardson is among a growing number of women breaking into the solar industry in Australia, thanks to a targeted program bringing gender equality to the clean energy sector.

A retail worker for more than 18 years, Ashlee was drawn to a career in trades after seeing her brothers succeed in their respective trades.

Ashlee knew it wouldn’t be an easy task – women currently make up less than 3 percent for the workforce in traditional trades such as plumbing, electrical and carpentry1.

She then found the Solar Apprenticeships for Women program run by AGA, part of the IntoWork Group.

The program offers women the opportunity to undertake a four year apprenticeship in electrical or plumbing, with no prior experience required.

After joining the program, Ashlee secured an apprenticeship with Sunny Solar Installation and Cleaning, making her the first female apprentice in the businesses history.

Sunny Solar Installations & Cleaning Manager Rick Bell said he didn’t think twice about bringing Ashlee into his predominantly male workforce, “Ashlee fits in well here and can do everything from wiring up switchboards to roof work and laying panel. She does just as much as what the guys do here,” he said.

Ashlee said her career choice raised a few eyebrows but it didn’t take long for her to show there’s a place for women in solar, “When I first started even my trade teachers where asking why I would want to do solar but now they are changing their tune. And like with any new job I had to prove myself with my colleagues and now we’re just like family.”

Women currently make up around 39 per cent of the clean energy sector2, and Ashlee would love to see that number grow, “I have yet to meet another woman in the industry yet. I’ll admit it’s probably a lot more physical than what people think and you need a lot of confidence to walk on roofs as some are at 35 degree angles, but I love it. ”

As an employer, Rick also believes there’s a great opportunity to increase female representation, “It would be good to see more women in the industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty physical job but it’s not to say women can’t do it,” he said.

The diversity in his workforce has other benefits for his business too. “When I go to clients’ houses, stay-at-home mums and other customers find me a bit more approachable to talk to,” said Ashlee

AGA CEO Leeann Rayner said Ashlee’s is one of many success stories they’re seeing through their range of female focused training and employment programs, “Programs like AGA’s Solar Apprenticeships for Women give opportunities to women to break into traditionally male-dominated industries and have the support to succeed. In addition, women should have the same opportunities to work in roles that historically pay a whole lot more than traditional ‘female’ roles,” she said.

“Importantly, this program will also ensure our state can meet the ongoing demand for skilled workers in the renewable and clean energy sector.”

About the program

AGA’s Solar Apprenticeships for Women is designed to boost the number of women in the solar heating and cooling industry. Funded by Solar Victoria, the 4-year electrical or plumbing apprenticeship program gives women valuable on-the-job experience and earns them a full-time wage while they work towards becoming fully qualified.

About International Women’s Day

This year’s UN Australia’s IWD theme, ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’, highlights how innovation is the key to combatting discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally. While innovation is the driver of change and has the power to transform lives, there are still many barriers to equality. Equal access to education for women and girls and creating clear pathways and inclusive workplaces is critical to cracking the code to gender equality.

For more information on AGA’s Solar Apprenticeships for Women program, go to https://www.aga.com.au/solarapprenticeships-women/

1 https://ewitrades.com/
2 https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/news/iwd-and-beyond