Opportunities for women in the solar and renewables sector

Australia’s energy sector is undergoing a massive transition and women provide an invaluable perspective in the solar industry’s workforce.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021 at 4:39 am
Woman installing solar panel

Australia’s energy sector is undergoing a massive transition and women provide an invaluable perspective in the solar industry’s workforce.

The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2019 Renewable Energy and Jobs report found that women represents 32 per cent of the world’s renewable energy workforce – significantly higher than the 22 per cent reported in the oil and gas industry.

However, according to Tradeswomen Australia Managing Director, Fiona McDonald, the number of female apprentices and trainees in the core trades of electrical, carpentry, and plumbing has remained at less than two per cent for more than 25 years.

Ms McDonald said overcoming the gender gap in the trades was a major national issue requiring collaboration between businesses, political parties, unions and the education system to be overcome.

Solar installer and business owner Billie Smith encourages women to look at careers in the electrical trades, particularly solar, saying there’s no shortage of work and plenty of opportunities.

And with a national push to have more people - including women - entering trades, she says there’s no reason for them not to look into it.

Encouraged by her father, her working life began as an electrical mechanic in Victoria’s traditional power hub, the Latrobe Valley, as an electrical mechanic on heavy equipment at the Maryvale paper mill.

Now, she runs her own solar installation business with her husband, Mick, in Melbourne’s outer-east.

 “There aren’t many women working in solar - yet - but my advice is to give it a go and follow your passion. With confidence you can be successful,” she said.

“It can be challenging for women in any male dominated trade job, but If you put in an honest day’s work, most guys will treat you as part of the team.”

After working for many years in the general electrical area, Billie said rising interest in solar and renewables offered new opportunities leading to the establishment of their solar installation business in 2012.

“I’m committed to the environment, offering great service and genuine advice for customers, that’s why we work in the solar industry.”

“Not many women are working in solar, but it’s a great job with a great future. Having a trade, any trade, gives you a job for life.”

Tradeswomen Australia's Fiona McDonald, said “solar is the new greenfield jobs opportunity. In a world increasingly relying on technology, and with new energy creation systems being constantly improved, now is the time to look at potential pathways for the longer-term.”

Ms McDonald said, “We need a reliable supply of skilled workers and with an aging population, getting young women interested in solar and other electrical trades is an investment in the future of individuals, businesses and the country.”