'We can do anything': Women paving the way for ACT's renewable future

When 17-year old Elina Ulrich decided she wanted to be an electrician, she wasn’t going to let gender stereotypes get in her way. All it takes, she says, is a bit of willpower.

“It’s not fair to say there are some things women can’t do. We can do anything – same as men,” she said.

Electrical apprentices Phoebe Thompson, Elina Ulrich and Natalie Fowler in front of a frame they built and wired during training. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Electrical apprentices Phoebe Thompson, Elina Ulrich and Natalie Fowler in front of a frame they built and wired during training. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

“If a woman has enough will to do a trade she can do it no matter what the strength threshold is for a male.”

Miss Ulrich is one of four young women have completed a new electrical trade pre-apprenticeship program in Canberra, paving the way for ACT’s renewable energy future.

The National Electrical and Communications Association Training ACT ran the initiative with funding from the ACT government. It began at the beginning of October and lasted two weeks.

Participants were able to experience what an electrical apprenticeship would involve by visiting sites, completing basic electrical work tasks and learning about health and safety.

Following the success of the program, a second round of grants has already been announced.

One factor that attracted the women to the scheme was the opportunity to work in Australia’s growing renewable energy sector.

Miss Ulrich said her interest in the trade was sparked by the opportunity to work in renewable energy.

“It’s a really up and coming industry to come into: wind power, solar power, it’s all coming in now. It may not seem like it but it’s getting there pretty fast,” she said.

“It’d be really cool to go down that avenue. If I’m doing something good for the environment it evens out my morals.”

Miss Ulrich said the ACT's pledge to be powered by 100 per cent renewable by 2020 was a great goal to work towards and that a lot of Canberra residents were not mindful of their renewable energy.

“A lot of rural Australians are more conscious but I live in a townhouse where there’s no way to chuck solar panels on the roof or get a water tank out the back and have renewable stuff, it’s just too small,” she said.

Another participant, Natalie Fowler, 17, said renewable energy was the future and “really the way to go because that’s what we’re going to using sooner or later”.

National Electrical and Communications Association chief executive Suresh Manickam said the landscape for people entering the electrical industry was full of opportunities.

"It’s very exciting, as a young person entering the trade you can work in areas like renewables and smart buildings," he said.

“All of it is available to you, just get in and dip your toe in the water.

“The electrical trade is not what it used to be. It is not a dirty, grimy trade anymore. It can be clean and it pays well and can be very rewarding for people."

All four participants will be applying for full-time apprenticeships when they have the opportunity.

The program, which was open only to females, aimed to encourage girls into a male-dominated trade.

“There’s not many female sparkies in Canberra and it’s good to know that there are other girls are interested in it,” Miss Ulrich said.

Her passion was first ignited when she “was working with this chick who was a sparkie and she told me how much she loved it and it made me love it”.

“This program shows young girls they can do it if they want to.”

Mr Manickam said only 2 per cent of tradies were women, meaning the industry was missing the skills and potential of 51 per cent of the population.

"This is a lost opportunity and damaging for the electrical trade, so we are working hard to address it and are delighted with the ACT government’s action,” he said.

The National Electrical and Communications Association thanked the ACT government for “stepping up to the plate” with the funding for the program.