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Powering up

Women in Solar is a program with its eye on the future and it is proudly supported by Master Plumbers’ group training organisation, Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria.

The Women in Plumbing program was a huge achievement for our industry.

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Powering up

It is estimated that water heating comprises around one quarter of all energy usage in Australian households - making solar water heating a crucial part of the country’s push towards a renewable future.

With consumers able to make big savings on their bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching to solar hot water or a heat-pump system, there will be ample opportunities for the plumbing industry to support this shift over coming years.

Solar Victoria’s Solar Apprenticeships for Women program, run in partnership with Master Plumbers’ group training organisation Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria, aims to address both skilled worker shortages in the solar space as well as the underrepresentation of women in trades.

It is part of Solar Victoria’s $11m investment into a training and workforce development package to grow the state’s clean energy workforce.

For Master Plumbers, the program follows the successful Women in Plumbing program, which helped to break down barriers for women entering the industry.

“It’s a two-year program to try and entice more females into the solar industry, not just with plumbing but with heating, ventilation, air conditioning and cooling (HVAC) as well, to ultimately increase the number of females working in that clean-energy space,” says Dean Arundell, Manager of Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria.

“We will bring six new females into the industry to work over a two-year period, and host employers will get a 50 per cent rebate on the normal hourly charge rate. Companies are showing interest, there’s the Building Equality Policy coming in for the commercial side of the industry and companies are hearing more and more positive stories about women in the plumbing industry,” he says.

The Women in Plumbing program, initiated by Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria in conjunction with Apprenticeships Victoria, made a tangible increase to the number of female apprentices in Victoria’s plumbing industry.

More than 30 apprentices were hired during the first stage of the program, with 26 per cent of all apprentices employed at Plumbing Apprenticeships Victoria being women, in comparison to the current industry standard of under two per cent. A further 12 female apprentices were recruited in stage two.

Master Plumbers’ Recruitment and Projects Officer Anne Boyle hopes the solar program will be just as successful.

“There’s no doubt the Women in Plumbing program was a huge achievement for our industry.

Although the 2-year program has finished, the majority of women who went through the program are still working in plumbing meaning the trade is ultimately benefiting.

“What I’ve started seeing with the solar program is that we are getting a lot of younger women applying.

In the beginning, it was mainly people in their late 20s and 30s that had other careers, but now we’re getting applications coming in from women just leaving school. There’s a lot more support and encouragement around trades being a viable career option in the education space these days, which is helping to spark that interest even more.”

Women in Solar apprentices will be supported to undertake a four-year Plumbing Apprenticeship with a focus on sustainable solar technologies like solar hot water and air conditioning in their first and second year.

“It’s also really important to note that these apprentices are still plumbing apprentices, so they’ll be getting a variety of experiences across different parts of the industry, to ensure they are well rounded plumbers at the end of their apprenticeship,” says Anne.

One of the key features of the Women in Plumbing projects was the establishment of a network to provide social and development opportunities to women. Anne says Women in Solar participants will be welcomed to the network from day one.

“We’ve done a lot of catch ups, some with Tradie Lady Club and Empowered Women in Trades, such as games days, BBQs, Galas and causal catch ups. The hardest part is trying find the right day, time and location to suit the 100+ in the network, because we have women from all over Melbourne, some who are mums and all who have other commitments.

“It’s fantastic that women have built their own peer-to-peer support networks too… It means there are always people that they can pick up the phone to and say, ‘I’ve experienced this’, or ‘what do you think about that?’.”

The Women in Solar program will also help to address one of the challenges highlighted by the Women in Plumbing program - financial challenges for women moving from an established career to an apprentice wage.

“Part of our funding from Solar Victoria includes financial incentives for participants. For example, we are able to give women a start-up incentive of $1k for participants to buy their toolkit instead of needing to fork out and buy it themselves, so that’s one less burden on them,” says Anne.

“We will also provide a payment every six months to keep people going, and then a payment of up to $4k after completing their two years in the program.”

Dean highlights the longer-term benefits for women considering entering the industry.

“At the end of the day it’s a commitment to a lower wage for a period before a higher wage in the longer-term. We know it is not going to suit everybody, but what I say is that if you go to university you end up with a HECS debt at the end of your study whereas with an apprenticeship you’re still earning a wage while you’re learning.

You have no debt at the end, as we pay all the fees for study.”

He says that programs like Solar Apprenticeships for Women are shifting attitudes across the board.

“These days we don’t identify our plumbing apprentices by gender, we just talk about apprentices.

And when someone rings us and asks whether we have apprentices available, we just tell them the apprentice’s level and experience. This is becoming the norm.”

While recruitment of host employers and participants for the Solar Apprenticeships for Women program closed in October, the pair both say the door is always open.

“Whether it’s through a program or not, there are always opportunities for women to become apprentices and to join our network. We will help and assist them in whatever way we can,” says Anne.

Dean adds: “We are always looking for new host employers especially in the solar or heat pump side of the industry, as there’ll be opportunities to rotate the Solar Apprenticeships for Women participants around into different host companies so they can get different experiences.”

For more information on hosting an apprentice or apprenticeship opportunities, please contact us at [email protected] or phone 03 9321 0713.

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The Women in Plumbing program was a huge achievement for our industry.

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