Helping women into the clean energy sector

Informative: Elecsome Chief Executive Neeraj Das (second from left) explains the plant's process to Minister Hutchins (second from right).



THE state government has given a $100,000 grant to Gippsland Women’s Health (GWH) to support their work helping employers attract and retain women in traditionally male-dominated workforces, and to advance gender equality.

The Minister for Women, as well as Minister for Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Natalie Hutchins, joined GWH’s chief executive, Kate Graham, at the local Kilmany business Elecsome’s solar panel upcycling plant to announce the grant last Friday (May 24).

Elecsome upcycles glass fines from damaged solar panels into sand, then ‘nano-engineered’ concrete, in a world-first called SolarCrete. Elecsome saves cement mix manufacturers between 50 and 80 per cent on river sand, which is a precious material in the manufacturing process.

All of the materials that Elecsome use to upcycle are sourced from Victoria, saving damaged solar panels from polluting landfills in the state.

Minister Hutchins was given a tour of Elecsome’s Kilmany facility, and appeared to be impressed with the process they developed.

Ms Graham accompanied her, as did the Regional Development Victoria Regional Director, Sara Rhodes-Ward.

Teamwork: Minister Hutchins talks to Regional Development Victoria’s Sara Rhodes-Ward and Gippsland Women’s Health Chief Executive, Kate Graham in Kilmany last week. Photograph: Tom Hayes

Barriers to women’s entry into and advancement in industries such as energy and manufacturing can include inflexible working arrangements, a lack of paid parental leave, gender discrimination, sexism and sexual harassment. This has led to their underrepresentation in these workforces.

Given Elecsome’s small number of employers on site in Kilmany, when Minister Hutchins asked its chief executive Neeraj Das if he could see women working in this workforce, he replied: “Why not?”

With only a small team of seven or eight people on site in Kilmany, Elecsome hopes to increase the number of employers in Kilmany realistically to around 30 or 35, all while training and upskilling people in the process.

Innovation: Elecsome’s site in Kilmany. Photograph: Tom Hayes

Gippsland Women’s Health, as part of the venture, will also deliver a mentoring program in collaboration with the Gippsland Community Leadership Program, Women in Industry and Women in Renewable Energy networks.

“Supporting more women in Gippsland to enter, stay and progress in energy and manufacturing careers is a win-win situation for local women and employers,” Minister Hutchins said.

“This grant to Gippsland Women’s Health supports better economic outcomes for women in Gippsland and will help local organisations address skills shortages in some of the Victoria’s strongest growth sectors, while contributing to driving greater gender equality across the state.”

Minister Hutchins announced that the grant hopes to get more women into the clean energy sector and manufacturing.

“We find that there are some pretty low numbers, and we need to lift that up,” she said.

“I hear from a lot of businesses like (Elecsome), about the need for more skilled workers, and quite frankly skilling up women to come into these roles is a big part of the answer.”

In response, Ms Graham appreciated the grant from the state government.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to continue our work… about how we can bring women into the industry and retain them and advance them in the industry as well,” she said.

The work of GWH is just one of the initiatives to address barriers to women’s participation and advancement in male-dominated industries; the government will make another grant announcement soon.

The grant to GWH is part of a second round of grants to develop strategies to boost women’s participation and equity in manufacturing and energy, which forms a key part of the state government’s response to the inquiry into economic equity for Victorian Women.

Elecsome’s Kilmany site will be changing by the month, with new upgrades set to be installed during winter.