Renewable energy sector aims to increase diversity in the solar workforce
This story was originally published by NBC 5. Vermont Works for Women Trailblazers program has expanded to include training in renewable energy skills. We launched Trailblazers: Green in 2022, our free training program preparing women and gender-expansive individuals for careers in construction and renewable energy.
NBC 5 | August 3, 2023
By: Sid Bewlay
Leaders calling for a more equitable industry, especially when it comes to women in the workforce.
WINOOSKI, Vt. — With increasing energy demand and rising temperatures, the need for workers in the renewable energy field is growing rapidly.
Employers in the field are trying to help meet the need while growing diversity and equity in the industry at the same time.
And women already in the field are helping to be role models.
“The job is very cool, and I wanted to be a part of this huge change,” said Megan Wells, a solar installer at SunCommon.
Suncommon, Encore Renewable Energy, and Vermont Works for Women are all leading the charge.
“We have a few women working in the field right now, a bunch of diversity, it’s great,” said Matthew Vurhans, a crew lead at SunCommon.
“We can do the skills just like a man can,” said Wells. “We can run our impacts and drive the lulls just like a man can.”
Wells sees herself as an on-the-job example for others who may be thinking about joining the green workforce, but she is not alone.
“One of the big things is mentorship and representation,” said Amber Lessard, a project manager with Encore Renewable Energy. “So, when I entered this field, I didn’t see a whole lot of people who looked like me, doing what I was doing. And that was really hard, it was lonely in a way.”
It’s a problem many companies in the industry are trying to fix.
“We are working to break this barrier and bring more people,” said Solal Hecker, training director at SunCommon. “There’s work with women workforce and we’re trying to bring more women in and the refugee community as well.”
“Once I found Vermont Works for Women, it’s like this whole new door opened where I was like ‘Oh! There are other people who are doing this type of work,’ I didn’t even see,” said Lessard. “I can see myself and relate. Then I like to pass that forward, I want to be that mentor.
Lessard gets to do just that through free programs training in renewable energy like Trailblazers Green with Vermont Works for Women.
The next program begins Aug. 16, with a focus on teaching women and non-binary folks, ages 16 and up, how to build and install solar panels.
“Research shows that when you have cohorts of females identifying individuals, they are more comfortable and learn much better in that environment,” said Missy Mackin, Vermont Works for Women.
She says that is good news for the renewable energy industry and their efforts to bring more diversity into the field.
“There’s a lot of research that shows bringing diverse folks, diverse perspectives into the industry, just makes the industry stronger,” said Lessard.