Canada's electricity and renewable energy sector needs 23,000 new workers by 2016 just to replace retiring baby boomers and Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC) hopes many of these workers will be women.
"We need to work with employers, who I think are very passionate about getting more women into the industry, and we need to ensure that we're developing organizational culture where women working in all areas of an organization is the norm," said Michelle Branigan, chief executive officer of EHRC.
Through its Bridging the Gap project, EHRC provides a central point of contact for women with information about mentoring, training, apprenticeships and support programs.
In addition, it is launching a full marketing awareness program, along with a series of tools, resources and videos to facilitate connections between women and industry employers.
"We need to be talking about the sheer breadth of career opportunities that are actually in the sector for these women," said Branigan.
The sector is also hampered by a shift from a legacy system to new generation and there are large expansions, replacements and refurbishments planned.
The Conference Board of Canada has estimated that over the next 20 years, almost $300 billion will be spent on electricity infrastructure.
Currently women represent 25 per cent of the electricity industry workforce and fewer than five per cent in the trades.
There are about 12 construction occupations that are involved with the electricity sector.
"The electricity and renewable energy sector is poised for huge growth in the coming years, and we know that close to one in five new jobs in Ontario are expected to be in the skilled trades in the next decade," said Reza Moridi, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, in a press release.
"It's crucial that women have the opportunity to pursue meaningful work in technical vocations, trades and other professions in the skilled trades and within the electricity and renewable energy sector. That's why it's so important that Employment Ontario and the Electricity Human Resources Canada are helping provide women with important information about these very attractive career options."
As part of the project, EHRC spoke with women currently working in the sector to find what drove them to work and stay in the field and to identify challenges and supports.
The EHRC also heard from employers, educators and women in high school and post-secondary school to learn about their perceptions of the industry.
Many women currently working in the industry attributed that to having family members who worked in the field.
"The women we talked to that did not have a tie to the sector through a family member said that they were often guided away by trades and technologies and pushed towards more traditional roles, like teaching and nursing. A lot of the women told us that they actually had an interest for physical sciences at an early age and despite showing an interest, they were still pushed away from that," said Branigan.
Conversations with girls surrounding math and science should begin in elementary school, said Branigan.
"Sometimes it's an unconscious bias. We need to be talking and educating and engaging with parents and with the teachers so that they understand the opportunities that are available. They need to know what type of careers you can have with a trade and how you can navigate your way through to have maybe many different types of jobs with your qualifications as you go through the system," she said.
Funding for the project came from Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, Employment Ontario, Alberta Advanced Education and Engineers Canada.
The project also involved guidance from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Power Workers Union, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Nova Scotia's department of education and Women in Nuclear Canada.