In a new series, EcoGeneration shines a spotlight on women in renewables who are championing diversity in the clean energy industry. Meet electrical apprentice Bridgette Peake from Greenwood Solutions.
Solar panel installation on industrial rooftops is a long way from the grind of the music industry, but for Bridgette Peake, that is her career transition. Swapping working with musicians and artists for a four-year electrical apprenticeship with Greenwood Solutions in Melbourne, Victoria, she is embracing her new vocation and making a difference in the renewables space.
Realising she wanted to work with her hands and sync her ideologies about helping to solve climate change, a career in clean energy came calling and Peake hasn’t looked back. Despite having no formal experience in a trade, Greenwood Solutions saw her potential and offered the role.
“I first studied my degree in Melbourne, in entertainment management, which is more the business side of the music industry,” she says. “I was working with record labels and bands – very different to what I’m doing now. I was working all hours, 24/7, and it was not fulfilling so I left the industry and worked in hospitality for a while.
“What I learnt in the music industry was that I don’t like being inside all day, and I want to work as part of something with tangible progress. I like working with my hands and I love maths so in 2021, at age 25, I started as a mature-age electrical apprentice.
“I wasn’t going into it skilled, but once I interviewed with Greenwood, it was obvious the renewables sector was something I was going to be interested in with it changing so quickly and all the new technology. It is high-energy and keeps my brain occupied as much as my hands.”
Since commencing her role and swapping late nights with bands for early starts on the job, Peake has enjoyed a complete lifestyle switch and embraced her career in solar installation.
“I was never someone who would wake up at 5.30am, but this job has changed my life,” she says. “I prioritise my body and health a lot more as it’s so important to my work.
“Seeing the sun rise every morning and being on roofs that allow you to see for kilometres has really grounded me, and made me physically and mentally much happier and healthier.”
Despite being a beginner in the industry, joining an understanding and supportive team at Greenwood Solutions made Peake’s transition smoother, particularly in a traditionally male-dominated field.
“I had some growing pains in terms of my physical capacity, but you pick it up so quickly once you are working onsite,” she says. “I was lucky I had a team around me that could recognise people are at different levels of experience.
“It took me a while before I could carry solar panels as they are upwards of 20kg to 25kg, but being in a team of people who don’t look down on you really helped. This is the type of environment we need to foster for women in the industry.”
Having now worked as an electrical apprentice for 18 months, Peake is keen to encourage other women into similar roles and not be dissuaded by the physical load of installing solar panels.
“Now I can keep up with everyone, but it takes time to get there,” she says. “It’s been incredible watching my body change from doing physical work.
“For a lot of women, the idea of this kind of work being too hard physically is more difficult than the work itself. I had a strong urge to do it but that might not be the case for everyone.
“It’s very important to speak to as many women as I can because trades and renewables can only benefit from more women in the industry.
“There is a fear of the unknown, and not enough people talk to women about trades and the realities of the job. That could be discouraging some women who may think the physical work will damage their bodies, which is a huge misconception. Solar is definitely more physical than other electrical jobs, but it is definitely do-able, and I’m way healthier in this job.”
Being ingrained in the renewables industry and playing a role in helping to save the planet certainly helps Peake rise and shine in the morning during the chilly Melbourne winters.
“I’m quite a political person and I care about my community and environment,” she says. “My dream is to get heaps done in renewables and get many women involved. It’s such a fast-growing sector with so many opportunities. You don’t have to be lifting panels or in electrical.
“The exciting thing about working in renewable energy is you’re doing the best for the world around us. It’s exciting seeing how the industry is growing on such a macro level. It’s motivating to see the rise of commercial renewable energy, and how big corporations are spending enormous budgets trying to right the wrongs of the past.
“This job allows me to fight for what I believe in. Working in renewables means I don’t have to compromise that to have a fulfilling job.
“My advice to women considering a career in renewables is find other women who are doing it, on platforms such as social media. One thing that is often overlooked is having female mentors, especially in a male-dominated environment where it might be intimidating to enter for women. When you see other women doing it, it’s encouraging to see yourself in their shoes.
“And finally, be yourself. Don’t change who you are to fit the environment. The notion you have to become one of the guys – it’s not really like that anymore.”