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Sticking with solar

Becoming a Clean Energy Council Accredited Installer was a smart career choice for Naomi Bourke.

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No two days are ever the same in the world of rooftop solar, according to electrician and solar installer Naomi Bourke. Each day brings a new roof, new customers, and new tests.

“With renewable electricity, it’s ever-changing and evolving,” says the electrician from Townsville, Queensland, who is accredited to install home battery storage systems as well as rooftop solar panels.

“Every day is different because you meet different people, face different challenges and you’re in a different location,” she says.

She’s been in the trade for over five years now and hasn’t looked back.

“My main reason for choosing to be an electrician is I don’t do very well with sitting still. I like to be getting up and doing stuff all the time, and I also like to be challenging myself - I don’t like something super easy.

“Prior to starting my electrician’s apprenticeship, I was working in a coal lab, as a coal quality tester at a mine site. Lab work is very repetitive. Generally, you do the same thing every hour for about eight hours, so after a while, it can get a bit boring.

“Also, I’ve seen the impact that the mine has on the environment, and from that I developed this want to help create a green future.”

Bourke started at solar specialists Horan and Bird as an apprentice and then became one of their Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited solar installers.

“It was daunting at first being a young female in a male-dominated industry, but I was fortunate that everybody that I worked with was very accepting, and they’ve all been excellent to learn from.

“We usually head to the workshop in the morning at about 6:30 am, and load up the vans and trailers with all our stock. Then we head out to the site, knock on the door to meet the customer, set up and scope it all out.

“Next, we move to the installation phase, putting the racking on the roof and installing the wiring. Then we lay the panels and move on to the testing phase, and run the customers through how to use it. There’s usually a team of two-to-four people, and we get it done in a day.

“It’s always really rewarding when you finish a job to see how happy and excited the customers are with their systems, and you hear about them proudly telling all of their friends ‘oh I got solar’ and comparing their usage and everything.”

Naomi has recently been promoted to an office job within the firm but is keen to get out on the road again soon.

“Now I’m sitting behind a desk! I’m the scheduler, so I’m scheduling all of those jobs for our in-field teams.

“I’m definitely missing being on the tools though. I’m actually in talks with work at the moment to see if I can have the opportunity to do a couple of days in the office and a couple of days on the tools.”

For others who are interested in following in her footsteps, Naomi says there are plenty of opportunities.

“If you’re starting fresh, the best thing to do is to land an electrical apprenticeship – then you can move on to become a solar installer afterwards.

“The best way to do that if you have the time and funds is to do a Certificate II in Electrotechnology with TAFE or another provider, because you’ll already have some knowledge up your sleeve when you start.”

For those already licensed as electricians it’s as simple as spending a few days getting CEC solar installer accreditation, she says.

“There are a lot of employers at the moment who are screaming for CEC accredited people, and they can’t get enough, so it’s a very smart career choice.”

Bourke, who won Apprentice of the Year at the 2018 Master Electricians Australia awards, says the combination of stimulating work and contributing to a cleaner future means she plans to stay in the industry.

“Solar is sometimes challenging - physically and mentally. But at the end of the day, it’s also very rewarding. You’re helping people reduce their carbon footprint on the world. To other women who might be interested, if you want to do it, I say go out and give it a crack!

“Long term, staying in the solar industry means I’ll always have employment, or at least for as long as I can foresee. And it’s ever evolving; the technology is always improving. It keeps your hands and mind active.

“I have friends with children who are too young to understand what I do for a living, but I definitely think of them when I’m working towards reducing our footprint on the planet. I want them to grow up in a safe, clean environment.”