Ahliah Tilley, Project Development Assistant with European Energy, is new to the sector but has already made exciting strides forward. Following impressive academic progression, Ahliah has made her first year in the sector count and is a prime example of what can happen when a motivated individual is given the chance to flourish. Here, Ahliah shares her pathway so far, including her experience as a Clean Energy Council Career Launcher student.
Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally
I’m a passionate dweeb: I spend an embarrassing amount of time (and money!) researching, buying and playing board games. I have a big Irish Setter called Basil and he’s the centre of most of my other time (he’s over 40kg!... not overweight, just didn’t stop growing…)
Professionally, I’ve tried a lot of things and have only made my way to renewables this past year having commenced a Masters in Energy Systems. Before that, I completed a Bachelor of Neuroscience and then opened and ran a bar with family for four years!
I’ve been looking for a career in an industry that feels meaningful and dynamic and renewables has both in spades. I’m so glad to be here – it’s such an exciting time.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I work at European Energy (EE) Australia as a Project Development Assistant. EE is based in Denmark, but has operations in many continents including North and South America. The Australian office was established this year and we’re working on getting our first projects into construction soon.
In my role I help research and develop wind and solar farms as well as “Power-to-X” facilities which incorporate the production of secondary fuels. EE has a big focus on this and I plan to travel to Denmark next year to learn from our Power-to-X team there – they’ve been spearheading these projects for some time.
What attracted you to the Renewable Energy Industry?
When I was deciding what to do next, it seemed to me that in many ways, this industry would be setting the global stage for many years to come. Environmentally, economically, politically – there is so much that will be underpinned by how we move forward with sustainable energy production (and how quickly!). So, in terms of feeling that my career had meaning, I couldn’t think of a better place to be.
On top of this, the growth that is being experienced in this sector right now leaves so much room for career development. You can find something that fascinates you and have the support to get incredibly good at it.
I also had a real dumbstruck moment at the Clean Energy Council’s Women In Renewables luncheon at the Australian Clean Energy Summit this year. It was the first time that I’d heard heads of corporations talk not only about the value of diversity but explore practical steps to make this happen. “Get rid of the terms ‘part-time’ and ‘full-time,’ flexible work should be standard... we all do better with this system.” I was blown away. “I’m in the right place at the right time,” I thought.
What are you most excited by in the industry at the moment?
There’s just so much innovation in this space. We don’t have all the answers – and we need them quicky! This leaves ample room to breathe life into new ideas. From metal fuels to compressed air storage to hydrogen geological storage – I really can’t wait to see how these ideas might fit into our lives in the future.
The potential for mindful distribution of wealth and opportunities from this renewables revolution is also something that I find both exciting and sobering. This industry and government have a lot of potential (and responsibility) to create real impact both domestically and globally. Here at home, there is some amazing work being done with remote and indigenous communities, and I don’t think that the importance of this can be emphasised enough.
What advice would you have for students looking to enter the clean energy sector?
This industry is thirsty for new recruits and is full of opportunity. However, it can be really daunting trying to work out how to get your foot in the door. Even just conceptualising the industry and how it operates from the outside looking in was a real challenge for me. I started my Masters mildly terrified, because I didn’t know where I might end up with it. I just knew I wanted in. Not everyone takes as windy a road to this industry as I have, so I’m not sure that my thoughts on this would apply to everyone. But if I were to give my past self some words:
A great professor of mine kept telling me, “You’ve got to back yourself!” and it was great advice. “The first step is to talk to people in the industry and ask them what they need,” he said. “The next step is to work out how to fill that need and convince them you’re the right person for the job.”
Putting yourself out there and knocking on as many doors as possible is really hard – but keep at it. If you talk to someone and don’t feel that it went as well as you’d hoped – it’s OK. There are hundreds of other people to talk to and you might be surprised – you may have made a much better impression than you thought.
What can organisations do to support more young people entering the renewables sector?
Make yourself available to student organisations and consider reaching out to schools or universities. There are great student-run organisations that would love to hear back from you or engage with you. I’m on the committee of MESA (The Melbourne Energy Students Association) and we’re always looking for industry engagement. We run industry nights, organise excursions to various facilities, online seminars etc. Most universities will have similar societies. Engaging with these is a great way to engage with students by offering insights into the exciting things that you’re achieving in your organisations and building pipelines for talented and passionate graduates to reach your business. There are also great initiatives like the Clean Energy Council’s Career Launcher program through which female students are sponsored to attend industry forums. This is how I met my now-employer!
Tell us about your Career Launcher Program experience and the impact it has had on your pathway.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of my experience as a Career Launcher student on both my career and confidence. Not only did I gain industry insights that put my studies into sharp perspective, I made connections with people that have gone on to be great mentors, employers and now friends. There was a kind of wave that got bigger and bigger for me this year and it all started with that first Career Launcher Scholarship. I really owe a lot to this initiative and very much look forward to supporting future scholarships through my current and future workplaces.
I was lucky enough to attend two industry forums through the Clean Energy Council’s Career Launcher program last year. My experiences at these events fast tracked my entry into renewables and afforded me invaluable insights and connections that I would not have gained through my studies alone.
The organisations that sponsored my tickets had friendly representatives that greeted me on the day of each forum, which was a great way to ease into each event. I’ve kept in touch with many of them and have organised an excursion to a wind farm for my classmates through RES (a sponsor of one of my tickets). A representative from Tilt (my other sponsor) also offered me an ear when I needed advice on some career decisions last year. These connections didn’t end with my sponsors – the cohort of people at each event were a fantastic networking opportunity that ultimately led to my meeting two future employers.
After the events, I received an internship at the Clean Energy Council working with the Women in Renewables team. I had a fantastic experience during this internship – so many doors were open to me. Shortly after, Catriona McLeod, another connection that I’d made during the industry events, reached out about a position that had become available with her at European Energy, which is where I work now.
The Career Launcher Program is a great opportunity for both students and industry partners. Not only are students given the opportunity to get their foot in the door, but organisations are also offered access to passionate and talented soon-to-be graduates. This initiative creates a valuable pipeline between students and industry, and I very much look forward to supporting future scholarships through my current and future workplaces.