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By Shaleen Munuhe  

East Africa Programme Consultant, Ashden

Support for skills and training is an essential step to ensuring clean and affordable energy for all.

Solar panels, mini-grids, modern cookstoves and other proven technologies can bring power to even the most remote communities – but this won’t happen without trained engineers, salespeople, and many others playing crucial supporting roles.  

The biggest skills gap is in sub-Saharan Africa – 600 million people there lack access to electricity, and there are only 76,000 jobs in renewable energy across the continent. Gender inequalities are a huge factor in this skills challenge. Worldwide, only 32% of renewable energy jobs are held by women. 

Barriers to progress include a disconnect between training and the ‘real world’ requirements of employers and their clients or customers. And while the skills to install solar panels and other technologies are crucial, so are the skills to run or finance clean energy businesses. 

In many parts of the world, the burden of building a skilled workforce often falls on frontline organisations – whether they businesses selling clean energy products and services, or non-profits powering up marginalised communities.  

The best trailblazers show that the skills and training challenge can be tackled – and also reveal the economic and social benefits action will bring. In particular, they show what’s possible with an approach that takes on the skills gap and gender inequality. 

Innovation from Senegal, Sierra Leone and beyond 

Many frontline organisations are taking a holistic approach to tackle the skills shortage, often working in partnership to achieve impact. Examples include Nigeria’s Bura Solutions Energy, a solar panel installer that has launched the Bura Solutions Solar Academy They have also been shortlisted for Power Up coalition founder Ashden’s 2023 Award for Skills Powering Energy Access, supported by Linkedin.  

The academy offers affordable courses delivering soft and technical skills, including hands-on experience that makes graduates job ready after training – whether they take up a role with Bura Solutions or another employer. Its scholarships are designed to raise the number of women in the industry. 

Further west, Italian NGO Fondazione ACRA is working to empower 1,200 women in rural Senegal as clean energy entrepreneurs and technicians. These women sell or maintain technologies used by local households and businesses, from tailors and hairdressers to goat farmers. Crucially, ACRA’s training ranges from basic engineering to business skills. 

Electrifying health facilities is another area where progress is held back by skills shortages. NGO We Care Solar has a long history of tackling gender equality by electrifying off-grid maternity services. Its work includes projects in Sierra Leone, where more than 3,000 lives are lost each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.  

There, a We Care Solar scheme aimed at boosting the number of women technicians includes hands-on ‘labs’ passing on practical skills, and supervised sessions delivering real installations.  

Another organisation focused on tackling gender barriers is Kenya’s Women in Sustainable Energy and Entrepreneurship. This network of energy professionals offers technical training and mentoring, providing hands-on installation experience, to help women enter the sector.  

At the heart of its work are strong partnerships with local universities, energy companies, NGOs, officials, faith groups and community leaders. These allow it to recruit women and girls from marginalised communities and link them with practical training and employment opportunities.  

National co-ordination: inspiration from India 

A strong role for frontline organisations in delivering skills is vital, particularly in making sure training meets the needs of employers. Without their involvement, courses will not match industry requirements – or give potential trainees the confidence that their investment in learning will pay off. Ideally, trainees can transfer seamlessly into work with the organisation that trained them. 

However, ambitious national policies and co-ordination are also needed. An example comes from India, which is seeing the benefits of forming a Skills Council for Green Jobs in 2015. The council has over 500 training partners across the country; more than 78,000 trainees have been certified under the national-level solar energy  Suryamitra training program, focused on growing youth skills in solar energy.  

The council argues that a critical step in developing a workforce to deliver India’s renewable energy targets is to identify the missing skills and job potential of the sector. It has conducted a skills gap study in the Indian renewable energy sector and an occupational map for employment opportunities, cross-verified by sector experts and the industry. The council has also developed two Greening National Occupation Standards to mainstream green skills in training across the country. 

The skills challenge is so enormous that innovation is needed at every level – from government ministries to off-grid villages – in order to transform the lives of millions. 

Ashden is a climate solutions charity accelerating transformative climate innovations and building a more just world.  Ashden amplifies the stories of climate and energy pioneers in the UK and Global South through annual Ashden Awards and other collaborative projects.