The power company Neoenergia opens Brazilian electrician school for women to promote social inclusion
Érica Carvalho de Oliveira comes from a family of electricians. Today, she’s on her way to becoming the first female electrician in her family, thanks to a new social programme created by Neoenergia.
“I’m very proud of participating in a project that breaks gender barriers,” Oliveira says. “It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and showing that both men and women can work any job.”
Neoenergia is one of the largest electricity suppliers in Brazil with operations in 18 states. The company wants to show that its work is about more than electricity generation and distribution, and renewable energy. It’s also about social inclusion.
The company created the School of Electricians in Bahia in 2013 to improve lives for people in disadvantaged Brazilian communities. Neoenergia harnesses education and training to improve inclusion, helping women but also assisting people from less educated or poorer communities to find better jobs.
In 2019, the school created classes specifically for women to end the idea that an electrician is a man’s job.
“This project was created and developed as a way to help the people in the poorest communities to enter the job market and be able to have the minimal conditions of living, which include paying their rent and food,” says Régia Barbosa, who runs organisational development in Neoenergia. “It’s about creating opportunities for better living, but also to show that job sectors usually associated with men also offer opportunities for women.”
By 2021, the company had hired over 1 600 people who had completed the training at the School of Electricians. Today, nearly 300 women have become certified electricians, thanks to the programme.
Finding a gender balance
In March 2022, the European Investment Bank signed a €200 million loan with Neoenergia to support more renewable energy projects in Brazil. The investment also will help the company improve gender equality and be more active socially.
Joana Sarmento Coelho, a loan officer at European Investment Bank who worked on the project, says Neoenergia’s electrician training programme sets a good example for other companies looking to expand inclusion.
“This project from Neoenergia is something they can be very proud of,” Sarmento says. “It shows that no matter the country or its social and economic status, when there’s a will, there’s a way. And this is definitely the way, the way to a more gender equal and prosper future.”
Neoenergia’s electricians training programme is free and focuses on employment in areas where the company provides electricity and in locations with disadvantaged communities, such as Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, São Paulo and Brasília.
The programme attracts thousands of applicants each year. It accepts 200 people, based on their test scores in subjects such as geography, math and history. The students are divided into different classes based on the area of electricity they want to study, and whether they want to learn the practical side or the theory. Graduates receive a certification that allows them to work for Neoenergia or one of its partners as electricians.
A commitment to sustainable development
The institute opened the programme to women as part of Neoenergia’s commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“We thought about doing something different, something that simply hadn’t been done before,” says Barbosa, who is in charge of the School of Electricians. “In the end, we created classes exclusively for women. In that first year, we opened 120 vacancies for women and had over 15 000 applications. It was a bit of a shock, the response we had.”
Today, classes are mixed with men and women, and 30% of the openings are reserved for women.
Breaking the stereotype of male electricians is not easy. This involves changing how men view women in the sector, how clients view female electricians and how women see themselves.
“With the school, we show women that they have what it takes to work in this sector,” Barbosa says. “They have all the abilities, the intelligence and the dedication to succeed just like any man, if they only take the change and have faith in themselves.”
To motivate women who just entered the school, women who completed the programme are brought back to share their experiences with current students and to explain how the school helped them in their careers.
“This electrician training is only the beginning,” says Aline Santos, a female student at the School of Electricians in Coelba. “It makes me really happy to learn that I too can do this and that I’m able to. By being here, it’s become clear to me that women have the power to do what they want, when they want.”