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STEM in Laos – Women Eye Welding and Engineering Jobs in the Hydropower Sector

“When I was at school thinking about jobs, I never thought about welding, or engineering, or the power industry. I thought these jobs were for men only, but after attending the welding course I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it – it’s given me a lot of confidence and I will consider engineering jobs in the future,” Lattana, welding student.

Lattana is one of more than 2,000 young Laotians who have taken the opportunity learn about the hydropower sector, and practical engineering skills in training programs launched as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Electricite du Laos (EDL) and GE in 2016.

Through the MoU, EDL and GE will introduce new initiatives to support the long-term growth of the nation’s energy sector. Attracting and developing the next generation of hydropower engineers, and support staff, is one of the main objectives of the MoU.

Powering Laos

Laos is tapping its vast water reserves, and mountains to ramp up hydropower generation capacity to meet rising demand for electricity. While it produced 1.9 gigawatts (GW) of power in 2010, the country currently generates 6.7GW of energy, and aims to produce 14GW by 2020-21. To achieve the 14GW target, 53 power plants are under construction today, and up to 100 plants could be in operation by 2020.

Powering Laos’ economic growth

Hydropower is also expected to help Laos maintain its current 6-7% growth rate because up to 75% of the hydroelectricity generated will be exported to neighboring nations including Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.

Training the next generation

Bringing through new talent, and upskilling current hydropower workers are essential factors to achieve these targets, and EDL, GE, and the Polytechnic College in Vientiane have partnered to upgrade the Polytechnic College welding training room.

Equipped with eight welding machines donated from GE’s hydro factory in Tianjin, China, and electrical panel and protection equipment kits, the refurbished room is in-line with environmental, health and safety standards set by GE Renewable Energy.

This facility, and related training programs run at the Polytechnic College, and the National University of Laos, were showcased to Rena Bitter, the US Ambassador to Laos during her visit to the College in mid-January. The ambassador spoke with teachers, representatives from EDL and GE, and students who invited the ambassador to participate in a welding demonstration.

During her visit, Ambassador Bitter said, “I am proud to witness the excellent cooperation between GE and the Polytechnic. It confirms that as a great U.S. company, GE is really taking care of the community and sharing its expertise to support local capacity building.

“And the real Ambassador for the U.S. is a company like GE – who promotes good business practices around the world – and supports growth for countries like Laos”

Strong interest from female students

The welding courses have become increasingly popular since the refurbishment, attracting strong interest from young women. While women comprised 6% of the first batch of students trained, this ratio rose to 25% for the 2017 welding courses, that also covered environmental health and safety.

Sinnasone Boulom (center) and Ambassador Bitter enjoyed the chance to talk directly with the students.

GE Laos CEO, Sinnasone Boulom said, “GE Hydro is proud to support vocational education, strongly promoted by the Ministry of Education and Sports of Laos.

“This new initiative, and its acknowledgment by the US Embassy confirm that our collaboration with our stakeholders is broader than delivering hydro assets. Thanks to our expertise, commitment, and resources, we can support, and improve hydro knowledge, and local capacity building in Laos, laying foundations for the nation’s future growth and success.”

In addition to the training, the EDL and GE MoU includes a grid research project to help Laos maximize its current, and future grid resources.

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