Alumnae Spotlight: Lisa Davis

Lisa Davis has lived an incredibly full life for her short 34 years on this earth! She was born in New Mexico and completed most of her school years in California and Texas before moving back to California to attend UC Davis, where she would eventually earn her Bachelors of Science in Microbiology.

During college, Lisa’s goal was to become a surgeon and she did very well as a pre-med student, even receiving a coveted surgical internship at Baylor University in Texas. She moved to Portland, OR with the intention of attending medical school at OHSU, but reevaluated her goals upon her arrival and decided that she wanted to take her life in a different direction.

During her undergraduate studies, Lisa worked as a mechanic at a bowling alley, which helped her realize the similarities between humans and machines (when it comes to diagnosing and fixing the problem) and the satisfaction she got from working with machines. Once she moved to Portland, she worked for 2 years as a perfusion assistant, helping monitor the medical equipment that keeps patients hearts and lungs working during surgeries. This was an incredibly grueling, on-call position that often had Lisa working 20+ hours at a time and ultimately led her to leave due to burn out. After leaving this position she decided to move to Hawaii for a year where she held a myriad of positions – including trades related work.

She moved back to Portland in 2008, during the height of the Great Recession. Due to many lay-offs and the general nature of the labor market at that time, she struggled to find steady work. At one point in this time period, she held 3 part time jobs and was still unable to afford housing, which caused her to have no other option but to live in her truck with her partner until she could find more steady work.

Lisa eventually secured a position that allowed her to revisit her work as a Bowling Alley Mechanic. Unfortunately, as the only woman on the team of mechanics, she experienced a lot of misogyny and chose to leave this position due to the hardships she experienced. At this point, Lisa was downtrodden; feeling as though there was no place for women who were drawn to trades work. She sat down at her computer and typed “what can women do in the trades?” into her Google search bar and Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.’s website popped up! From this moment the rest is history. Lisa quickly enrolled in OTI’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) in 2008 at the age of 26.

During her time in TACC, Lisa fell in love with metal. OTI was able to help her take this love and narrow it down down into a viable career in the sheet metal trade. Lisa loves the industry for the breadth and depth it offers and for the fact that she would be entering a career that allowed her to do something different every day. After TACC, her OTI career counselor helped her secure funding in order to attend Clackamas Community College so she could increase her skills in welding and machining which would allow her to be more competitive in her chosen field.

Lisa applied for a Sheet Metal Apprenticeship but had to wait almost 2 years to be accepted due to the scarcity of jobs during the Great Recession. Three months after her acceptance into the apprenticeship, she found a place with General Sheet Metal and primarily worked on architectural sheet metal, HVAC duct installation, and shop fabrication for her first couple years. Around this time General Sheet Metal decided to start their own service department and tapped Lisa’s shoulder to audition for their new Service Apprenticeship.

Lisa ended up doing both apprenticeships at the same time –  completing the requirements for her Building Trades apprenticeship by day and dedicated her nights and weekends to specialized service classes. After she journeyed out, Lisa continued to work for General Sheet Metal and quickly moved into a foreman role. Within only a year of working at the Journeyman level, Lisa was recruited by the Sheet Metal Institute to develop and implement a Service Apprenticeship, like the one she had gone above and beyond for in her own apprenticeship.

Lisa comes from a long line of educators and felt drawn to teaching herself. Nowadays, she is providing guidance and mentorship to more than 200 new apprentices a year. Due in part to her enthusiasm for the role of women in the sheet metal industry, 7% of her students are women. This figure is higher than many other trades, though still has room for improvement. She is also teaching and doing some consulting work for the International Training Institute (ITI) and is participating in an exciting task force to write a book regarding the important work of the sheet metal industry. Not only does Lisa love her job but it PAYS! She makes about $43.75/hour which is just about 4 times greater than her highest pre-trades wage of $12.50/hour.

When asked what advice she has for other women looking to enter the trades Lisa confidently replied; “Our society has us convinced that we can’t do it. Not only are they wrong but we are wrong for believing it! Do it! Try it! Never limit yourself and never stop learning!”

Lisa is thrilled to have found herself in a dynamic career that allows her to use her hands and teach others a valuable skill. As for future plans? Lisa plans to continue learning as much as she can in this world and will see where that takes her. She plans to take a breath in 5 years or so to strategize about her next move. We are so glad to have Lisa in our community! Check her out in our Apprenticeship 101 video!


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