Oregon Tradeswomen recognizes the need to provide options to working women to participate in our programs. Many of our Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) pre-apprentices are not only juggling family demands, but working while attending the program. In fact, many join while employed full time and have to give up employment in order to attend. To help these students achieve their career goals while financially sustaining their families, Oregon Tradeswomen responded by offering a night and weekend TACC class this Summer.
Here are some of the participants’ accomplishments observed so far, thanks to the alternative night and weekend schedule:
- Two TACC participants work full-time jobs during the day and are committed to graduate while preparing for IBEW’s Electrical Apprenticeship.
- A third student is working full-time as a teacher aid while caring for a newborn and a toddler while attending TACC.
- Another participant is able to work part-time, care for her kids, and thanks to the current schedule, her husband can watch the kids in the evenings.
- We also have a participant who is a full-time mom, and is able to leave her kids with their dad in the evenings so that she can attend classes.
Oregon Tradeswomen is able to be responsive to jobseeker needs, and shift our programming with the valuable collaboration of industry partners and we will continue to make our program more accessible. Look for additional evening and weekend classes in 2022!
In 2019, Jamie Jarrett came to Oregon Tradeswomen with a tenacious drive to change her life. Having grown up in a cycle of poverty without a strong support system, Jamie found herself battling drug addiction and had to do whatever she could to make ends meet to survive. From working in a strip club, to managing a fast-food kitchen, the opportunities available to her did not provide the long-term stability she needed to live a happy, healthy life.
Despite the barriers she faced, Jamie’s determination to overcome adversity was a key asset as she evaluated what she needed to do to secure a bright future for herself. She originally found out about Oregon Tradeswomen (OTW) from her fiancé, a union carpenter who had worked with an OTW graduate in the field. It wasn’t until a miserable day at work that Jamie seriously considered pursuing a career in construction. With fire in her belly, Jamie did everything she could to get involved with Oregon Tradeswomen, attending events, social hours, and information sessions until she was selected for the Fall Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class of 2019.
Joining this training cohort offered Jamie a positive community of women that fostered friendliness and support. Jamie told us, “I have never experienced an environment like this before where women were helping each other instead of fighting to get ahead.” This support system did not end with the 8-week program. Being the only woman on a job-site can sometimes be isolating, but having a network of women who are going through similar experiences is a truly invaluable resource.
When Jamie finished her 8 weeks of pre-apprenticeship training, she set her sights on the electrical trade because of her enjoyment of science and math. Jamie also got involved with various Facebook groups for electrical apprentices and female electricians to get a better idea of what the work would be like. When she saw photos of huge substations and carefully bent conduit, her excitement for the trade intensified. “If I was to go and learn something new, I knew I wanted to bend pipe and make an electrical room look like what I saw online. There is something aesthetically pleasing about electrical work,” Jamie explained.
Jamie is now a 4th term electrical apprentice at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center where she now goes to work every day looking forward to learning new things and putting them in practice. Not only does she love her job, but she has broken through the cycle of poverty. Jamie shared with us that, “In the trades, I know I can be on my own and be okay. I know I have food to eat every day, I have an apartment to go home to every night, and I have health insurance for the first time in my entire life.” The newfound security and comfort in her life, both financially and mentally, also allows her to take time off to visit places she has always wanted to see. She also stresses that “I never thought five years ago that I would be here and working towards a career that is good for my whole life, that nobody can take away from me. No matter what I go through in my life, I will always have this.”
When we asked Jamie about what motivates her to keep going on the hard days, she said that the progress she has made since she took her first steps at Oregon Tradeswomen just about two years ago is what inspires her. In those two years, her life took a total 180 degrees all on her own merit. “I have achieved so much,” Jamie says. “So far I have completed three terms of schooling and have gotten straight A’s. The fact that I want to go to school and learn feels so good!” Jamie proved to herself that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to and that is a power in of itself.
Jamie’s optimism about the future is undeniable. Her goal is to give back to the next generation of tradeswomen by becoming an instructor at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center, but for the time being she is truly enjoying her day-to-day as an electrician. Her love of the work and the stability it affords prompts Jamie to help other women navigate to a career in the trades. She is open about her own journey and how getting involved with Oregon Tradeswomen changed her life. When asked why someone should support Oregon Tradeswomen, she says, “They give chances to people that might not ever have had any. If Oregon Tradeswomen didn’t take a chance on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Its stories like Jamie’s that keeps our mission moving forwards. When we hear Jamie say, “my biggest achievement is learning who I am supposed to be,” and that “being in the construction world has been that piece that I was missing,” we know we are making a concrete impact on people’s lives. Everyone deserves to have a career that they love, and everyone deserves to have a prevailing wage with generous benefits.
Oregon Tradeswomen is proud to be a part of Jamie’s success story, but it was her perseverance that got her to where she is today.
Oregon Tradeswomen is always grateful to our Workforce Partners for their commitment to a diverse and equitable workforce. When we moved in to our new office space in the Rockwood neighborhood, complete with a workshop for our pre-apprenticeship training program, Autodesk helped us out with a donation including AutoCAD 360 software to help us take our hands-on training to the next level. Autodesk is changing how the world is designed and made. Their technology spans architecture, engineering, construction, product design, manufacturing, media, and entertainment, empowering innovators everywhere to solve challenges big and small. From greener buildings to smarter products to mesmerizing blockbusters, Autodesk software helps their customers to design and make a better world for all.
For the first time since we moved in to our new office in the Rockwood neighborhood, we opened our doors to the community this August for our Summer Tool and Gear Swap!
Oregon Tradeswomen continues the tradition of these Tool and Gear Swaps becausebuilding up an arsenal of tools at the beginning of a career in the construction trades can cost hundreds of dollars. This event offers a way for tradeswomen to gather tools they need for free, and it brings our tradesworker community and our new Rockwood community together!
We were thrilled to see such an enthusiastic turnout of graduates and friends of the organization as well as some new friendly faces! It was heartening to witness connections being made and information shared over the selection of tools. One Oregon Tradeswomen graduate even came to the event to help re-build another graduate’s tool library after their equipment was stolen from their car. Whenever our network of tradesworkers come together, it is clear that the bonds that are made under our roof are long-lasting!
We cannot forget to thank our wonderful business partners Neil Kelly, Knife River, and Milwaukee Tool who provided eager volunteers to help us run the event! We are so grateful for our partners’ willingness to pitch in and make this event run smoothly!
Now that the Tool and Gear Swap is over, we are filled with elation at the strength of our community and absolutely cannot wait to spend more time with you all! Your next opportunity to join the Oregon Tradeswomen community is every third Wednesday of the month at our virtual Social Hours and this October at Build With Us! Oregon Tradeswomen’s Blue Collar Gala! We hope to see you there!
On Tuesday, August 10, 2021, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited Oregon and came to the UA Local 290 Springfield Training Center to talk about the Biden administration’s #BuildBackBetter plan and the goal of building an inclusive, worker-centered economy.
Secretary Walsh was joined by Representative Peter DeFazio, Oregon Labor Commissioner, Val Hoyle, and other labor leaders around the state. Together, they discussed the pending infrastructure bill and how the Biden administration plans to invest in apprenticeship and advancements for workforce equity.
The same day, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan physical infrastructure bill including substantive investments in roads, bridges, rail, transit, and utilities. The amendment for workforce equity which would increase access for women and people of color on infrastructure construction jobs was not included in the final bill.
Our tradeswomen community will continue to work for equitable access and opportunities for women and people of color in the construction industry and is so appreciative of the Labor Secretary’s visit to advocate for registered apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and infrastructure investments to benefit all workers. When asked by Oregon Tradeswomen’s Executive Director, Kelly Kupcak, about his leadership at the U.S. Department of Labor, he outlined a comprehensive commitment to all workers, migrants, women, disabled persons, veterans, and BIPOC. He concluded by saying “Equity is in my DNA”.
Oregon Tradeswomen is grateful for Secretary Walsh’s leadership and his dedication to equity and fighting for worker dignity on the front lines.
When Oregon Tradeswomen’s founders came together, the idea of women working in the construction trades was a radical idea. While we are still on the road to a construction workforce with an equal representation of women and men on the job-site, the face of the construction industry is definitely changing.
Much of this shift is a result of the commitment of Oregon Tradeswomen’s Workforce Partners who empower our organization to continue giving women the tools to succeed and who embrace our mission to increase women’s participation on job sites across our region. We are grateful to Workforce Partners like Streimer Sheet Metal who have made an active effort to hire women, including a number of Oregon Tradeswomen graduates.
We spoke with Streimer Sheet Metal’s HR Manager, Teresa Bergan, about why they support Oregon Tradeswomen as a Workforce Partner. Teresa explained, “Streimer supports Oregon Tradeswomen because learning a trade is an educational pathway to a great career choice that raises women above the everyday career. Streimer supports and partners with Oregon Tradeswomen to train women who are looking for a career in the sheet metal craft. Those graduates become employees that become a voice and an ambassador of Streimers’ dedication to excellence and professionalism in the construction industry.”
Oregon Tradeswomen is grateful for Streimer’s commitment to the tradeswomen movement, and their positive impact on the industry. We invite you to meet some of the incredible tradeswomen on their team:
Meet the Women of Streimer Sheet Metal:
Oregon Tradeswomen is saddened at the loss of our sister Katie Kuchta. Katie was a 2015 OTW TACC graduate, 2017 Woman on the Rise Award Winner, and an incredibly positive force in the Laborer’s family. She will be missed dearly by so many.
Many in our community have asked how to best provide support to Katie’s family during this difficult time. Oregon Tradeswomen is collecting donations on behalf of Katie’s friend, Ashley. All funds will benefit Katie’s son, Stephen, who has a dream of going to the Northwest Lineman’s College in Meridian, Idaho.
Shirts created in memory of Katie are now available for purchase to support Stephen as well.
Ashley shared with us, “All donations will go directly into an account that will pay Stephen’s admission fees, tuition, certifications, and living expenses. Let’s all rally and show our love for Katie by setting her son up with this opportunity.”
Any unused funds will be donated to battered women’s shelters.
Liz Nichols grew up in Massachusetts, and like so many teenagers, she received the clear message that her next step after high school was to go to college and get a degree.
Liz started college in 2002 and achieving that college degree was no easy feat. College itself was challenging for Liz. She told us, “I was just a mediocre student. I had ADD and a learning disability and getting through college was a struggle.”
But Liz persevered and in 2006, earned her bachelor’s degree in English.
The next steps were not so clear, but the next challenge was in front of her: finding living wage work, paying off college debt, and building her future.
Liz shared that she “had a bit of a crisis of confidence. I got the degree, but it was still a struggle to earn a living wage.” Liz added, “After going through college telling myself, ‘just get through this, and everything will be okay…’ it did a number on my self-esteem because I wasn’t okay – it was still a struggle to earn a living wage.”
Liz moved to Portland and found employment working gardening and landscaping jobs in the spring, summer, and fall, and working at coffee shops in the winter. Her situation was unfortunately common – Liz had her college degree, but was in debt, earning low wages, and receiving no health or retirement benefits at either job.
While working the landscaping jobs, Liz discovered she really enjoyed working outdoors and doing physical work, and it was during a conversation with a customer at the coffee shop in the winter of 2013, when Liz made the connection that she could have the best of both worlds with a career in the trades: living wages and a physical job, not behind a desk. “One day while chatting with an IBEW electrician, I learned about Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship program. I applied immediately. Liz continued working as a barista until class started. It was meant to be, as Liz almost didn’t get into that class. She said, “I was on the waiting list and lucky for me, someone dropped out!”
Liz loved Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship class. “I knew immediately I wanted to go the union route.” Liz was drawn to the debt-free career training, the pay, healthcare, retirement benefits, and stability.
Liz said she started TACC with a bit of ’imposter syndrome’, or “who am I to think I can go down this path?” But what she heard from Oregon Tradeswomen instructors throughout the class: “You’re here because you don’t have experience. You will get on the job training and that’s okay – that’s expected.”
Liz started a one-week class with the Cement Masons right after graduating from TACC. On Wednesday after class, Liz was asked to stay late, where she was offered entry into the apprenticeship program starting the following week! She called Oregon Tradeswomen immediately, very excited and slightly unsure. Liz LOVED the work, but wasn’t completely sure she should go for it so quickly? She trusted her instinct and joined Cement Masons Local 555 and is so happy she did.
“My Union has been wonderful.” Partway through her apprenticeship, her father-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal illness and Liz and her husband packed up their home in Portland within a week, were moving back to Massachusetts. “It was intense but being in a union saved me!” Liz had virtually no gap in her apprenticeship training – she picked up the next week after arriving in Boston. “There were fewer women on jobsites when I was working in Boston, but I was glad to be able to continue my apprenticeship training without missing a beat”. When she moved back to Portland, it was seamless again.
During much of her last year of apprenticeship, Liz was pregnant, and she worked up to 3 weeks before her due date working concrete! Four months later, Liz was ready to take her journeyman exam. On the scheduled day, she couldn’t secure childcare and brought her young son with her and her instructor and Business Manager babysat while Liz took her journeyman exam! Liz reflected warmly on that day and said, “I felt very supported throughout my apprenticeship there.”
When we asked about any challenges Liz had along the way, Liz shared that most of her male coworkers have been supportive, “there were a few who tried to talk me out of the trade, encouraging me to go to an ‘easier trade’ – to go push a broom or become a flagger.”
Liz also shared that there are not yet any formal structures in place for parental leave – or nursing mothers. “I nursed for 20 months, but there were no facilities on the jobsite, so I was discreetly pumping and dumping breast-milk into a porta-potty. I was still able to nurse son though.”
Today, Liz is loving her work as a journeyman cement mason, and a recent competitor on the CBS television show Tough as Nails! Oregon Tradeswomen was contacted last year by the show’s producers, and we shared the information on social media. Liz told us, “I saw the post on Instagram and went to the website. I filled out the form and sent photos of myself on the job. A few weeks later, I was contacted to participate on the show in LA!”
Liz couldn’t share much about the show, as it was airing at the time of this interview, but she did share that one of the things she loved most was seeing the other undeniably amazing women. “It makes me so happy that the show offers such a physical representation of strong women – increasing visibility in places where there aren’t as many women doing physical work.”
Liz loves the work she does! She told us: “Concrete is like alchemy! It’s challenging work that’s different everyday and I love that you get a final product so immediately. Every time I leave the job site there is something new there that will probably outlast me.”
Oregon Tradeswomen has offered Monthly Social Hours for years as a way for tradeswomen to connect with each other and provide educational experiences through topics and guest speakers. As a tradeswoman, it is commonplace to be the only woman on a jobsite, and the opportunity to connect with other women in the trades is such an important aspect for the retention of women in construction careers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted us last year, our Retention Services Coordinator, Kim Neel, knew it was more important than ever to offer a way for tradeswomen to continue to have an opportunity for support and socializing. With that, OTWednesdays was created, a virtual Social Hour taking place on the third Wednesday of every month!
Unlike past Social Hours, OTWednesdays is more of an open format, with no topics or guest speakers, just pure connection between tradesworkers of all ages and experiences. There is something so special about seeing the mentorship between veteran tradeswomen and those who are just getting started on their paths with the sharing of stories, advice on surviving apprenticeship, and tips on how to earn the respect of their male peers. At a recent social hour, we had a tile-setter named Joanne who had been in her trade since the 1980’s who generously answered questions from some upcoming pre-apprenticeship students who were excited about their new careers, but a little nervous about what to expect. From advice on what PPE (personal protective equipment) to invest in to how to approach learning a new tool, the exchange of information was inspiring to witness and it was clear that the novice tradesworkers there took Joanne’s advice to heart.
A unique aspect of our virtual format is that other supporters of tradeswomen can join in to connect and learn. Sometimes industry partners join to provide opportunities to tradeswomen to advance their careers, offering a foot in the door for elevated positions like Construction Inspector or Surveyor. We have even been joined by regional legislators like Sue Chew, Idaho State Representative District 17, who want to learn more about tradeswomen issues as well as provide resources for professional development opportunities. We are grateful for those in our industry and those who are supporters of the tradeswomen movement for their commitment and involvement.
As the pandemic begins to wind down and we look to the future for what is on our horizon, we are evaluating how to best offer support to tradeswomen. While we cannot wait to host Social Hours in our own building, we have seen the value of providing a virtual space for tradeswomen and their supporters to gather and collaborate. Many tradeswomen are tired after a long day of hard work and to have to go home, change out of their work gear, and head out to a social gathering is not always easy. But, to be able to settle in to a comfy chair after work and simply log in to Zoom, the opportunity to socialize is available to a wider community of tradesworkers and their supporters!
The connection between tradeswomen is so valuable, and our goal is to offer easy access to a supportive community that can provide advice and camaraderie. Being a tradeswoman is a unique experience and the hurdles that can come with it can become more manageable when there is a place for others with similar experiences to gather and socialize.
Did you know construction workers are disproportionately affected by heart disease? One in four tradesworkers have high blood pressure, some even being unaware of it before its too late! While construction careers are active jobs, some even say a replacement for the gym, that doesn’t automatically grant tradesworkers a path to great health. After speaking with Lily Banning of the American Heart Association (AHA), we learned there are multiple factors for this heightened risk for heart-attack and stroke for tradesworkers.
Hardhats with Heart is an initiative under the AHA that came to existence when a volunteer, Bart Dickson, President and Founder of Cobalt, spoke up about the frankly unacceptable amount of times he had to make calls to the families of his workers to let them know their loved ones had suffered from a heart attack or stroke on the jobsite. After some investigation, it became clear that there is a direct connection between stress and heart health for tradesworkers with the mental and physical demands of the jobs often being exacerbated by unhealthy coping habits such as poor diet, increased use of energy drinks, use of tobacco products, as well as lack of information about the warning signs of cardiovascular disease.
The AHA is also exploring the role of workplace culture as a contributing factor to overall stress levels and heart health. Jobsites where workers experience harassment and discrimination are hostile work environments which not only negatively impact worker safety, productivity, and retention, but also heart health and overall well-being! These impacts are intensified for women and BIPOC tradesworkers, which is why Oregon Tradeswomen focused on jobsite culture change work: we are an affiliate trainer of RISE Up – a bystander intervention model to prevent bullying and harassment, and part of the work around Safe From Hate which calls on all industry stakeholders in the construction industry to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion by clearly addressing jobsite culture.
With help from construction companies and construction-adjacent organizations like Oregon Tradeswomen, the American Heart Association started Hardhats with Heart in 2017 with three local priorities here in Oregon: Increase access and education about healthy diets, help tradesworkers manage chronic disease, and reduce the high risk of heart disease in tradeswomen. Hardhats with Heart is working hard with the local construction industry to provide jobsite trainings on health and stress-management, offering on-site blood pressure screenings, and creating a virtual Resource Hub for tradesworkers and their employers to learn more about the simple ways they can help prevent heart disease and deaths.
This online Resource Hub is dedicated to health information specific to the construction industry with the intent of being free and easily available. Subjects include nutrition, mental well-being, fitness, managing blood pressure, and more! When we asked the AHA’s Community Impact Director, Lily Banning, about what she wanted our audience to know about these online resources, she told us, “Hardhats with Heart is rolling out a series of industry-wide trainings for free! There is a focus on a different topic for every month starting this July, running through December. We encourage all tradesworkers and their employers to join in on the conversation and get their questions answered!”
Hardhats with Heart looks to continue improving its resources and the services they offer to tradesworkers so that the number of lives lost from preventable disease is reduced. To do this, they want to hear from you! What are you doing to take care of your health? Is there a focus on health, both heart specific and holistically, on your jobsite? What can Hardhats with Heart do for you?
If you are passionate about this issue and want to contribute or want to learn more about how to get involved with Hardhats with Heart, please contact Lily Banning at Lily.Banning@heart.org.
As a community, the goal is to provide free and easy to access free resources to help inspire and equip tradesworkers to live longer, healthier lives.