Oregon Tradeswomen Graduate and Ironworker, Jess Ross, was recently featured in a film created by Peripheral Vision, and screened at Communion: A Virtual Film Fest.
The feature with Jess follows her on her way to work as she recalls how she first became interested in Iron work, stories from the field, and what her experience has been like over her 5 year apprenticeship and journeying out.
We have so much appreciation to Peripheral Vision for uplifting the voices and experiences of tradeswomen. Peripheral Vision PDX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit film production company and training organization dedicated to celebrating the vision, narratives and leadership of marginalized people.
“2 weeks of work, 8 straight days of 16–17-hour days with only 4 hours of sleep between…”
This is part of a message we received from 2013 Oregon Tradeswomen Program graduate and Power Line Tree Trimmer, Deena Barbera, and we’re both proud of and exhausted for her!
With the inclement weather conditions brought on by the huge winter storm that hit Oregon in February of 2021, Deena worked tirelessly and didn’t stop until power was restored for the thousands of Oregonians who were left without electricity.
Deena and her crew of tree-trimmers are the essential workers who clear the tree debris obstructing power lines, allowing the line-workers access to power lines and restore power to communities facing record power outages. The work of a Power Line Tree Trimmer is crucial for community safety even when they aren’t busy clearing tree debris for the line-workers to restore power during an outage. When trees and tree limbs grow freely around power lines, there is a risk of electric shock or electrocution due to leaves or branches touching the lines. Other times, trees that are left to grow without maintenance and trimming have branches that grow heavy and break, taking power lines down with them.
Deena wasn’t always in the Tree Trimming trade though; before joining Oregon Tradeswomen’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC), she worked in retail. Despite always giving 110% and making it clear she aspired advance in her company, management only offered promises for career mobility – never delivering. Wanting to see real outcomes from her hard work, Deena decided enough was enough and came to Oregon Tradeswomen’s Annual Career Fair. From here, Deena’s eyes opened to a new world of possibility in the construction trades.
During Deena’s time as a pre-apprentice with Oregon Tradeswomen, she built her skills and gained industry knowledge. She also found community in other women like herself who want to work hard, get their hands dirty, and build a better life. Beyond that, Deena shared that “Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship prepared me for what to expect in a male-dominated career.”
After graduating from TACC, Deena first started a career welding and spent 4 years in that line of work before learning about opportunities with NW Line. Intrigued by the trade, Deena went back to Oregon Tradeswomen’s Career Fair to make connections at the NW Line JATC booth and to try out the hands-on activities. With the solid foundation she built during TACC, Deena had the confidence in herself and her abilities to know that she could be successful in the line trades.
Today, Deena is thriving as a 4th Year Apprentice working for Asplundh under the NW Line JATC. When she’s not clearing tree debris during storms and power outages, she and her crew visit sites each day to trim trees within 10 feet on any power line. Some trims are short, while other jobs take hours. Those long-haul jobs are usually “burners,” a shorthand term for trees that make contact with the lines. In those cases, they use special techniques and non-conductive tools to safely clear the trees without getting electrocuted. To say the least, it takes serious skill and precision to be a tree-trimmer.
Trades workers like Deena play such a huge part in keeping our communities safe and functioning! We are so proud of Deena for her hard work, dedication, and accomplishments and are hope she and her team got a lot of much-deserved rest when their work was done doing the critical work to restore power for so many Oregonians who lost electricity during the historic winter storms of February 2021!
In her creative nonfiction collection Blockhead, Grace Covill-Grennan documents her experiences working as a carpenter in the building trades, exploring the intersection of issues of gender, class, craft, and labor and how it all plays out on the job site. She uses hybrid-genre pieces—vignettes, character sketches, memories, and poetry—while attending to the issues of gender and class providing constant discomfort.
Grace will be in Portland for the book release event at Black Hat Books!
November 15, 2019
Black Hat Books
2831 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Portland OR 97212
You may also purchase your copy of her handmade and numbered book from Another New Calligraphy.
Given the significant demand for diverse, skilled, and qualified construction workers in the area to meet industry labor demands, Oregon Tradeswomen piloted our apprenticeship – readiness-training program, Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) in Redmond, Oregon in September 2019. The pilot training was made possible by generous support from our union trades partners who provided critical support to make the class in Redmond a reality. From holding mock interviews, to providing hands-on instruction, to hosting graduation at UA Local 290 – our industry partners were involved to ensure the pilot was successful. Oregon Tradeswomen is grateful for their commitment to helping women gain access to great careers with good wages so they can support themselves and their families!
With financial support from North America’s Building Trades Unions in Washington, D.C. and local support from Robert Camarillo, Executive Secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Oregon Tradeswomen was able to work with regional industry and community partners in Central Oregon. In turn, our partners in Central Oregon were critical in helping to recruit jobseekers and connect to local employers: Heather Fitch and East Cascades Workforce Board, Wendell Jim at the Warm Springs Tribal Employment Resource Office, Rena Gibney of the Oregon Department of Human Services Self-Sufficiency Programs and Joe Mizzolo of WorkSource Redmond and our many friends at Central Oregon Community College for all of their support as well.
Thanks to our industry partners for lending their time, talent and support to this project:
- UA Local 290
- NECA IBEW Electrical Training Center and IBEW Local 48
- NECA IBEW Central Training Center and IBEW Local 280
- Oregon Laborers Apprenticeship & Training
- Cement Masons Apprenticeship Local 555
- Ironworkers Apprenticeship Local 29
- Roofers Apprenticeship Local 49
- Pacific Northwest Carpenters Training Institute
- IUOE Local 701 Apprenticeship
- Oregon Bricklayers and Allied Crafts
Oregon Tradeswomen also extends immense gratitude to our friend Dave Burger of UA Local 290. Dave went above and beyond to ensure this pilot training in Redmond was successful. He arrived early, stayed late, and offered tremendous support to our team as well as to jobseekers. Dave connected program participants to one another for transportation, support, helped refer women to the program, cooked food for program participants and staff, and demonstrated what an industry partner committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion looks like. Oregon Tradeswomen is eternally grateful.
Fifteen program participants completed the apprenticeship readiness training program and received a pre-apprenticeship training certificate from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, demonstrating their competencies and achievement in being prepared for registered apprenticeship and employment in the skilled trades. Oregon Tradeswomen was honored to host Oregon’s Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle as our keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony. Commissioner Hoyle’s service to the great state of Oregon, and her commitment to equity and justice, made us proud to have her speak to the graduates and their families.
Congratulations to the TACC program graduates – we wish them all well on their journey forward!
- Wanda Berry
- Eva Brewer
- Kayla Burns
- Claudia (Paloma) Castro
- Laura (K.K) Crowe
- Audreanna (Audrey) De La Rosa
- Lianna Erwert
- Peggy Gilbert
- Susan Guerin
- Camille Hernandez
- Lara Martinez
- Damaris Monroy
- Kelli Moody
- Susan Mulkey
- Ryleigh Shiner
- Amelia Templeton
Oregon Tradeswomen is proud of our contributions to the Multnomah County Courthouse building – a project reflecting our shared values of diversity within its workforce, clients, contractors, and the community as a shared prosperity model. In alignment with Multnomah County’s commitment to advancing cultural diversity and social equity in the workforce, Oregon Tradeswomen is working to support these same goals.
The County and the general contractor for the project, Hoffman Construction, set specific diversity and equity goals and built a diverse team of subcontractors. The team is tracking progress toward these goals on monthly basis to ensure the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion are making an impact in real time on the job and for our region’s workforce and minority contractor community.
In addition to working with Oregon Tradeswomen, Multnomah County and Hoffman Construction are working with subcontractors and other Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) certified pre-apprenticeship training programs on recruitment, training, and retention of women and minority workers across trades, and continuing to foster a welcoming and safe workplace environment where workers and emerging firms have opportunities to grow and succeed. View the latest diversity dashboard for all the reporting metrics.
Thanks to an investment by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industry, Oregon Tradeswomen was able to introduce a bystander intervention model to reduce hazing, harassment, and bullying, which disproportionately affect women and minorities on the job-site. The County and Hoffman Construction committed to implementing and testing this pilot model to evaluate the impact on worker satisfaction, safety, retention, and workplace equity. To date, the project has seen some successes in building a respectful workplace model, hearing from tradesworkers on the jobsite who have expressed the difference on working on a construction site that has a commitment to ending harassment and discrimination.
Because of these intentional policies, tradesworkers like Oregon Tradeswomen graduate, carpenter, and mother of triplets, Heather Mayther, now have access to careers that provide financial stability for their families as well as the pride that comes with building up their communities. Recently, Multnomah County produced a short video telling the stories of Heather and fellow tradesperson, Shawn Story, and how their involvement in this project has transformed their lives. Stories like Shawn and Heather’s are valuable as they help people outside of the construction industry understand that these jobs can lift people out of poverty and into the middle class. Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury showed this video as part of her State of the County address and declared, “I am proud that these public projects are changing the Portland skyline, but I am most proud that they are changing lives.”
No one said it was easy being a tradeswoman and a mom, but being a tradeswoman can give you the financial security to provide for your family. Trillium Ward began her journey into the skilled trades as a single mother of two, working as a drug and alcohol counselor for kids and young adults. Her job as a counselor was challenging work that only paid $12.50 an hour, hardly enough to support a family of three. Public assistance was helpful, but this was not the life Trillium imagined for herself. She had always loved working with her hands and took wood-shop, metal-shop, and other vocational programs her high school offered which focused on hands-on learning. With these experiences, the skilled trades started to look quite appealing as a new career option.
Trillium first applied to become an electrical apprentice with the IBEW, but didn’t score high enough on the application process to enter the program. After hearing about Oregon Tradeswomen around the community, she decided to enroll in the pre-apprenticeship program, the Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC). She knew that going through this program would be like receiving an endorsement of her qualifications and ability to succeed in the field. She was accepted to a special session of TACC that ran at night, which allowed her to continue working full time to support her family. If that wasn’t enough to demonstrate her commitment, she was also simultaneously taking a welding class on weekends!
After all her hard work in Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship program, Trillium graduated from TACC, re-applied to the IBEW’s apprenticeship program, and was accepted! As an apprentice, she immediately made $3 more per hour than she did as a drug and alcohol counselor. Being a single mother at the time, it was imperative to have a support network of family and other moms to help out with childcare because a typical day for Trillium started at 4:00 am! Thankfully, just 6 months into her apprenticeship, Trillium made enough money to get off of state assistance and afford daycare. Her advice to mothers thinking about pursuing a career in the trades is to “make sure you have reliable daycare that can accommodate early mornings and the ability to be flexible with your schedule!”
Just 5 years after starting on this new path, Trillium journeyed out of the Electrical apprenticeship! This is an incredibly proud accomplishment for her, because she managed to meet all of the strict program requirements around attendance and grades, all while having a new baby with her partner. Trillium is currently working for Oregon Electric Group where she runs bus ducts, installs conduits, pulls wire, creates panels, and installs lights among – other things. Trillium loves how her work keeps her brain engaged – whether she is learning new technology, new skills, or being put in different situations requiring adaptation and problem-solving. The hardest part about her job is the lack of continuity. When the people you work with, your start time, and your commute change regularly, its hard to plan for the future.
The biggest barrier Trillium faces as a woman in the trades is not outright harassment, but that compared to the men on her crews, she is not taken seriously. As a result, she has to to above and beyond to prove herself on every job-site – otherwise the men frequently assume that she isn’t competent. This becomes exhausting when you’re changing job-sites regularly – having to prove your worth with a new crew each time. Trillium’s advice for other tradeswomen is to help support other women. Solidarity is important in this field, so when you see other women, reach out, because the isolation can be hard.
In the end, the hard work pays off. Trillium says, “The amount of change in my financial status, going from poverty and living paycheck to paycheck, to financial freedom where I can buy a home and go on vacation has made a world of difference in my life and my children’s lives.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is invested in creating work opportunities in remediation and abatement in their own communities. Remediation and abatement are the methods used when a substance or practice in the construction industry is harmful to the environment and community. Remediation is the concept of using special techniques to make sure workers stay safe when dealing with hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos. Abatement is the process of removing the environmental threat so the entire community stays safe.
Often times, the remediation work needing to be done in a community is conducted by out of state workers. Oregon Tradeswomen’s Training Director, Amy James Neel, emphasizes, “Bringing in workers from out of state is a problem because these are high-skill, high-paying jobs. When people come in from out of state to do the work, those workers take their skills and their money with them out of the community and out of the state when the job is done.” In response, the EPA developed the Brownfields Program in 1995 to provide funding for training marginalized communities to enable them to access these important, high-paying jobs.
Oregon Tradeswomen has received Brownfields Program funding for many years, introducing our pre-apprenticeship students to career opportunities in our community dealing with remediation, alternative energy, material reuse, and cleaning up the federally recognized pollution sites affecting the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
Oregon Tradeswomen’s Environmental Worker Training Track is a two-week optional training providing our students necessary skills and certifications to pursue competitive careers in the industry. Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship students are shown a broad spectrum of possible careers in environmental remediation, anything from spill response, biohazard cleanup, wind-turbine maintenance, asbestos removal, and weatherization, just to name a few. One of the most advantageous aspects of the Brownfields EPA Grant funding is that it allows Oregon Tradeswomen to assist students beyond the two week training track! We are able to support students who are truly dedicated to pursuing careers the EPA deems beneficial to the environment by helping interested students obtain certifications giving them a competitive edge in their job search. For example, if a student is interested in deconstruction, we can help them get an RRP Certification which shows that they know how to safely work around lead.
Oregon Tradeswomen’s program has adapted over the years we have implemented this training, as our curriculum is based specifically on community needs and the jobs opportunities connected to those needs. At the present time, the demand for green/energy efficient practices and solar PV installations in residential buildings are growing quickly. In response, Oregon Tradeswomen has partnered with Energy Trust of Oregon to integrate an “Introduction to Green Construction and Solar PV” segment for the two-week training track delivered by Earth Advantage. During this in-depth training, our students learn about the following high performance building best practices and career opportunities in the green building and renewable energy industries:
- Energy Efficiency
- Health & Indoor Air Quality
- Sustainable Materials
- Water Conservation
- Land Management
- Solar Photovoltaics (PV)
As an added incentive, Energy Trust provides scholarships to participate in a 6-month Sustainable Homes Professionals (SHP) accreditation training offered by Earth Advantage that takes place every fall in Portland. Funding for scholarships was provided by Energy Trust to support student scholarships for Oregon Tradeswomen, as part of its overall efforts to expand training for energy efficiency and renewable energy in the building industry. Discounts for Minority and Women Business Enterprise (M/WSB) certified firms for this accreditation training are also available and provided by Earth Advantage.
Oregon Tradeswomen graduate Chelsea Acker recently received the SHP scholarship and excelled in the course, which led her to join the team at Green Hammer, a design-build firm delivering eco-friendly homes, renovations, and communities. In a note to Earth Advantage, Chelsea said:
“I am writing to extend many thanks and extreme gratitude to Earth Advantage. I am one of the SHP Scholarship awardees from the current SHP class. I graduated from Oregon Tradeswomen this past summer and knew I wanted to start my career in carpentry working for a company that focused on high performance energy efficient and sustainable builds. The SHP class was recommended to me as a way to learn more about building science and meet others who are active in this field. Within a few months into the course, I found myself passionate about building science, and applying for jobs. I was hired full-time at Green Hammer just a few weeks ago and it is my dream job! I can’t believe I am getting to begin my career with such an amazing company that aligns so clearly with my ethics, values, and passion. I honestly DO NOT believe that I would have gotten the job if it weren’t for this SHP course, and there is no way as a woman entering the field with little to no experience that I would have been able to afford this course on my own. I am extremely grateful and humbled by this opportunity and wanted to extend many many thanks for believing in me and giving me this chance. This course made is possible for me to enter into the trades with a focus on high performance energy efficient homes/buildings.”
Oregon Tradeswomen is tremendously grateful for the opportunity to work with community partners in the green construction industry under the EPA’s grant. With this support, Oregon Tradeswomen is able to help our pre-apprenticeship graduates gain valuable skills to pursue a living wage career all while helping our local community. This funding also allows Oregon Tradeswomen to support our industry partners with exceptional, and appropriately certified employees who will go on to make the Earth a safer and more inhabitable place.
Oregon Tradeswomen has the privilege of meeting some truly amazing women during every Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) we hold, and our most recent graduating class was no exception. Janet Huerta decided to embark on a new path after the tragic passing of both her parents on the same day and she enrolled in TACC.
Janet had worked in social services for decades, assisting survivors of abuse. Both her father and step-father were woodworkers, her brother started his career in framing as a teen, and her nephew is a laborer, so tools and workshops were familiar to Janet. A particularly harsh winter in central Oregon one year devastated the house that Janet had called home for 20 years and due to the high demand for skilled tradespeople, she was unable to get help to fix the damage the ice had wreaked. This dilemma sparked a question in Janet’s mind: “Why can’t I do this?”
When she quit her job to care for her parents full-time, this question stuck with her. Janet connected with Oregon Tradeswomen’s Outreach Coordinator, Anjeanette Brown, at a Women’s Foundation of Oregon event, and began her relationship with Oregon Tradeswomen as a donor. After the passing of her parents, Janet’s brother encouraged her to begin volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, which would give her an even better idea if this new path would be a good fit. Janet soon discovered that most of the other volunteers were retired tradespeople whose experience allowed them to take first dibs on certain parts of the building process. Unfortunately, Janet wasn’t getting training opportunities as fast as she would have liked.
In May of 2018, Janet attended Oregon Tradeswomen’s annual Career Fair which solidified her interest in pre-apprenticeship. After the event, she made sure to check the Oregon Tradeswomen website every day to make sure she didn’t miss the opportunity to register for the Fall TAC Class. Not only did she register for TACC, but she caught it two-handed. The 8 weeks of TACC flew by and, surprised by how well she did, Janet proved to herself that with baby steps, her goals were attainable. In her own words, Janet says, “the most valuable part of pre-apprenticeship is the chance to let go of any fear or self-doubt that holds all of us back from trying new things and finding out ‘We Can!’ It is what happens for everyone here whether it is intentional or not. Oregon Tradeswomen creates a space to overcome fear or doubt and instills an internal mechanism to problem-solve anything.”
Janet went on to complete our Environmental Worker Training Track with a HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) certification, and on her last day of training, she was approached by a family friend who needed a toilet installed. Feeling confident in her abilities, she recruited a classmate, and they set off to lend a helping hand. Having successfully executed her first gig, Janet knew she could turn this into a business! And from that thought emerged The Build-It Sisters, a business based in Sisters, Oregon that Janet hopes to expand to hire Oregon Tradeswomen graduates and other women. With more work already lined up through word-of-mouth, Janet’s goal is to go above and beyond other contractors, skillfully completing jobs and leaving spaces nicer than they were before.
There are so many paths for our graduates to explore when they leave pre-apprenticeship and we love to hear about all the creative ways they take the skills learned during class and apply them in the work-force. Not only do we need women in apprenticeship, but we also need more female contractors and business owners. We wish Janet the best in her endeavors and cannot wait to share in the successes of her and her trades sisters!
This past summer, Skanska USA Building and Oregon Tradeswomen partnered to recruit candidates for local, career-path field engineer positions. Skanska, one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., created the position to develop an entry-level path to leadership and management.
Field engineers support project engineers, superintendents and project managers. They hold key roles in ensuring the safe execution of activities, which include supervising day-to-day field teams, co-creating site logistics plans, conducting quality inspections, coordinating site testing and inspections, and managing schedules.
Oregon Tradeswomen helped the Skanska team identify local woman who possessed the skill-set sought for the new position.
Oregon Tradeswomen recently talked with Katie Coulson, LEED AP, Vice President – Account Manager with Skanska USA Building Inc. and former member of Oregon Tradeswomen’s Board of Directors, to learn a little more about this new leadership-track position. The fact that these new positions are being created to help manage one of Skanska’s most complex construction projects demonstrates its commitment to growing talent and making opportunities available for advancement. Of the handful of workers hired as the first field engineers, two are Oregon Tradeswomen graduates. Congratulations to Sara Moore and Doc Kenney!
In talking with Katie, we learned that Skanska is exploring ways to move more women into leadership roles. The new field engineer role provides an opportunity to work closely with field superintendents and grow into leadership roles. The leadership pipeline is critical for Skanska and provides a pathway there.
Skanska has a long commitment to hiring diverse workers. Katie explained, “It is this structure that helps make it a great company for women to work and grow in their careers. There are numerous women working on this project in leadership positions such as a general foreman, superintendent, project manager, director of safety, and many women on work crews.”
Katie further explained the growth path for this position. “This is an important and timely training ground to understand various aspects of construction from an individual contributor to a leadership role. The field engineer position will manage and prioritize safe working conditions, and will have key responsibilities working with crews, project managers, schedules, as well as getting trained on all of the aspects to move into a superintendent role.”
We didn’t want to fish for compliments, but we were curious about any standout qualities the newly hired Oregon Tradeswomen graduates, Sara Moore and Doc Kenney, exhibited. We learned that being driven, along with their problem-solving skills are important qualities for leadership. Skanska’s hiring team also values their understanding that even though the challenges that arise can be difficult, it is equally exciting to work through those issues to deliver a great product. Above and beyond those qualities, having good communication skills to work with multiple people is a key part of the position.
The opportunities in construction and other skilled trades might be better now than at any time in past. As society changes, more opportunities for women and minorities are opening, and construction is an incredible and dynamic industry with many paths for jobs with growth opportunities and benefits. This diversity is a benefit to the entire workforce, and success breeds success.
We applaud Skanska for their commitment to providing growth and leadership opportunities to women and racially diverse workers, and are incredibly excited for Oregon Tradeswomen graduates, Sara and Doc, on this exciting and well-deserved achievement.
About Skanska USA:
Skanska USA’s local operations comprise the Oregon and Southwest Washington regions, and in 2017 had gross revenues of $907 million. The 2017 combined Oregon and Washington gross revenues totaled $1.41 billion.
It is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, education, sports, data centers, government, aviation, life sciences and commercial. Headquartered in New York with offices in 31 metro areas, we have nearly 11,000 employees committed to being leaders in safety, project execution, sustainability, ethics and people development. In 2017, our work in building construction, civil and power/industrial construction, commercial development and infrastructure development (public-private partnerships) generated $7.3 billion in revenue. Global revenue of parent company Skanska AB, headquartered in Stockholm and listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange, totaled $18.8 billion in 2017. Skanska shares are publicly traded in the U.S. on the OTC market under the symbol SKBSY through a Level I American Depository Receipt program.
Huffing and puffing along, a 7,000 foot freight train curves gracefully around the Columbia River Gorge. Jessica Hassler, locomotive engineer extraordinaire with BNSF Railway, looks out the side-view mirror of the cab at the 16,000 tons she has been vigilantly guiding for hundreds of miles. She feels pride welling up inside her as she safely and smoothly handles the power of this great machine.
Jessica has been a Locomotive Engineer for 7 years now and has been with the railroad as a whole for 10 years. Before her foray into the world of locomotives, Jessica was a creative ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Armed with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Illustration, she supported herself by doing freelance work. She was contracted by advertisers and restaurants to draw for them, but the work wasn’t conducive to ensuring a stable future; the market for creatives in Portland was, and continues to be, saturated. Jessica also opened up her own food truck, but after 3 years, decided that being an entrepreneur was not for her if she wanted to have job-security, health insurance, and to one day own a home.
She heard from a friend that BNSF Railway was looking for switchmen and conductors and that the work was well compensated and Union protected. In 2008, she took a chance and applied to BNSF Railway. She was hired as a switchman/conductor and worked for 6 months before getting furloughed. The furlough, while incredibly inconvenient, was a perfect segue into Oregon Tradeswomen’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC).
Jessica was at a loss as what to do until someone pointed her in the direction of Oregon Tradeswomen. Growing up in North Dakota, Jessica never considered the skilled trades or blue-collar work an option, as it was mostly men who filled those jobs, but going through Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship training program, a whole new world opened up for her. During the summer of 2009 when Jessica was enrolled in TACC, she developed an interest in becoming a lineman with Bonneville Power Administration. One of the most valuable things she experienced during Oregon Tradeswomen’s class was the opportunity to learn math in a way that made sense to her. Jessica never saw math and numbers as things that came easily to her, but in TACC, math was broken down in a way that she could access. TACC was also a supportive environment where she felt like she could ask as many questions as she needed about anything.
Soon after graduation from TACC, BNSF ended Jessica’s furlough and she decided to go back and work as a switchman. Even though she didn’t go on to pursue the electrical trade, Jessica reflects on her time in the TACC program fondly, saying that: “Oregon Tradeswomen picked me up when I didn’t know what to do. It helped me realize that even if the railroad didn’t work out, there were other options in store for me.”
And so, it was “Take Two” for Jessica. Hired on as a switchman, she switched cars, serviced local industries, and built trains for departure to their next destinations. Working on the railroad can be a very challenging job. While not for everyone, it is a place for someone who thrives on variety. You are on the railroad’s whim as you are on-call 24/7 and Jessica says that it is up to you to make the best of worst of it. Jessica made the best of it and after three years working on the ground, she took the promotion to become a Locomotive Engineer.
Throughout her time at BNSF Railway, the men that she worked with were nothing but welcoming and genuinely thrilled to have a woman join the crew. When she just got hired on, she was fearful of harassment or hazing, but instead she felt respected by the men who were all so generous to teach and share their tips and tricks. The men on her crew understood that she was their teammate and that if she succeeds, they succeed. Jessica calls them the family of men she never expected to have. There is irony in how Jessica found support, success, and a sense of equality at the railroad, a place people don’t expect women to work. BNSF does have a very strict harassment policy, but Jessica recounts that in her case, the culture has been so positive that it never needed to be enforced. Even ten years ago things were much harder for women on the railroad, but since then, the culture has evolved for the better.
To the women who are curious about joining BNSF, Jessica Hassler says, “Just do it! Be open and be brave. Drop the attitude and the ego and go into it knowing nothing with nothing to prove. Believe you can do it and allow yourself to learn it.”
10 years with BNSF Railway has flown by for Jessica and she has all that she once dreamed of: a rewarding job that offers great benefits, belonging to thee BLET Union, owning a home, owning a car, and she has the economic stability she always dreamed about. She even met her life partner through her job with BNSF.
So what does the future look like? Jessica can see herself sticking with it for another 20 years followed by happy retirement. As long as she can sustain the lifestyle, there is no reason not to go all the way to retirement.
Life may not always end up how you thought it would, but sometimes the reality you end up with is even better than anything you could have imagined. It is important to take things in stride and keep your options open. Who knows, you might discover something life-changing like Jessica did!