To see Dao Dang today, striding around the Building Module 2 Intel site, coordinating a team of carpenters for his longtime employers Hoffman Construction, you would never guess that the man moved here from Central Vietnam at age 18 not knowing a word of English. But once you do have an idea of what it took for him to get to where he is today, Dang’s leadership role on his worksite seems even more admirable.
After Dang moved to Oregon with his father and brother, he took a janitorial job at the Oregon Zoo. After 3 months, he enrolled in a Job Corps carpentry program and learned both English and carpentry at Timer Lake Job Corps Center.
He spent his time alternating between one week of educational program offerings, one week learning vocational skills. He was attracted to working with wood and had done similar jobs during his youth in Vietnam, where one of the first places he worked was with his grandmother in the family’s malt grain business.
His most pronounced memory from those early days in this country? “You see a lot of high-rise buildings here,” he tells us. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that today, Dang plays a vital role in making those structures soar.
At 21, Dang followed his interest in carpentry into an official apprenticeship program. “My first reason was money,” the 39 year old tells us. “The next was that I really like the job.” His apprenticeship took him to various companies, and finally at Van Lom Concrete he became a journey-level Carpenter.
Six years after he started his apprenticeship, Dang arrived at Hoffman Structures. “They treat you nice here,” he says. “They provide you all the materials you want. And safety is number one for them.” In another six years he had become a foreman. “I had been there long enough,” he explains when we ask him what his company’s motivation behind promoting him was. “They thought that I knew everything I needed to know.”
Now that he’s a jobsite leader, Dang has gotten used to the duties of being a foreman. “I like being able to show people how to do things, to help.” His paycheck is now substantial enough to support his family: his wife of seven years Mong Chinh and their two sons.
The only drawback of his success may be how much time he finds himself investing on a mental level. “On a job site, you start stressing a lot. You go home to your wife and kids and it can be hard to focus on family life.”
Though he rarely works with other Vietnamese people on the job, Dang says he’s never been challenged in the workplace on the basis of ethnicity. He would, however, like to see more Vietnamese in the building trades, and ventures that there could be more resources for those who were looking at entering the industry.
“Find the trade you like and take the opportunity,” he counsels those looking for the same kind of success that he’s found in his career. The hard work is worth it. “My life would be more difficult if I wasn’t doing this. You make a better living in the trades.”