Angelica Ramos is a single mom, with two children age 4 and 14. Before pursuing an apprenticeship, she had been working in low-wage, dead-end jobs. She had taken three years of college, but had to drop out when her youngest was born.
Now she is following in the footsteps of her brother, pursuing a career as an electrician, thanks to the pre-apprenticeship program at Oregon Tradeswoman. “If it wasn’t for Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.’s pre-apprenticeship class, I don’t think I would have gotten in. The hands-on experience in class gave me what I needed to get down and dirty, pick up the tools and build stuff. I am learning something new every day. I can set an example for my kids and have more opportunity to provide for their future.”
She worked hard in the Oregon Tradeswoman pre-apprenticeship program to prepare, developing a solid transportation and child care plan, and learning as much as she could about the electrical industry. “I wanted a career that would challenge me both intellectually and physically,” Angelica said. She studied math in preparation for the Electrical Apprenticeship aptitude test and practiced her interviewing skills. During class her instructors commented that they were impressed with her leadership ability, her work ethic, and her ability to be positive, cooperative and engaged.
Right after graduating from the pre-apprenticeship program, Angelica applied for the Electrical Apprenticeship, and various electrical supply houses. She was hired by Platt Electric Supply in February 2008 to work in their warehouse, where she received glowing reviews from her supervisor. In April 2008, Angelica was selected as an Electrical Apprentice, where she began working for Dynalectric on May 1, 2008.
Photo Credit: Pac/West
21 May 2015
Michelle Miller is currently completing her apprenticeship under the guidance of Hoffman Construction. She says, “I actually love doing the layout the best. I like having the plans and getting to visualize from raw sketches on a little piece of paper what you’re going to build and what it’s going to look like.”
For many women, a career as an electrician can result in great pay and opportunities for advancement in the construction field. “In my particular career, or any of the construction trades, you have a much better pay compared to any of the other typical jobs for women. You’re going to be making a lot of money here. You’ll actually be able to care for yourself — and your family — and everybody.”
“Before [the apprenticeship program] I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get into this. Just the fact that I’m into it now, I tell people, ‘I’m an electrician. I’m a union electrician. This is what I do.’ And everybody reacts the same way – they’re like, ‘Wow, that is so amazing. I can’t believe that.’”
Photo Credit: Dan Carter
21 May 2015
Out of approximately 1500 local union ironworkers in Portland, there are only six women — and Kat Lakey is one of them.
“I see ironwork as this classic view of what the construction world is like,” Kat says, recalling images of tough guys who cat-call and want to play around.
There are two broad categories of ironworkers – those who work on buildings, and those who work in the shops. The ironworkers in the shop fabricate the parts that will be erected and installed by the ironworkers who are out in the field.
Kat works out at construction sites. “When I stepped into ironworking I felt my body bulk up in different ways, and I feel a lot stronger in my life, not only physically but mentally. I also make a whole heck of a lot more money.”
Kat plans to continue as an ironworker until she reaches retirement age. “You have to enjoy this work to get up so early in the morning and meet up with a bunch of guys and tackle such a huge project.” When she tells people that she is an apprentice ironworker, they sometimes react with disbelief or they tell her she’s “awesome.”
“I think everybody deserves to have a great wage,” Kat says. “And if this is something that a woman is interested in, then she should go for it. I think you have to have a passion for the work, and if you don’t, then you’re not going to be successful. But other than that, as long as you’re ready to show up and take the initiative to do what it takes to do the job, then you’re in.”
Photo credit: Dawn Jones – Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.
Hilary is a Limited Energy Technician Apprentice. She performs preparation, layout from blueprints, installation and repair of low energy electrical systems such as telecommunications, intercom, alarm systems, electronic equipment and others.
She has worked and gone to school two nights a week for the past 4 years. “It is a challenge every day,” says Hilary, “but I enjoy my work. Especially with the customer contact. I like making our customers happy.”
According to Hilary, “The support is out there for women coming into the industry and the job opportunities are amazing. We need more women who want to get in and do the work. I take a lot of pride in my work – just because someone else before you did a bad job – you can get in and make it look good.”
Photo Credit Martin Theil
21 May 2015
By John Rumler
After graduating Sam Barlow high school in Gresham in 2000, Jenny McClatchey was hired as an electronic assembler. The money was good, but the work was mind-numbingly repetitive. “The minutes and hours dragged on and on,” she recalls. “It was excruciatingly boring.” Later, she did marketing for Visa and also became an assistant to a loan processor, but both positions left French dissatisfied. Two years ago, she was between jobs when an HVAC specialist came to fix the central air conditioning system at her parent’s home. After speaking with the technician, Jenny learned the company was hiring. Within a week she was driving a company truck and learning about furnaces and ventilation systems. “I loved it. I jumped in and gave it my all,” she says.
Jenny, now 24, is enrolled in a sheet metal apprenticeship program. Her employer states that, “Jenny is smart, eager to learn, and has a great attitude. We’d love to hire more employees like her. Outside of the electricians sector, women are nowhere near reaching their potential in the building trades. If we can get more high quality people like Jenny, even if they are entry-level, we’re happy to provide the training.”
So far, about two-thirds of her work is inside, but she has toiled on rooftops in sweltering heat as well as in freezing weather. Jenny, who is half Vietnamese, spends most of her workday helping install ductwork and insulation, but sometimes, during a “crane pick,” she gets to guide the crane operator with hand signals. “I do grunt work, but so do a lot of foremen,” she says.
When she completes her apprenticeship, Jenny might pursue more training in construction management or engineering, but right now she has a full plate. The best thing about her job, Jennifer says, is the variety and the team she works with. “I like moving around, going to different worksites, exploring new things. I can’t stand doing the same thing.”
McClatchey enjoys being the only woman on a crew and says that she’s never had a problem asking for help. She says her job isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for all women, but she calls it the best experience she’s ever had. “It’s a mans world and you have to adjust to it instead of expecting others to adjust to you. I like the joking and the bantering and I love being one of the guys. When they give me a hard time I give it right back,” she says.
Photo credit: Northwest College of Construction
21 May 2015
If a construction job calls for concrete of any kind — whether it be pouring curbs and sidewalks, pouring foundations or retaining walls — or for concrete finishing — a cement mason is the right person for the job. “I enjoy getting in the mud, working with the mud,” says Johnetta Abraham.
Before becoming a cement mason, Johnetta completed a pre-apprenticeship program with Oregon Tradeswomen. “They really helped me on the math. I hadn’t been to school for years and I was kind of rusty.”
The job of a cement mason can be both rewarding and demanding at times. It results in a finished work product that gets a lot of visibility on a completed job site. “I like seeing a finished product,” says Johnetta. “I like telling my kids that I had something to do with that. Something they can see. Something concrete.” At the same time, the work can be demanding on the body. It requires physical strength and a lot of lifting. And according to Johnetta, “If you don’t hustle, you get laid off.”
Regardless of the challenges, however, Johnetta enjoys her work and she’s creatively motivated to succeed. “Before, you know, I just had a job and I was using it to make the bills. Now I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
Photo credit: Dawn Jones,Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.
21 May 2015
Cristi Dyami is an apprentice lineman with Bonneville Power Administration. She works on the big transmission lines and says, “I absolutely love getting up every day. I love my job. Everything can be different from one day to the next. I like working outdoors. I can’t imagine being stuck inside of an office … we get to be up in the mountains.”
The work of a lineman is dangerous and requires focus. “Linework isn’t for everybody,” Cristi says. “It takes special individuals all the way around. And I hate to say it, but I think it takes even more special women. You are working with very strong personalities. It’s not for meek or mild people, period.”
The pay for lineworkers is very good at the average rate of $33 per hour in Oregon*. Dyami adds, “But you do work hard for it.” And the job comes with its own rewards. “It’s a pretty neat feeling to know that you’re keeping people’s power on.” Dyami says. “It may be Christmas Day, and we’ve got a call out because it started blowing over on the coast — and you’ve got to leave your family — but you’re going to help other people. There is a certain feeling of pride that a lot of people share in this job.”
*From the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, May 2008, Occupational Employment and Wages for Electrical Power Line-Installers and Repairers