Non-profit dedicated to the success in the trades
By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
Dedicated to the success and empowerment of women in the trades, one local organization is on a mission to help women pursue employment in the growing green jobs industry, which continues to open up new opportunities for working residents throughout the country.
Founded in 1989 as a small support group led by four tradeswomen, including an elevator constructer, two carpenters and an operating engineer, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. became a non-profit in 1999 to help women pursuing jobs in building, labor, mechanical, electrical and utility trades attain economic and job security.
Today, the organization has helped thousands of women become successful employers and empowered individuals through the organizations free pre-apprenticeship training programs, workshops and career resources.
“Our role is to help women learn about these exciting blue collared fields that have great pay and benefits and are typically very rewarding work,” said executive director Connie Ashbrook. “Once woman learn these jobs are available and know how to get into them, with our help, they are very enthusiastic about working in the trades.”
Although a handful of pre-apprenticeship programs exist throughout the state, Ashbrook said Oregon Tradeswomen is the only training program in Oregon that focuses exclusively on women.
One goal of the organization is to eliminate the myth that you have to be big and beefy to be successful in the trades. “The truth is that all kinds of people of many sizes and shapes are very successful,” she said.
Ashbrook, who worked as an elevator constructer for 14-years, said she knows from first-hand experience that women, who often don’t realize these jobs exist, can be successful in these fields.
After hands-on-skill training with power tools, field trips to job sites and apprenticeship training centers, classroom learning with speakers from the trades, and education in math and measuring skills, she said the women gain an understanding of construction culture and begin to build a career plan.
“The training provides our students with the skills they need to be successful,” she said. “Last year, 116 women graduated from the seven-week training program, and 82 of our graduates got jobs right away.”
Although women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce nationwide, they make up a mere three percent in skills trades.
In Oregon, however, the numbers are higher than they are nationally because of our work, she said.
The Safeway Foundation, after recognizing OTI’s commitment to the success of women in the workforce, presented a grant award last week of $5,000 to Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. at their northeast store location on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The funding will provide critical support services to students graduating from OTI’s free, pre-apprentice program and will assist women in acquiring the necessary attire and tools needed to start work in the construction trades, such as safety gear, rain wear, boots, tools, and other equipment.
Ashbrook added these women are also extremely excited to be working in the green industry, which has a strong presence within Oregon.
On Feb. 29, OTI hosted a roundtable discussion, where U.S. Department of Labor officials joined partners in the green economy and leaders representing tradeswomen and workers to discuss the role of women and green jobs. The event also included the launch of the Women’s Bureau’s “Why Green is Your Color: A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career,” which is a guide designed to help women find and keep higher paying jobs in the clean energy economy.
“The goal of the roundtable was to launch the women’s guide to a sustainable career,” said Ashbrook. “This is a wonderful document that really helps women learn about green occupations, find training and learn how to succeed in green jobs.”
Within the lengthy packet, there is a wealth of information, including ways to deal with child care challenges to planning and tracking your job search with interactive tools. “And because we are above average here, the packet is even more applicable to Portlanders,” she said.
In addition to Oregon Tradeswomen’s use of the new packet, the organization also developed an eight hour curriculum, which was a broad overview to help women understand what was available in the green industry. “Then we helped them connect to those employers,” she said.
According to Ashbrook, the green jobs industry, especially weatherization technicians, was the most successful placement for women after they graduated the program. “It is a brand new industry in need of workers,” she said.
“Green jobs are very important to decrease our carbon footprint, but it also brings new jobs into the region, and we are desperate for new jobs here in Oregon with our still relatively high unemployment rate,” said Ashbrook.
She said this year, the organization worked with Clean Energy Works Oregon, a nonprofit that is working to weatherize over 5,000 homes throughout the state, to develop standards for training and employment and to create connections to employers.
But there are several other employment opportunities the women are prepared to enter once they complete their training, including iron workers to build solar towers and retro fitting buildings.
“Heating ventilation and air conditioning are also critical for the future and making sure energy is managed in a way that doesn’t use as much,” she said. “Electricians help install wind turbines and solar panels, and plumbers are important to create grey water systems that keep water from being wasted unnecessarily.”
Women are interested in the fight to stop global warming and reduce our carbon footprint, so if they can do that and earn money at the same time, that is very exciting to them, she said.
Ashbrook said the non-profit will provide more classes this year. She encourages anyone interested to call or visit their website for more information, or sign up to attend an orientation.
My hope for the future is lots of jobs for everybody who is looking for one,” she said. “Especially lots of green jobs for the women we work with.”
For more information about Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., visit tradeswomen.net.