Another class of tradeswomen, ready to start


Oregon Tradeswomen has been bringing women into the building trades, and into local unions, for 33 years. Its key training is the Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC), a 192-hour program that introduces women to a handful of skilled trades.

The most recent group of pre-apprentices graduated Sept. 22, and another class begins Oct. 18. The Labor Press spoke with a few recent pre-apprentices about how they learned of the program and which trades they’re pursuing.

Melissa Sheridan

Melissa Sheridan came to Oregon Tradeswomen on a roundabout path.

She and her partner moved to Portland in 2018, but their living arrangements soon fell through. They became homeless. Sheridan had some legal troubles. She got connected with Rose Haven, a women’s day shelter in Northwest Portland. The shelter put Sheridan in touch with Ground Up, a local maker of nut butters that offers a job training program for women who are homeless or have other employment barriers. At the end of Ground Up’s training, the organization helps women find work.

Sheridan had been interested in the trades in high school, but at the time she didn’t think it would pay well, so she went to college and earned a degree. The idea of entering a trade stuck with her, though, and she seized the opportunity when Ground Up connected her with Oregon Tradeswomen.

At first, she considered welding, intrigued by the process of joining and shaping metals. But she realized she didn’t like working in the hot environment welding would require.

Oregon Tradeswomen provides field trips to numerous union training centers. In the recent class, students visited Operating Engineers Local 701, UA Local 290, Bricklayers Local 1, Cement Masons Local 555, Sheet Metal Local 16 and more. On one field trip, Sheridan found a better fit: She applied to become an apprentice with Sprinkler Fitters Local 669. The job involves cutting pipe to fit sprinkler systems either in renovation or new construction. Sheridan was drawn to sprinkler work by an interest in safety, which was a common thread in past jobs as a Girl Scout camp counselor and lifeguard.

“It’s something I’m passionate about,” Sheridan said. “Getting paid to make sure people are safe in their environment sounds like a win-win to me.”

Chelsea Torres, right, helps build a planter box as part of Oregon Tradeswomen’s pre-apprenticeship program.

When Chelsea Torres learned about Oregon Tradeswomen through word of mouth, she was hesitant at first, thinking she might not fit in. But she kept hearing about it, and when she did look into it, learning a trade sounded appealing. Torres was working retail jobs, and in her free time she was fixing up and reselling cars. She had considered becoming a mechanic.

“Electrical was always my favorite part,” Torres said, like installing car stereos for friends and family. “I loved it, just the whole headache of it and then seeing it done and working at the end, it’s just fantastic.”

So when she got into the Oregon Tradeswomen program, she felt drawn to the electrician trade. IBEW Local 48 representatives came to the class and staged an electrical rough-in, where wiring components are installed in the walls during construction. It was a crash course in electrical work: Pre-apprentices installed outlets, ran wire from the outlet to a switch, and ran wire from the switch to a lightbulb. 

“It’s very hands-on, we got to learn what this thing is, what it does, why does this light turn on,” Torres said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”

Sheena Schroder

During the rough-in, pre-apprentice Sheena Schroder imagined she was on a job site working alongside coworkers, and she liked it.

“It was the first time I ever actually worked with wiring in that sense,” Schroder said of the rough-in. “I’ve seen my dad do it a million times, but I had no idea what he was doing.”

Her dad, an electrician and IBEW Local 48 member, had encouraged her to consider entering a trade—maybe become an electrician? But Schroder was hesitant. She didn’t have prior trade experience. In her day job, she works in a bakery. That’s when she researched and learned about Oregon Tradeswomen, which would prepare her to enter an apprenticeship. She was accepted into the summer program.

Schroder was initially drawn to welding and working with sheet metal, but after being exposed to the breadth of trades, she gravitated to electrical work, especially after IBEW’s visit.

“I liked how clean everything was. You knew what color the wires were and where they needed to go,” Schroder said.

Then the class visited home builder Stanley Tiny Homes, and Schroder enjoyed framing and raising walls for tiny houses. Between that and the rough-in, she’s now considering becoming a residential electrician.

Profiles and photos by COLIN STAUB.


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