By MALLORY GRUBEN
Attracting women to apprentice as ironworkers, bricklayers and cement masons — some of the most physically taxing building trades — can be difficult. Finding a stable living wage job after serving time in prison is harder still. A new pre-apprenticeship program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility could ease both challenges.
Ironworkers Local 29, Bricklayers Local 1 and Cement Masons Local 555 partnered to launch the pre-apprenticeship, which will offer training at Oregon’s only women’s prison. The program received a state grant and will give preference to inmates who are near their release date.
The goal is twofold: help these women find good jobs after serving their sentences and add more women to the building trades.
“It is just a good fit, and they’ve been looking to get something started like this down at the correctional facility,” said Local 1 President Shawn Lenczowski.
A recent study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests that almost one-third of people who spend time in prison will not find a job within four years of being released. Those who do find employment tend to jump from job to job and make less money, on average, than the general working population.
Union pre-apprenticeship programs create a path to stable and long-term careers in the building trades that guarantee living wages and good benefits, even for those with a “checkered past,” said Kevin Crocker, apprenticeship coordinator for Local 29.
“These women are going to get out. They are going to want a job” he said. “And they are going to want a job that pays well.”
Participating unions benefit, too, by tapping female trainees not already being recruited by other trades. The locals need more women among their ranks to ensure they can meet female participation goals on state and federal projects.
Crocker said the ironworkers, bricklayers and cement masons get some members through pre-apprentice programs with Oregon Tradeswomen, Constructing Hope and Portland Youth Builders — but not at the same rate as the other trades.
“So my thought was let’s partner up together and let’s go somewhere people aren’t right now. That was Coffee Creek,” he said.
The first cohort of 12 pre-apprentices is slated to start April 24. They will take a 10-week course that includes six weeks of safety and job training from ironworkers, and two weeks of training each from cement masons and bricklayers.
A second cohort is tentatively scheduled for July.