By MALLORY GRUBEN
Kadence Jimenez got her first taste of the trades in the early aughts as a middle school student attending the Oregon Tradeswomen Career Fair. She still uses the napkin holder she made at a booth hosted by Sheet Metal Local 16.
But it took another decade and a second visit to the fair for Jimenez, now a journeyman carpenter, to realize she could actually pursue a career in the building trades. The decision changed her life, and she doesn’t want other young women to wait to join like she did.
“I could be a foreman now, if I’d started sooner. I might not have needed welfare,” Jimenez said while volunteering for Carpenters Local 503 at the 2023 Career Fair on May 19. “It didn’t click for me when I was 12, but I want it to click for these people.”
More than 2,000 students from schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington attended the career fair May 19, and hundreds of job seeking adults visited May 20. It was the first year OTI has held the event since 2019; the pandemic forced it dormant for three years.
The interactive event offered hands-on activities, workshops, and informational booths highlighting apprenticeships and debt-free training options for careers in the construction trades. Most activities are run by tradeswomen, who volunteer to show that construction isn’t just for men.
“I am the first generation in the craft, in any type of construction, so it’s important for me to help people see that there are other women out here,” said Barbara Diamondbackeyez, a journeyman laborer with Laborers Local 737. “It’s not just a man’s job.”
Diamondbackeyez volunteered at the Local 737 booth, where attendees could use a hand tool to chip cement from a concrete block. She said watching the students try out the tool for the first time reminded her that kids aren’t usually exposed to the construction trades, so they might never consider it as a career option. That’s especially true for girls, who are underrepresented in the trades. In Oregon, women make up just 9% of apprentices.
Amiyah Sanders and Lauralynn Cummings, eighth graders at Houck Middle School in Salem, said they could see themselves as tradeswomen one day, especially after a day scaling beams with Ironworkers Local 29 and welding with Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 at the career fair.
“I knew (the trades) were an option, but it was always in the back of my mind,” Sanders said. “Now I’m thinking more about it. … I didn’t expect to like it so much!”
Cummings said it’s important for girls to get to try new things — and to see workers who look like them actually doing that work. That’s why Jimenez, the journeyman carpenter, says she wore dangly beaded earrings and blue, white, and silver nail polish during the fair.
“The stereotypical construction worker is a white male,” Jimenez said. “You don’t see a lot of feminine women. … I want the girls to see that you don’t have to lose your femininity in trades.”
Growing up, Jimenez knew she liked working with her hands but was told that carpentry was for boys. She wishes she had someone to encourage her to join when she was younger. She tries to be that role model for girls now.
“I invited some of the older high school seniors to our Sisters in the Brotherhood meeting,” Jimenez said. “I’ll lead them to water. That’s all I can do.”