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Women in Trades
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Merlin DouglassAnne Galisky has spent her entire professional life as a carpenter. She says it isn’t just a good way to make a living. That’s just a side benefit. The owner of Small World Inc. says carpentry is her passion. It was something she wanted to do from the time she was a young child. "Fortunately, my mother supported me. Whenever a birthday or other holiday rolled around, I got to pick out a tool I wanted,"she says, "Sometimes she would take me to the lumber yard and I got to pick out scrap pieces and go home and make something out of them. I mean, my dad was supportive too, but my mom really understood."Galisky took her enthusiasm for construction to B-Fit (Building Futures in Industry and Trades), a program at PCC at a time when there weren’t very many resources for women who wanted a career in building. She says the things she learned there were fundamental to her later success."I was in the second B-Fit class 12 years ago,"she says, "It really gave me a lot of confidence in the workplace."The two-term certificate program in the Building Construction Department at the Rock Creek Campus is aimed at getting women and minority men the construction, electrical and mechanical skills they need to enter an apprenticeship program. In addition to practical hands-on experience, the program includes strength training and job safety classes. When they complete the training, they can turn their B-Fit beginnings into iron working, steam fitting, working as an electrician, carpenter or welder.When Galisky applied for her first construction job, being a woman on the job site was unusual. It still isn’t all that common Galisky says, but she sees more women now than she used to."There are over 800 graduates of the program now, not just women, men too. But it is better now and that’s due to B-Fit and the Oregon Tradeswomen (a non-profit women’s trade organization) getting the word out,"she says. "Sometimes I hire women on my jobs, sometimes men. I’m always glad to see women builders."Other PCC trades programs that are seeing more women enroll include welding — which has had a 50 percent jump in women enrollees in the past three years — automotive technology, diesel technology and aviation.Shanaquewa Coleman used to be an administrative assistant. When she first arrived in Portland, as a single mom with four small children, she was looking for a job that paid enough to support her family. After earning a GED through PCC, she joined a training program through Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. Coleman got a job last July as a carpenter’s helper. "It’s hard work,"Coleman says, "and you’re out in all kinds of weather. But you do get regular raises and vacation. I’ve got more money to spend on my kids. I even bought a car, so life is a little easier for us."Many B-Fit graduates and other women in the trades turn to Oregon Tradeswomen to network and to stay informed of new opportunities. The organization, which is housed in PCC’s workforce training center on N.E. 42nd Avenue in Portland, sponsors a variety of educational programs that help people decide if a career in a trade is a good fit for them."The primary focus of Oregon Tradeswomen is to support women who are working in the trades or who want to find out more about it. These are good paying, family-wage jobs in electrical, plumbing, building construction or other skilled trades,"says Darcy Varney, Oregon Tradeswomen’s Education and Outreach Coordinator.Oregon Tradeswomen, along with partners such as PCC’s Sylvania Campus Business and Industrial Technology division recently sponsored the Oregon 10th Annual Women in Trades Fair, a three-day event held in early May to showcase local trade opportunities. Visitors had the opportunity to use tools, help build things, talk to tradeswomen and get information about more than 75 training and job possibilities in various trades, from auto mechanic to welder. The fair was held for the first time at the Local 290 Plumbers & Steamfitters Training Center in Tualatin.Varney says the more people know about the types of work available in the trades, the more types of people the trades will attract.For Galisky, what is best about building is that "it feels meaningful and I create a new reality everyday. It’s a job I can love."