Building water infrastructure like the Bull Run Treatment Projects can mean a brighter tomorrow for women interested in the skilled trades. “The exciting thing about participating in building water infrastructure is that all the trades participate in building those projects,” says Kelly Kupcak, Executive Director of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. “A career in the skilled trades through registered apprenticeship affords a living wage for women to take care of themselves and their families.”
Oregon Tradeswomen is a nonprofit that provides hands-on training, job placement, support services, and advocacy services. To prepare women for a future in the skilled trades, the organization provides a no-cost, pre-apprentice program that trains women to work as heavy equipment operators, carpenters, cement masons, iron workers, and other skilled tradespeople. Once women complete their pre-apprentice program, they typically go into a registered earn-while-you-learn apprentice program and then on to work in their chosen career. For many of the women Oregon Tradeswomen serves, the program provides a pathway to the middle class and fulfilling occupations that can offer a good wage, plus healthcare benefits and pensions.
Kupcak notes that women have made important strides in the skilled trades over the years. When Oregon Tradeswomen was founded over 30 years ago, less than one percent of people in the trades workforce were women. Today that number is up to eight percent in Oregon, compared to only three percent nationally. “We’re really proud of this. We’ve been able to achieve this working with partners in our region and across the state, but we know there’s more work that needs to be done,” says Kupcak.
The City of Portland is a key partner in this effort. One way it promotes equity and diversity in the construction trades is through Community Benefits Agreements, which set and monitor construction contract goals for apprentice- and journey-level labor participation by underrepresented populations and women. The Bull Run Treatment Projects are great examples of this in action—28 percent of journey work hours and 31 percent of apprentice work hours are going to underrepresented populations and women.
According to Kupcak, many women in the program are interested in building water infrastructure. “It is critical for us to ensure that everyone has access to water. Being in the skilled trades and being part of a water infrastructure project can be incredibly rewarding. Not just because of the dynamic and exciting aspects of the job itself but knowing that you’re contributing to people’s quality of life,” says Kupcak.