Preparing for the Trades

- by Mercy Shammah

I had the opportunity of completing Oregon Tradeswomen’s Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program this fall. The program is called Pathway to Success and really sets the bar for preparing women to go into the trades. 

Women in a Man’s World

If you’ve been on social media in the past year, you may have noticed mini movements speaking about inequality for women. Like women refusing to move out of the way and running into men and their sidewalk entitlement.

Women who want to ‘man-spread’ instead of taking up the smallest amount of space as possible.

People want more than a high school prom queen line of questioning for our female celebrities and athletes. People are pushing for gender neutral toys because only playing dress up and brushing hair influences the scope of what girls think they are capable of decades down the line. These movements remind women that it is their world too.

How does this relate to the trades? Oregon Tradeswomen (OTI) has taught us that we don’t have to apologize for our very existence. We can swing a hammer just as good as the men because of the nature of us being human beings. Many women in the program don’t have a trades background or know anyone in the trades. The training program is an introduction to the field and more. The program goes over the rough and tough construction culture, what to expect, how to navigate it and where we can go for support when we need it. The program reminds us that we can be strong and empowered when we are on the job site surrounded by men, some of whom won’t expect much of us and others who won’t want us to be there at all. 

There are very few programs like OTI in the United States yet; women fill just 3% of all trades jobs. Through this program we learn how to find our voices, to feel confident and know that we have the knowledge to back it up. While 2015 has been a strong year in requesting social change for women, Oregon Tradeswomen has been doing this since the late 80s. 

Three Days

Pathways to Success is broken up into three days a week; each day provided us with a different experience. The first day of the week is a classroom day. These are the days where we receive fundamentals for the trades culture, learn about tools and job site safety, learn basic construction math and measurements and prepare for interviews. We get to learn more about each other and our program as we grow in to tradeswomen. 

The second days of the week are our field trip days. We are introduced to many different trades and learn the ins and outs, opportunities that are available and how much we would get paid. For many entry-level positions, the answer is: a lot. We would get paid a ton. In our training of the different trades we were provided with hands on activities which allowed us a better understanding of what exactly we would be doing. We had the opportunity to make things, use power tools and get the physical experience of the work. Enthusiastic recruiters expanded the list of possible careers we were capable of.The last days of the week were our job site days. This is where we would put all that classroom knowledge to use and get a good sense of the physical work we were getting ourselves into. These days could be very demanding yet fun. One of the biggest projects we worked on in my term was Living Cully. It was a strip club strip mall on 60th & Killingsworth that we deconstructed to be utilized for something that will better serve the community. Oregon Tradeswomen has a history in partnering with community organizations for the job site days. It is a bonus for us to be a part of something great while getting our feet wet in the trades. We were the ones who got to tear down those walls which oppressed so many women. Living Cully was just one of our projects, we participated in builds at other locations as well. 


This program requires a huge level of commitment for the women looking to graduate. The program is three days a week for seven weeks. You have to find income sources around that schedule as well as figure out childcare. OTI is serious when it comes to timeliness. If anyone arrives late on the first day of training (or within the first week), they are removed from the program and there are a line of women waiting to take the spots of the latecomers. 

Handing in all your homework is mandatory to graduate. In addition, OTI tests on math, measurements, tool knowledge and fitness. During my term they partnered with Fulcrum Fitness to train us twice a week. This helped us become better prepared for the physical test and work. 

Oregon Tradeswomen is putting us out in the job field with their seal of approval. We represent them and we are starting off with as much knowledge and confidence as any man in our trade and then some. We are making a big commitment to ourselves. For some of us we are breaking out of our shell and accomplishing something we never knew was a possibility. For others, they are making a commitment to their children for better and more secure life.

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