‘Trading’ stories, advice from hands-on women

Lane Community College Advanced Technology and Apprenticeship last week hosted its first “Women in Trades” with a panelist of business leaders, providing a networking opportunity for young women seeking to work in trades.  About 100 people attended with 19 different companies and eight different LCC programs. 

The Q&A was moderated by Eila Sontag, academic advisor for LCC and previous employee of Fabtrol, a steel fabrication management software company and organized by Wendy Milbrat, Project Coordinator for LCCATA.

LCC student Lucia Flores maintains a vehicle through LCC’s Automotive Technology Program.

The Springfield Chamber partnered with the Advanced Tech Department at Lane to help promote the event with several members participating on the panel, including Avril Watt with Astec Industries, Deborah Craeger with Chambers Construction, Beth Lynch with Sierra Pacific Industries, and Kelly Wood with Wildish Sand and Gravel.

The Springfield Chamber is a strong supporter of Career and Technical Education, and have been engaging with K-12 schools and LCC in bringing industry to the table around this work for years.

“Building a local pool of qualified talent is incredibly important to our business community, and for our traded sector industries in particular,” said Paige Walters, Director of Business Development and Partnerships for the Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Other panelists were Jessica Auxier with Reynolds Plumbing and Electric and Amelia Wild, LCC welding student.

“It’s really inspiring and empowering to see all these women in the room who want to go into the trades,” Auxier said. 

Sontag asked the panel questions that were submitted in advance from students, community members and college staff. Here are some of the top discussions of the evening: 

What helped you or would have helped you get into the trades?

For Wood, “getting familiar and comfortable with hard work” from a young age played a role for her. She told a story of her father bringing her to his job sites, to help out. “He would hand us a broom and we’d be sweeping up sawdust … it built a confidence in us, just being on those job sites and understanding how things worked,” she said. 

Wood remembers doing lots of chores, like mowing neighbors lawns when she was a kid. “It definitely gave me the confidence when it came to my first kind of industry job,” Wood said. At first, she was working on a drill crew doing subsurface investigations with a driller and a drill helper. “I needed to really be tough in that transition,” she said. 

What is the best approach for a woman to enter the trades workforce?

LCC student Lily Rivera welds through LCC’s Fabrication and Welding Technology Program

For Wild, she didn’t have any experience before starting the welding program at LCC. Wild recommends “jumping in,” “getting your feet wet,” and “finding the path that does fit for you and isn’t too difficult. There are challenges, physical and mental, but if it’s something that works for you and you find rewarding, it’s a good place to be,” she said. 

Auxier recommends finding a person that can mentor you. “I started working for Reynolds because I was inspired by our president who is a woman (Celeste Marshall) … I said, ‘I want her to mentor me because she is doing some incredible things as a woman in a male dominant industry, and I want to link arms with her and partner with her,’” said Auxier.

Auxier is willing to take on this role herself, offering to take students out for coffee, giving tours of the warehouse and introducing them to plumbers and electricians.

What is the best way for female student going into the trades to handle sexual harassment?

Watt has had experience eradicating harassment in her career and usually answers this question with one of her own: “Do you have any daughters and granddaughters?” she asked. She says faces light up when others respond they do. “What if they came home with a story about how they were made to feel at work today. How would you feel about that?” 

After admitting they’d be mad, Watt reminds them to “run any comments through your filter next time.”

“That generally shuts potential situations down. Just trying to personalize things,” she said. 

For Auxier, she encourages women to speak up about their experiences. 

“If you ever get into that situation, I hope that you can speak up and go to HR, because it’s not acceptable. They can’t do anything if they don’t know … If we don’t speak up, nothing will happen,” she said. 

Wood added another recommendation. “I absolutely agree you need to tell somebody but from what I’ve seen and it has nothing special to do with this industry … It’s not uncommon for it to be nipped in the bud if you have the confidence to say ‘that’s inappropriate, and I don’t appreciate it.’ Oftentimes this is a lot more effective than you think. Calling it out kind of shuts them down and I think it helps improve the culture … If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, certainly you need to go to HR, but I think sometimes that’s actually a more immediate correction and can help everybody.” 

How did you overcome the fear that you wouldn’t be good enough for this work?

“Once you get more confident in yourself and learn what you’re doing, the fear just automatically drops away. You just have to take that first step,” Lynch said.

Watt encourages having “confidence,” “curiosity” and a “willingness to learn.” She shared some advice her grandmother gave her that she will never forget: “God gave you two ears and one mouth. So listen twice as hard than when you speak.”  

Craeger also went back to advice she was given as a young person, saying, “The only person you need to answer to is the one looking back at you in the mirror. So show up and do your best. Whether you’re cleaning your room, shining your shoes or going to work. If you feel good about what you’ve done, you don’t need to worry about the pushback you get … I think that looking back now in my career, that’s probably the best piece of advice I grew up with.”



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