City & Government, Springfield

Skills of the Trades

Su gets hands on with Springfield’s workforce

SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su spent some time with a couple local organizations last Thursday to listen to personal stories, tour facilities, and take in information about the work industries here. She was accompanied by Oregon congresswoman Val Hoyle.

Their first stop was at the UA Local 290 College of Mechanical Systems and Technology where the duo was able to learn what being a tradesman entails and hear from fourth-year pipefitter apprentice Mariah Daughtery about how she wound up there.

As the 29-year-old mother of two waited in line to sign herself and her children up for food stamps and Medicaid, she saw a billboard advertising a pre-apprenticeship program for pipefitters which was geared toward single moms.

“At that point, I had nothing to lose,” Daughtery said. “I figured somebody could make that money, it might as well be me.”

Over the last four years in the trades, Daughtery said she has more than quadrupled her income, and within the first six months of being in the trades, she was completely off of all government assistance.

“The apprenticeship means so much to me because it has offered me and my family such a strong sense of independence,” she said. “I know I’m a contributing member to society. I know that I’m helping to build America.”

Hoyle said it’s detrimental that society has stigmatized going into the trades.

“For those of you like myself who were seriously affected by the ice storm, we’re still without water six weeks in, I am really looking forward to the electrician that will come in that will hook up our water,” she said. “These jobs are important, and they are needed, and they are not a second rate option.”

Daughtery said she wished she had learned about careers in the trades from a career counselor rather than a billboard. Su said that’s a very common thought among tradespeople, noting that there is work to be done in how these jobs are publicized.

“That’s a good call to action for those of us here, but certainly for the administration on how we are clear about the opportunities that are being created, who should get access to them, how to get access to them, and just how life changing they are,” Su said.

Su and Hoyle’s other stop was at Connected Lane County’s Spark at Booth-Kelly where they heard from the program’s youth, industry partners, and staff to take note of their perspectives on the labor industry. Heidi Larwick, Connected Lane County executive director, expressed some blind spots with what federal funding can be allocated toward as it pertains to bringing rural youth into the program regarding housing, food insecurity, and transportation.

Connected Lane County executive director Heidi Larwick (second from left) takes U.S. Secretary of Labor Julie Su (second from right) and Oregon congresswoman Val Hoyle (right) around the Spark at Booth-Kelly facility. Mayor Sean VanGordon attended this event and took part in the round table. 

“Just some of those little pieces that make it so they can be present in the training and be present in the job and not think about those barriers,” Larwick said. “Once they start to get those paychecks, then they can start to afford housing and food and transportation, but up until then, they need that support with some of those barriers.”

Su said what sets Oregon apart from the rest of the country is its commitment to not leaving anyone behind, which means focusing on marginalized individuals who historically have been.

“You’re seeing that in communities that really lean into: let’s break down barriers; let’s focus on the most vulnerable; let’s truly believe that everyone should be included,” Su said. “It can happen, and I just really salute Oregon for doing that in this moment.”



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