Empowering options

Douglas County students find inspiration at Tradeswomen’s Career Fair

Making students aware of the many possibilities that await them after high school graduation is a top goal of Douglas County Partners for Student Success as we strive to open doors for them to succeed.

While the traditional path to a university or college continues to be the best choice for some students, others may find that a future in the trades can be just as fruitful. Yoncalla High School teacher and AVID District Director Chelsea Ross refers to the trades as the “other type of college.”

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Ross
Douglas County students pose with participants at the Tradeswomen Career Fair.

“It is important for students to learn about jobs they might not have thought were an option for them,” Ross said. “We have a generation of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers and much more that are retiring and too few are entering those fields. This is going to create a labor shortage, and being exposed to these careers makes students knowledgeable and think of them as a viable option for themselves.”

Ross in particular wants to make sure female students are aware that such fields are open to them as well. That’s one reason she took a group of students in May to the Oregon Tradeswomen’s Career Fair in Portland.

The 26th annual fair put on by Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. featured companies, unions and registered apprenticeship programs that provided workshops and hands-on activities and hosted exhibit booths. Ironworkers, laborers, mechanics, construction works, police officers and others demonstrated their skills and shared information about their careers with attendees. Ross said the majority of the presenters, organizers and volunteers are women.

Ross began attending the event when she worked at Phoenix Charter School in Roseburg several years ago. Phoenix front office coordinator Sam Batman organized the yearly visits for students, and Ross credits Batman for sparking her passion for the event and the trades.

Ross traveled with eight Yoncalla students this year, and Batman attended with 12 Phoenix students. Both groups hold various fundraisers and use grant funding to cover the costs of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Ross
A Yoncalla High School student tries her hand at climbing a pole at the Tradeswomen Career Fair.

“Oftentimes, women and especially young girls, do not feel as though the trades are an option for them,” Ross said. “So having this opportunity to be surrounded by strong, powerful, independent women is an amazing opportunity.”

Batman said she began bringing students to the fair in 2011. Her inspiration was her own upbringing, during which she was pushed toward traditional female roles of being a mother, a teacher, a secretary or a nurse.

“If I had a career fair to go to like the one OTI provides, my life would have been drastically different,” Batman said. “I want our girls to know that it is an option and that they are wanted by the industry.”

She believes the students gain empowerment by attending. She recalls the first year she went to the event and convinced a particularly introverted student to come along. The student, who rarely initiated conversation or made eye contact with people, was hesitant. But at the event, the girl suddenly decided to try to climb a telephone pole with the help of a journey-woman.

“She was so positive and encouraging,” Batman said of the journey-woman. “Her strength and confidence was contagious. My student was brand-new after coming down … She led the way around the rest of the day to our workshops, asking questions, being confident. She was changed forever that day.”

The Yoncalla students who attended this year’s event also walked away inspired.

Ninth-grader Kiley McHaffie learned how to weld and how to build a birdhouse while she was there, and also learned about brick laying and what it takes to be a police officer and a firefighter. Women in these jobs, she said, “rock.”

“I was able to meet a female sheriff from Washington County who was amazing,” McHaffie said. “She was the first woman sheriff in her area, and she has inspired me to become a police officer.”

Eleventh-grader Makayla Cranford was also impressed with the police officers, and enjoyed trying on law enforcement gear. She also experienced life as an ironworker when she climbed an I-Beam.

“This event really made me come out of my comfort zone,” Cranford said. “I was inspired by the many powerful women and was surprised by what I am actually capable of doing.”

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