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Jodi Guetzloe Parker: Oregon’s First Female Building Trades Council Head

Jodi Guetzloe Parker OTI Blog

It’d be impossible to talk about female leaders in the NW construction trades without mentioning Jodi Guetzloe Parker. As the second woman to ever lead a building trades council in the United States (she was elected executive secretary treasurer of the 25-craft Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council in 2012), Guetzloe Parker has become somewhat of a role model for women, even beyond state lines.

But though she’s now spent over two decades in the trades – initially as a Cement Mason, then a rank-and-file member, elected official, and staffer at the Laborers Union Local 320 — the mother of one, stepmother of three, and grandmother of four came to the trades for the same reason many do: she couldn’t afford not to.

The self-deprecating Guetzloe Parker says the catalyst was losing her wallet, and with it, a bonus she’d received from her minimum wage job with a clothing company many years ago. “My friend [a Cement Mason] said, if that small amount of money is so impactful in your life, you need to join our apprenticeship program,” Guetzloe Parker says.

She couldn’t argue. She’d been working since she was 15, when she slung hamburgers at a carhop at a drive-in café (unless you count sweeping the floor for lunch money at six years old in her neighbor’s garage) – and at times still depended on social services to raise her kid.

“Thank God for public assistance because that carried us through,” Guetzloe Parker remembers. The subsidies were put to good use. “I’m a good investment! I’ve paid a lot of taxes and donate a lot of money. Social programs are so necessary, and have a good return.”

Guetzloe Parker grew up in Kamiah, Idaho, having her daughter when she was 20 years old and moving to Vancouver, Washington when she was 21. There she started cleaning hotel rooms, worked at Hi-School Pharmacy, a baby clothes company, and finally became a member of the Cement Masons at 32 years old.

Something clicked. “I was able to be outside, go to work, get dirty, and not worry about if my shirt was pressed for my $8/hour job,” Guetzloe Parker tells us. Finally, the single mom was on track to being able to independently support her family.

Her rise involved a fair amount of self discipline. “One of the things that make me who I am is being sober for 25 years,” says the building trades leader. “I have to do things to maintain that sobriety, but it’s part of what makes me a better leader.”

Unfortunately, a back injury derailed her career for one “horrible” year – at one point she was told she’d never be able to lift anything over five pounds again. Against the expectations of some of her doctors she returned, becoming a secondary list traffic flagger, then traffic control supervisor for Stacy and Whitbeck. She moved through various jobs with the Laborers – punch list foreman, quality control inspector –  before running for an auditor’s office at the union. From there, she was hired at a staff position, eventually leading to last year’s election as the head of the building trades council.

What’s it like to be a female leader in the trades? “It’s tough,” Guetzloe Parker says. “And I’ve always been tough on myself. But you have to always give 110 percent, and I listen. I think I’m pretty good at letting people talk – I want to listen to them.”

Because, as she’s quick to point out, no one succeeds entirely on their own. “Bill Bruce [Stacy and Witbeck’s Interstate Light Rail superintendent] was my mentor,” Guetzloe Parker says. “He took me from a flagger to traffic control supervisor and to punch list foreman. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. He told me, “You grow, or you go.” She grew.

When it comes to advice for the next generation of women in the trades, Guetzloe Parker begins, “Take a deep breathe. Carry on. We have resources everywhere. Develop friendships with men and women. Lean into them. “

Which is not to say, go soft. “And never let somebody take your tools away,” Guetzloe Parker concludes, with a smile.

Posted on by OTI Staff in Apprentice, Career Path, tradeswomen, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lisa Ostrom: “The girl” becomes the foreman

Lisa Ostrom OTI Blog

Back when Lisa Ostrom was growing up in Clark County, Washington, there were no opportunities for the young tomboy to play sports. But there was woodshop. Ostrom took four years of woodworking classes in high school. Small wonder that now she’s a foreman on Hoffman Construction’s Intel project in Beaverton.

Or at least, she was. And she will be again – but for the moment, the 53 year old is dealing with another challenge: ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed this year with stage three tumors after noticing some irregular stomach bloat, and has been plowing through rounds of chemotherapy while she waits to be deemed able to get back on the job.

“I get bored easy at home,” Ostrom tells us, once again outfitted in her hard hat and safety vest on the day that she is interviewed by Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.

It’s clear that Ostrom’s workmates miss her as much as she misses them. An endless parade of peers come up to give her hugs, ask her about her wellbeing – nothing too technical, just enough to show to even the casual observer that she’s an integral part of the Hoffman team.

But there was a time when a woman working on a building trades site was not that common of a sight. After working at a teen clothing store, doing inventory and purchasing for a bearings company, furniture store, and Custom Aluminum, Ostrom got a job flagging on the Delta Interchange. Her employer, Kiewit, liked her and suggested that she join the Laborers.

“I would have liked to join the Operators,” Ostrom remembers. “But that takes confidence – back then I didn’t have any.” After working with the Laborers for a spell, she joined the Carpenters, never looking back after working on the Bonneville Locks for nine months, and a number of bridges and water treatment plants shortly thereafter.  

Back in those days, it was rare to see woman on the job. “I was known as ‘the girl’ for a while, because there wasn’t very many girls at that time,” Ostrom says. But she took it upon herself to find team equilibrium, studying the way her coworkers did their jobs – right down to what they wore. “I just tried to dress like they did,” says Ostrom. “Sweatshirt, Levi’s, I didn’t try to wear makeup.”

At 37 years old, she started working for Hoffman. There, she became a foreman, overseeing the work of others. At first, she tells us, she played it stern. “Some of the guys around here may remember me from back then,” she laughs. But after awhile, the job – and developments in her personal life – taught her that oftentimes success comes with softening up a little.

“You get the job done faster if you can all communicate,” Ostrom reflects. “You have to know when to diffuse certain situations.” She says the company places a premium on positive feedback and supervisors who can keep their cool in high pressure situations.

After our interview, she tells us she’s off to speak with her supervisor about coming back to her job in a way that will mesh with her ongoing chemo sessions.

She drums her neatly manicured nails on the table when we ask her what her advice is for women entering the trades – she’s worked at Oregon Tradeswoman, Inc.’s  annual Women in Trades Career Fair for a number of years, so it’s a question that she’s used to answering.

“You gotta listen and learn,” she says. Make sure you really think hard about the profession you’re choosing. “As long as you’re willing to do that, the guys are willing to help you.”

Ostrom should know a thing or two about conquering difficult situations – the responsibility she’s entrusted with on the job serves as proof she’s mastered the skills of her trade. And the challenge of going into a field where women were once rarities can’t be as all consuming as Ostrom’s experiences with chemotherapy – but perhaps the rules have some similarities.

Says the sunny, tough tradeswoman: “The first time you feel like giving up, you feel so sore. But then you go in again, and you see everyone is going through the same thing.”

“I think the trades have made me more outgoing,” she reflects. “I think they can really bring out the best in you.”

Posted on by OTI Staff in Apprentice, Career Path, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tyrone Belgarde: One Determined Construction Estimator

Tyrone Belgarde OTI Blog

It’s hard to believe that at one point Tyrone Belgarde had an attitude problem. Nowadays, the Oregonian is a valued, longtime member of the team at Knife River’s Tangent, Oregon offices. The 39 year old has been with the company for nearly 20 years, and has risen from an entry-level Laborer position on the grading crew to his current position as Construction and Estimation Manager.

“He’s one of the nicest guys,” his coworker says to us admiringly when we visit to talk to Belgarde about becoming a building trades leader.

Maybe he always was the helpful man we see during our interview, but circumstances were such that in his early days as a worker, Belgarde was a bit difficult to keep employed. His parents divorced when he was five years old, leaving his dad to deal with his addiction problems apart from the family. Belgarde and his mom and siblings moved around a lot. He went to boot camp before his senior year of high school, and graduated from South Albany High School by the skin of his teeth before returning to boot camp for his second stint.  He enrolled and dropped out of Linn-Benton Community College at age 18. “I didn’t have enough money, was too immature to go to college,” he says.

Shortly thereafter he found work at an underground utility company in Salem. “It was not good,” he said. “I was a jerk and got fired – I deserved to get fired!”

Belgarde says he’s not sure what caused his transformation into responsible worker, but it happened sometime during his years at Knife River (originally Morse Brothers when he was first hired).

“It was quite a culture shock,” he says of the professional pace of jobs there. But he found his rhythm, landing a spot as an apprentice in the paving crew. “They said ‘if you want us to invest in you, to teach you how to pave, this is your opportunity.”

So he dug in, moving from Paving Crew Laborer to Roller Operator, to Screed  and Paving Operator, to Paving Foreman, working jobs from Portland to Eugene. By the time he was 29, he had two daughters and a son. He now teaches occasional classes for Grand Ronde and Siletz Native Americans through the Northwest College of Construction. He honors his father’s heritage by participating in tribal events, sending his kids to culture camp to learn about being Native.

But still: “When I talk about things like vision – I don’t have a long term vision. When people talk about your five year goal – well I have a goal to get through today.”

That attention to the task at hand, perhaps, is part of what makes him a good leader. “Identifying a problem, figuring out your options, and acting,” Belgarde says, is his general way of moving through work. He places a high value on teaching, as a leader in his workplace.

And when he sees a position he wanted, he goes for it whole-hog. Take estimation work – Belgarde showed up to observe Knife River estimators for free during part of a winter, absorbing the information with such commitment that management took him on, first at minimum wage, then as a full-fledged member of the team. Now he’s a manager who is working on a $10 million Newport airport project, the only worker in his part of the office without a college degree.

He says that working in the trades has made it possible to provide for his family, and it’s satisfying to boot. “I can’t drive anywhere without seeing a driveway or a parking lot that we’ve built. You remember all the funny stuff from that site, like the person who spilled oil all over the place,” he laughs.

When he’s asked about advice for beginning building trades folks, Belgarde is hardly at a loss. “Always move forward. Always ask questions about what you need to work on. Don’t expect others to do it for you.”

Posted on by OTI Staff in Apprentice, Career Path, Construction Estimator, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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