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OTI Alumnae Spotlight: Meet Vanessa Enos!

Vanessa Enos is both an accomplished artist and journey level tradeswoman! She grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in NE Oregon and went to high school there, and after graduation, attended Blue Mountain Community College on a basketball scholarship. After a year in community college, Vanessa decided to move to Philadelphia, PA to attend Moore College of Art and Design to focus on illustration. While she loved art school, Vanessa made the decision to leave after her first year but, continued to live and work in the city for another four years. This was an important time in Vanessa’s life where she was discovering her strengths and passions, and realizing she didn’t want to stay in the retail and service industry jobs that kept her in the stressful cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

After being on her own for five years, Vanessa moved back to the reservation to work as a Head Start teacher while also serving as a Wildland Firefighter for four seasons during her summers. Vanessa was drawn to this work because it was a passion of a close family friend who passed away and she wanted first hand experience of the work he loved so much. She candidly recalls how hard the training was and how many people doubted that she would make it due to being a woman and her small stature. But, with her now legendary grit and determination, Vanessa passed the test and proved herself as a Wildland Firefighter.

After her fourth summer of Wildland Firefighting, Vanessa craved a change of focus in her life as she was slipping into a hard-partying lifestyle that no longer served her. She moved to Portland to attend treatment at NARA Rehabilitation Center and found under the table construction work that helped her get back on her feet. Years before her move to Portland, Vanessa had received a call from her friend Feather Sams-Huesties, who frequently did career outreach for women and was a professional contact of Connie Ashbrook, OTI Executive Director. Feather told Vanessa about OTI’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) and about what a great fit she would be for the program. Vanessa remembered this conversation and reached back out to Feather once she was settled in Portland to learn more about OTI and how she could get started.

When she is asked by people “why the laborers union?” Vanessa confidently replies, “If you want to be great you’ve got to start at the bottom”.

With encouragement from Feather, Vanessa enrolled in OTI’s Spring 2014 TACC class when she was 32 years old and was accepted into a laborers apprenticeship program before she even finished the program. When she is asked by people “why the laborers union?” Vanessa confidently replies, “If you want to be great you’ve got to start at the bottom”. She loves her trade for the variety of skills she is able to learn and the fast paced atmosphere that has allowed her to become a “jill of all trades”.

Today, three years after finishing OTI’s TACC program, Vanessa is a Journeyman Laborer with a soft spot for concrete. She candidly explains, “not many females do it (concrete work), but I love it!” Currently she’s working as the Vibrator Hand for Howard S. Wright on the old Grove Hotel Building in China Town, making $28.77 an hour. She is getting to do exactly what she hoped to be doing, which is climbing the columns and pouring the walls of the structures she works on. But, she had to work hard to get to this place.

In her past job, Vanessa noticed she was being passed over for more skilled roles on the job site, leaving her stuck with mucking concrete even after journeying out. She asked her foreman why she wasn’t able to do what the new guys were doing and if it had anything to do with the fact that she was a woman. One of her coworkers chimed in, stating, “Vanessa, we’re all thinking it but we can’t say it. Yes, it’s because you’re a girl”. This is not something that Vanessa was willing to accept and she advocated for herself to ensure she was learning the skills she needed to be successful in her field. Unfortunately, Vanessa was slowly being transitioned to cleaning crews and pulled from more and more skilled tasks on the job site.

“No matter how hard you try to prove yourself in the trades, when you want to do something you typically get a million excuses why you can’t. It’s called pigeon holing; they never let you go to your full potential”.

This can be a common experience for women in the trades, but luckily not all companies function this way. Vanessa called up her old supervisor at Howard S. Wright and let him know she wasn’t happy in her current job and laid out the terms of what she would need to switch to a different company. He enthusiastically accepted and Vanessa felt really empowered to have left a job that wasn’t offering her the opportunities she was seeking and successfully advocate for a job that would build her skill set.

While Vanessa loves her career, she finds that sexual harassment on the job site is still extremely prevalent, “there’s all sorts of harassment out there, it’s just about you setting firm boundaries and nipping it in the butt”. She notes that dealing with issues of harassment in such a direct way can be hard for new apprentices, but at the end of the day, it’s important to let your coworkers know that “I’m not here for your entertainment or for your pleasure. I’m not here for eye candy”. Apprentices are there to work and learn skills so they can advance and earn a living just like all the other workers.

When you ask Vanessa about her goals for the future she excitedly answers, “the sky’s the limit!” She would like to work her way through the ranks to become a foreman, noting that her union has a lot of plans for her and the leadership she has the aptitude to grow into. She would also like to work as a recruiter to get more women into the trades; especially focusing on outreach to Native American women on reservations.

While Vanessa is a bad-ass tradeswoman by day, she is also a talented artist with a piece of work in the Smithsonian! She wants to further nourish her passion for art and to continue to leave her mark on the world as an artist through her favored mediums of print-making and oil painting, while also advancing her trades and career building skills. We agree that the sky is the limit for Vanessa and we are excited to see all that she is bound to accomplish. Check out Vanessa in our Intro to Apprenticeship Video!

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

OTI Alumnae Spotlight: Meet Eleni Vournas!

otw-239cropChange seems to be a powerful constant in Eleni Vournas’ life. Originally from Honduras, she was adopted at a young age by a Greek/ American family and spent a few years on a ranch in Montana. When she was four years old, her family moved to Kalamata, Greece, where she spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence. It was in Greece where her passion for traveling was cemented. At twenty years old, after completing two years of computer programming college course work at the University of Piraeus, Eleni decided to move back to the United States to restart her degree. Four years later she graduated from University of Portland with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Psychology.

Following graduation, Eleni went to Haiti to volunteer for 16 months. While living there, she worked on many construction projects and quickly fell in love with carpentry. It was her goal to continue in the construction field when she returned to Portland, but to her dismay, she found it was nearly impossible for a young woman to find work in the field with the level of experience she had. Given this barrier, Eleni chose to pursue a career that would allow her to use her degree in Psychology. She began working at a local non-profit as a Pediatric Psychiatric Technician; she was paid $11.83 an hour at this job. Though Eleni enjoyed aspects of her job, she found herself getting burned out and still dreaming about a job in the construction field that would allow her to continue to fund her passion for traveling.

A couple years ago, when Eleni was 27 years old, her aunt sent her a newspaper article in The Oregonian about Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. (OTI). After learning about the pre-apprenticeship program offered by OTI she immediately enrolled and has never looked back! Eleni graduated from the Trades and Apprenticeships Career Class with perfect attendance, high praise from her instructors and peers, and was also asked to be the student speaker at her graduation. She was honored to receive this recognition and enthusiastically organized a flash mob with her peers – to the delight of the OTI instructors, friends and family in attendance!


Today, just two years after graduating from OTI’s pre-apprenticeship class, Eleni is 80% finished with her general carpenters apprenticeship and is now making $29.25 an hour — more than double the highest wage she made, with a college degree, before entering the trades. Eleni works for Hoffman Structures Inc. on an exciting new project at the campus of Oregon Health and Sciences University. Eleni has also taken advantage of the free trainings she is able to access though her membership in the Northwest Carpenters Union and has completed a rigging certification, which she finds to be really exciting work.

For Eleni, OTI opened the door to the Carpenters Union, provided her information about all of her options, and also answered all of the questions she was struggling to answer on her own before enrolling in OTI’s program. Eleni was also given access to a support group of strong female instructors and peers who share a passion for work in the trades. She still keeps in contact with many of them today.

If Eleni could give advice to other women who are considering work in the trades, she would tell them that it is definitely worth trying! She believes that the tangible skills she learned while in the trades as well as the things she has discovered about herself are priceless. She also feels really proud to be representing OTI on the job because people in the industry know and respect the advocacy work OTI does to get women started in high-skilled trades careers.

From a practical point of view, she also believes that graduating from the Trades and Apprenticeships Career Class helped her get hired faster due to the legacy that OTI holds in the Portland Community.

In the future, Eleni plans to complete her apprenticeship to become a journey level
carpenter and would eventually like to move up to a foreman position. But, Eleni’s passion for traveling and her inspiring ability to take risks has not been tamped out. Eleni dreams of also pursuing a degree in the medical field and coupling that knowledge with her existing construction skills in order to bring much needed services to third world countries. We applaud her ambition and vision! For now, Eleni is loving her life as a member of the NW Carpenters Union and finds the work she does to be thrilling.


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

OTI Alumnae Spotlight: Ash Jimenez

We were so excited to see OTI alumnae, Ash Jimenez, featured in the spring 2017 edition of Portland Community College Communities! In an article titled Made of Metal: Forging the path for a new generation of women welders, Ash talks about her path to a career in the trades industry and where she sees herself headed in the future.

Ash graduated our Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class in 2015 and was able to attend thanks to a generous scholarship provided by Metro. After graduation, Ash got a job with REACH Community Development, as a maintenance technician making $17/hour. While Ash enjoyed her job and the financial stability it offered, she knew she wanted to continue to hone her construction skills in order to advance her career and was particularly interested in learning more about welding.

The author of the article, Celeste Hamilton Dennis, writes

“When she (Ash) found out about a new scholarship opportunity to continue her studies at PCC, she knew she had to go for it. “I’ve never welded before. I didn’t know if I’d even like it, if I’d be good at it, or if I could ever do it”, she said. “Luckily I’m very stubborn so that helped.” Jimenez is the first recipient of a new PCC Foundation scholarship created by prominent community leader and educational champion Evelyn Crowell. The scholarship supports students who are underrepresented in the trades, including women and students of color. Jimenez couldn’t be prouder to carry on Evelyn’s legacy as a trailblazer for women. “I can’t disappoint all these people who are so proud of me,” she said.”

This scholarship enabled Ash to study welding at the PCC/Vigor Maritime Welding Center, where she attended night classes in order to learn TIG welding. When asked why she chose welding she said, “I love that welding is definitely not a woman’s world,” she said. “I like knowing I’m continuing to break through.”

Dennis also writes, “Much of Oregon’s aging welding workforce is expected to retire, leaving a gap for a new generation to step up and take their place” and graduates like Ash “are able to exit the program prepared for a living wage career as a welder whose work will literally create the steel bones of ships, barges, buildings, and bridges”.

“Jimenez’s ultimate dream after completing the program is to weld stainless steel fermentation tanks for brewers and winemakers”, what an awesome dream! In the meantime though, we were proud to hear that Ash’s hard work has paid off and she has accepted full time work with Steelab as a Welder and Fabricator.

Ash’s success has been earned by her hard work and determination, but it is also a great example of what can be achieved when women are provided the information, training and support needed to enter nontraditional careers.

You can find the full article online in the spring 2017 edition of Portland Community College Communities!


Posted on by OTI Staff in Career Path, Community Partners, OTI Graduates, tradeswomen | Leave a comment

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