PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland non-profit that helps women get free training for careers in the trades has moved from inner northeast Portland to the Rockwood neighborhood bordering Gresham.

Oregon Tradeswomen now has its first ever in-house workshop, which makes training more consistent, Executive Director Kelly Kupcak told KOIN 6 News.

“We can control the content, we can control the curriculum. So everyone is coming through with the same competencies. That will prepare them for the industry,” she said.

Oregon Tradeswomen has moved to outer east Portland, bordering Gresham, which makes it more central to support services. February 5, 2020 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

The hands-on training previously relied on doing projects with partnering organizations.

The new location at 484 SE 187th Ave., which the organization moved into last month, also benefits from being more centrally located to support services, Kupcak said. It is a renovated 8,300 square foot space part of the 5.5-acre Rockwood Rising development.

The 4,000 square foot on-site workshop will also be host to new class offerings on nights and weekends that will begin this summer, to better serve women with part-time jobs.

Empowering women economically by helping them break through to higher wage jobs is the mission of the non-profit, which was founded in 1989.

Their hands-on pre-apprenticeship program is designed to be an introduction to multiple paths to the trades, be it construction, manufacturing, mechanical or utility.

Training Manager Brenda Gaynor said the eight week course teaches basic carpentry. The hand tools and power tools associated with that skill-set are applicable to the various trades, she explained.

The skilled trades employs less than five percent women nationwide, a disparity Oregon Tradeswomen is trying to help address. February 05, 2020 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

“You do start to get the twinkle in their eyes when they get introduced to these various trades,” Gaynor said.

Women across the country earn on average 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Economic segregation or the way women are often pigeon-holed into lower wage jobs is also a persistent problem nationwide, Kupcak said.

“In construction, nationally, women only make up three percent of the skilled trades workforce. Here in Oregon, it’s about eight percent. And we’re really proud of that but we know we have a lot further to go,” she said.

The economic gender disparity in the workforce was something deeply felt by Oregon Tradeswomen student Tracy Weber.

“I think there was a night that I sat alone after having a child and realizing my situation was not going to change unless I changed it myself,” she said.

Weber said she’d been passed up for promotions or paid less than her male counterparts in past jobs. Working for $15 per hour in a kitchen started to feel like a dead end.

Oregon Tradeswomen was founded in 1989 as a way to help women become economically empowered. January 5, 2020 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

That’s when she came upon Oregon Tradeswomen from a quick google search. She’s since been surprised at her own abilities three weeks into learning carpentry.

“I’m actually stronger than I thought I was, I’m buff. I’m like unlocking my beast mode, that’s how I feel,” Weber said with a laugh.

She added that receiving education and support services from Oregon Tradeswomen has been like seeing “a light at the end of the tunnel.” Weber said she was able to find childcare to attend the classes thanks to the the non-profit’s assistance.

Oregon Tradeswomen’s night and weekend class begins July 7. The first step to enroll in classes is attending an information session. Sign up to receive notifications for future information sessions–which are at no cost–on Oregon Tradeswomen’s website.