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OTI Alumnae Spotlight: Meet Erin West!

“Becoming a plumber is one of the most reasonable decisions I have ever made in my life; it’s real work, a job that can’t be taken by robots, very rewarding, and allows me to offer a service that makes people happy”.

Erin West is a 36-year-old mother, worker’s rights activist, and plumbing apprentice. She grew up in a military family and subsequently moved around quite a bit as a child. She graduated high school in Idaho, where she was first introduced to trades work through a welding class she took and loved.

After high school Erin wanted to take a year off to explore different career tracks but due to the societal pressures surrounding the necessity of a college degree that were very strong in the late 1990’s, she relocated to Seattle where she attended University of Washington and earned her Bachelors of Arts in English. After living in Seattle for 12 years and before settling in Portland in 2015, Erin also lived in Los Angeles, where she gave birth to her now 3-year-old daughter, Erda

Prior to attending OTI’s Trades and Apprenticeship Career Class (TACC) in 2015, the bulk of Erin’s professional work centered on the service industry, namely as a food and beverage manger at various bars and restaurants. As a manager in these establishments, Erin enjoyed solving the puzzle of successfully diagnosing and fixing plumbing related problems and felt really rewarded when she was able to do it on her own and she always strove to hire tradeswomen to make the repairs that she couldn’t fix herself. Erin’s partner is a Portland native, who had heard about OTI and passed the information on to Erin prior to their move to the city. Upon moving to Portland, Erin immediately enrolled in the TACC program and has never looked back.

Erin entered TACC with a fondness for plumbing but was grateful to get to learn about all of her options in the trades industry before ultimately finding that plumbing was indeed the trade for her. She speaks very fondly of the special dynamic that was fostered between her and her fellow tradeswomen during the 7-week clscc, and still keeps in touch with most of them. For her, the community of women she found through OTI has been integral to her success and continued interest in pursuing this work because “it’s hard to do without a network of people that care about you and can provide social and emotional support.”

She also offers this important reminder for women who are just starting their careers in the trades industry and may be doubting themselves, “It is important to remember that apprenticeships are geared towards 19-year-old boys, as a woman, you’ve got this!”

After completing the TACC program Erin entered straight into an open-shop plumbing apprenticeship with Ackerman Plumbing, a small, family owned business in Clackamas, OR. Prior to entering the trades Erin’s highest wage was about $30,000 per year, but this salary came with an inconsistent schedule, working late nights, and little ability to move up in the industry.

In her 2nd year of a four year apprenticeship, Erin makes about $43,000 per year and is able to work a consistent schedule that allows her get home in time for dinner with her partner and daughter. On the days that she isn’t feeling as excited about the work, because everyone has those days, Erin is reminded that by being out in the community and visible in the work truck, she is allowing other women to see that this job is a viable career option for them, too.

Once she completes her apprenticeship and journeys out, Erin has dreams of opening or co-owning her own service company where she has the ability to provide sliding scale services and can offer her expertise to community members that may feel more comfortable with a woman in their home. She is also interested in potentially becoming an inspector some day.

When asked how OTI has helped her get to where she is today, Erin responds that “there is no way I would have been confident enough to approach an apprenticeship without the training I received from the teachers at OTI”. The trades are such a hidden industry for women and she is passionate about increasing visibility so that women know it is a viable career option.

Since graduation Erin has stayed very active with OTI and has donated her time and wisdom many times in order to help us attain our shared goal of increasing access to the trades.  Erin has also fixed a couple leaky pipes in the office for us and was named volunteer of the year recently for all of her support. Erin, we are so lucky to have you in our community! Thank you!

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454 SE 187th Avenue, Portland, OR 97233; phone: 503.335.8200  |  fax: 503.249.0445