Oregon’s manufacturing sector was hit hard by the recession but is now growing twice as fast as the overall economy.

Manufacturing is projected to grow a whopping 19 percent by 2022, adding nearly 17,000 jobs to the state workforce.

However, despite the opportunities, the state has a traditional manufacturing workforce that’s 75 percent male, compared to 53 percent for all industries.

Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. has been trying to remedy that.

A presence in Oregon since 1989, the nonprofit has been moving more women into manufacturing jobs — building, mechanical, electrical, utility and highway construction trades — through education, leadership and mentorship.

In 2014 it had a big boost from a Bank of America Neighborhood Builders grant, similar to the Urban League.

Connie Ashbrook, executive director, says the $200,000 in unrestricted funds was used to launch a pilot program for Women in Metals & Manufacturing, which prepares 80 women per year for jobs in the industry and teaches another 1,200 girls annually about the trades.

The funds also helped 10 women attend a “Try it Day,” one day in September 2015 at Mt. Hood Community College. Two of the women went on to study manufacturing at the community college level, thanks to the Tradeswomen’s help with the application, interview process and seven-week pre-apprenticeship program.

The next Try it Day is set for Feb. 26 at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus; registration is now open.

As with the Urban League, the Neighborhood Builders grant set the Tradeswomen on an upward trajectory, Ashbrook says — with leadership training, networking connections, and volunteer recruitment.

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Another success story

Dress for Success Oregon, the 2012 recipient of Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders grant, has seen an equally significant boost from the corporate investment and partnership.

The nonprofit is a chapter of the international women’s empowerment organization, one of the oldest in the country and most successful in the world, Oregon Executive Director Shari Dunn says.

Specifically, the grant helped Dress for Success launch and strengthen its job retention program for women who are either unemployed, under-employed or just getting back on their feet. The organization has a class training program and a clothing store, since a professional wardrobe is critical for job success.

In 2014, Dunn says 600 women gained jobs through the program, contributing $15 million to the local economy. And it served a total of 1,500 women with various needs who walked through the door.

“Before the grant, we kept the clothes in a back room,” Dunn says. “Now there’s a dedicated area, with a kitchen, so they can come from work and have a meal, and we provide childcare” during meetings, which sometimes include a speaker from the local business community.

Other Dress for Success programs that expanded through the grant were Fast Track, which helps women find jobs through job coaching.

And Hope, which helps women through the first 90 days of their employment by teaching them soft skills such as how to manage their money and deal with conflict in the workplace. One-hundred percent of the women who participated in this program retained their jobs after 90 days.

“Our goal is not to have people come into minimum-wage jobs and stay there, but to transition” into family-wage careers, Dunn says.

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