Oregon Diversity Program Wins Accolades
September 29, 2014
Having a reputation for building a diverse workforce is, by itself, an advantage in a progressive city like Portland, Ore., but having a reputation for professionalism and productivity is an advantage everywhere.
Bridget Quinn will receive a Woman of Vision award at a ceremony Sept. 25. She is one of 40 women chosen by the editors of the Daily Journal of Commerce from more than 100 nominees for their contributions to architecture, engineering and construction throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.
“It means a lot to me,” Quinn said. “Equal opportunity and affirmative action can be very hot topics, so it was really nice to see that my work, and the importance of doing it, has been appreciated.”
When Training Director Rod Belisle created the workforce development coordinator position in 2011, he already had Quinn in mind for the job. Quinn topped out in 2008 and was already a steward at the Portland airport remodel. Belisle said he was looking for someone who could respond to inquiries from community groups and potential apprentices from groups that were historically underrepresented in Local 48’s membership, particularly women.
“She has gone well beyond that original goal,” Belisle said. “Through her outreach and networking, we at Local 48 are known to be open to new thoughts and new people; that women belong in the trades and we encourage them to come down, not because it is required but because they are valuable to us.”
Belisle said Quinn gives dozens, of presentations each year at high schools, community groups, job fairs, street fairs, anything to help spread the word about the benefits and opportunities of becoming a union electrician. She also launched and manages the apprenticeship’s social media presence.
The goal, Quinn said, was to make sure Local 48 was getting the best possible candidates.
“The workforce generally is very diverse, so if we limit the population we recruit from we will limit the ability of our contractors to bid and win work,” Quinn said. “But in communities that don’t know much about industry, don’t see workers every day who are happy and well-situated, we have to make sure they know the truth about a career in the trades.”
In the months before an open application period, Quinn said her role is less about casting the net and more about preparing the best prospects for the vetting process. She will work with any applicant that comes to her for help, whether they need advice on writing a resume that highlights their strengths or someone to conduct mock interviews until they are comfortable with the process.
If they aren’t accepted, Quinn says she talks to them about what could strengthen their application and encourages them not to give up.
“If they are not successful, I always connect with them once or twice more, find out what happened and encourage them not to give up,” she said. “Most people apply more than once and I remind them that we do want them in our workforce.”
More than anything else, it is that attention to keeping the prospects she recruits that makes Quinn so indispensable, Belisle said, especially once they are in the apprenticeship. She helps them adjust to the culture of construction site and solve problems that come up that apprentices might not want to bring to him or their supervisor.
“No one wants to be seen as a whiner, so there some legitimate concerns we never heard about. Very often the problems they are bringing to our attention are about maintaining a professional work environment,” Belisle said. “Recruit all you want, but unless you have someone there to make sure they feel wanted it won’t be worth very much.”
Belisle said because of that improved communication, on-the-job disruptions created by unprofessional behavior of all kinds have been reduced. It has helped retention, but it has also improved productivity overall and further solidified Local 48’s reputation in the community and with contractors.
“If every training center had someone like Bridget, I think we would be able to revolutionize the way the public sees construction workers,” Belisle said. “It is one thing to do this in Portland, but if we did this everywhere, it would be impossible for anyone to see us the same old way.”