My name is Evan Serrill and I am a union sheet metal apprentice. I am a member of Local 16 in Portland, Oregon and have been in the trade for 13 months. Prior to beginning my apprenticeship in October, 2011, I was a non-union residential house painter for 4 years.
The apprenticeship at Local 16 is extremely competitive and I worked hard with the guidance of OTI to collect documents, pass placement tests and prepare for an interview at the union hall. I got into the apprenticeship on my first try in October of 2011. I put my name on the classified worker’s list immediately but was called to work as an apprentice before I had a chance to work as a classified worker. In some ways this put me at a disadvantage, as I was entirely unfamiliar with the specifics of the trade at the time I started the apprenticeship.
Before I began working in the trades I had a wide variety of jobs. I got my first job at the age of 15 as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the Albany Tennis Club in Albany, Oregon. I spent my summers at the pool and waited tables at two local restaurants in the off-season. After graduating from high school in 1996, I entered college in Northfield, Minnesota and later transferred to Portland State University. My college jobs included working in a music library, a gym, bartending at a dance club, managing an art gallery, and doing swing shift work at a copy and print center.
After graduating from PSU with a B.A. in fine arts in 2002, I got a job managing the office of a Portland candle manufacturer. I acted as liaison between the office and the manufacturing warehouse which allowed me to interact with people who worked with their hands for a living. I was intrigued.
My next job as a design consultant and customer service representative at a commercial paint store got me one step closer to the trades as I interacted with contractors on a daily basis. After two years at the paint company, I decided that I wanted to go into the painting business myself. Over my time selling paint, I had befriended a number of contractors and had received employment offers from three of them. I worked for two different companies before going into business for myself as a house painter which I did for two years.
I am a fast learner in general but the learning curve was very steep and my first few months on the job were extremely challenging. Only 2-5% of all sheet metal workers in the United States are woman and therefore I strongly believe that my behavior, attitude, and work ethic on the job are representational all women sheet metal workers. Keeping this in mind, I took my job very seriously from the beginning, conducting myself with maturity, never apologizing for my gender or lack of work experience, and working diligently at all times. My attitude and hard work paid off and I was afforded many opportunities in my first year that most sheet metal workers don’t experience until later in their careers.
In apprenticeship class, which I attend at the Local 16 Training Center five times a year, I heard stories of my classmates sweeping all day, assembling hardware for ten hours a day, and generally not being allowed to do anything requiring skill. I, on the other hand, was hanging duct, reading prints and doing layout, calculating offsets using trigonometry, and gaining a reputation as a promising sheet metal worker amongst my co-workers. I never took this for granted, nor did I make excuses for the many mistakes I made along the way. I simply take each day as a new learning experience and try to cut myself some slack when things do not go as planned.
This has been the most challenging year of my life. It is easy to say that I enjoy a challenge, but I would be incorrect if I said that I have enjoyed every second of this experience. I have been screamed at, called names, doubted by my boss and coworkers, and have many times come home from work feeling like a failure. I realize that in addition to the requirement of physical strength, working in the trades demands mental and emotional toughness.
There is no question that my gender puts me in the spotlight on the job. I choose on a daily basis not to focus on that fact. I consider myself a worker among workers rather than the only women among many men.