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Last summer, we came across the hedline, “Nevada’s First Black Female Plumber Doesn’t Want to Be the Last,” and how could we not read more? In fact, if we could, we would have stolen that hedline for this story.
The article told the story of Evelyn Pacheco who became Nevada’s first black female union plumber 18 years ago.
"I didn't even know I was the only one," Pacheco says. And as the hedline implies, last year Pacheco launched the Nevada Women in Trades, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women enter the building trades.
Pacheco unexpectedly got into the trades herself after applying for a job at a Las Vegas casino. She just wanted a maintenance job, but the person who hired her told her they would also train her to do some plumbing repair, too. Later, a co-worker told her about the UA Local 525 training program.
"I like the mechanical part of it," she says, "I love the art of it. I like that you can build something that's still there, and people are staying in hotels that I worked on on the Strip."
Pacheco went through the five-year union program working during the day and studying most nights all while raising three children as a single mother. (We’ll also go back in time to add that she’s an Army veteran and go forward to add that she’s A grandmother, too.)
"It wasn't just for me," she adds, "it was for my kids so they could have things and go places and experience things."
Pacheco says women can most definitely do the work of a plumber and pipefitter, but many just don't know the potential.
“It’s not a ‘no' thing," she adds. “It’s an ‘I didn’t know that’ thing."
Last June, she launched the NWIT to pass on her experience and skills to other women to follow her path. Think of the NVWIT as a preparatory program for women who have the desire to enter into a trade apprenticeship and need additional training and preparation opportunities prior to completing a trade apprenticeship application.
A first step in the process of preparing for jobs in the trades is often the skills and aptitude test required for apprenticeship programs. The NVWIT team prepares women with a 150-hour Pipeline Comprehensive Course with the math, science, safety readiness and test-taking skills required to pass trade apprenticeship exams and give them a competitive edge when securing a seat in a trade apprenticeship of their choice.
Pacheco’s PCC includes demonstrations and hands-on classroom learning covering math and science skills, OSHA requirements, fork-lift training, and more to prepare them for the next step.
Not surprisingly, women are a minority in trade jobs. For example, a Nevada public radio report we heard in researching the is story said the plumbing and pipefitters union has 1,900 members in Las Vegas and only 34 are women. As for other building trades, Las Vegas has 607 electricians and only two are women; out of 67 ironworkers, just one is a woman.
Of course, the building trades are having a difficult time attracting the next generation men or women to fill the industry’s labor shortage. Last January, however, Pacheco did her part by holding a graduation ceremony for the first three students to go through the PCC.
“With the construction industry on the upswing, and now in need of more skilled workers, we’re proud to be training women for a range of construction jobs available right here in Nevada,” Pacheco says.
We’ll let Pacheco describe the program more in the interview that follows, but she is searching for sponsors, volunteers and community partners to improve the program. More information can be found at http://nevadawit.org.
PHC News: How did you get started with your career in the trades?
Pacheco: I was working at Fitzgerald’s Casino in the engineering department in 2002. A friend in the housekeeping department shared that her husband was in a five-year apprenticeship program at UA Local 525.
She said the union was accepting applications for its apprenticeship program and encouraged me to apply. I did and was accepted.
Someone gave me a chance at a better life, now I want to do the same for others.
I like to think that I made history as Nevada’s first black female to be licensed as a plumber, and I can make history again through my Pipelines Program graduates who will carry on my legacy in Nevada, which will change the lives of the women and their children for many generations.
PHC News: What other type of work had you done before?
Pacheco: My college background is in business. I’ve had other jobs, but I never had a career until I got into the apprenticeship program.
PHC News: I know you are trying to change this attitude, but let’s face it: There aren’t a lot of women becoming plumbers. What motivated you to go into this as your career? Did anything hold you back at least initially?
Pacheco: There weren’t many women in the plumbing trade when I got in, but my focus was taking care of my family and making sure I could pay my rent, clothe my kids and put food on the table. So, my drive to be economically independent to take care of my family made all the obstacles seem small and unimportant.
I didn’t see anything holding me back at the time.
PHC News: Did any family members get you involved in the trades?
Pacheco: My grandfather had a maintenance business in Chicago when I was little, but I am the first in my family to get into the trades and become a journeyman.
PHC News: Tell us about your training.
Pacheco: The training was not easy. I was in a five-year apprenticeship program, so, my first year was math, second year was plumbing, third year was welding, fourth year was HVAC, and fifth year was preparing to take the plumbers license exam. I was the only female in the class, which was also hard, but I was determined to succeed.
PHC News: Any mentors who have helped you either before or since entering the trades, and have helped you with Nevada Women In Trades?
Pacheco: Don Johnson (L.U 525 Plumbers, Pipefitters and HVAC Apprenticeship Instructor), Dumas Martin, Sharon Latson (Chicago Women In Trades), Susie J. Suafai (Tradeswomen Inc.), Emily Higby (Asian Community Resource Center), Pamela Goynes-Brown (NLV Council Woman), Sgt. Dixie(Women Veterans of Nevada), Gersam Lopez (IT Specialist), Sondra Cosgrove (President, League of Women Voters of Nevada, Professor of CSN), Nancy Aldredge Foster(Abacus Marketing Partners International Inc.) and Ashlyn Algee(M.S.-System Engineering, B.S.-Computer Science)
PHC News: Tell us about Nevada Women in the Trades. What are the goals of the organization?
Pacheco: We are preparing women in Nevada for successful careers in high skilled trade occupations. Our goals are:
PHC News: Tell us about the women who went through the first PCC.
Pacheco: My outreach is with women who are re-entry, ex-prisoner, veterans, unrepresented, underprivileged, unemployed, homeless, aging out, and in minority populations. I’ve gone to career fairs, re-entry meetings, and any other place where I could hand out my business cards. I’ve engaged in a lot of networking, and leveraged word of mouth recommendations into interviews with local media. While it was not planned, my first pilot class was all minority women.
PHC News: So, what’s the next step for your PCC grads?
Pacheco: Our graduates went on several field trips to different union facilities and have had exposure to various local union representatives who participated as speakers So, now that they have information about the different trades, they can go and apply for the apprenticeships of their choice. Nevada Women In Trades will follow up with our graduates in the future to assess their success.
PHC News: Beyond the Nevada Women in the Trades group, how else are you promoting that more women get into the trades?
Pacheco: Nevada Women In Trades is involved in the Clark County School District’s Apprenticeship Early Exposure Program. We are starting a pilot to bring trades back into the elementary, middle, and high schools. I have my flyers in Florence McClure Women’s Correctional facility, and I am speaking with women’s organizations, such as the League of Women Voters of Nevada. The league is focused on addressing domestic violence and understands that women need economic independence to see a path out of violent relationships. Women who think they can’t afford rent often to do not leave harmful circumstances, so I want every woman to feel empowered to earn her own paycheck and make enough money to afford independence.