HUNTINGTON — Tammy Jackson is the first woman to work on the shop floor of Huntington Steel in its 115-year history. Previously, women had only worked in the tool room or the office.
“They say I’m their prototype,” Jackson joked.
She is currently a saw cutter, and enjoys getting her hands dirty every day. She cuts custom steel orders for customers and operates an overhead crane to move metal from place to place.
Before she started her job, though, Jackson was part of the first Step Up for Women Advanced Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship in the summer of 2016. This class was also the first all-women manufacturing pre-apprenticeship in the country. The tuition-free Step Up program prepares women to work in manufacturing. Jackson learned important skills that she uses in her new job like shop safety and machinist lingo. “Blueprint reading especially helped,” noted Jackson, “I learned a lot from the instructors.”
Jackson and other women like her received ten weeks of job-based instruction. Step Up students get hands-on training in manufacturing. They use mills and lathes to machine products out of steel and they get to tour manufacturing companies in the tri-state area like Vertiv in Ironton and Sogefi in Prichard. Step Up boasts an 80 percent or higher hiring rate for women graduating the program.
Prior to attending the training program, Jackson had been working in food service and bartending. She says having steady hours and benefits after so many years is nice.
“It’s physically demanding and safety is huge – you’ve got to be on your game, but I really enjoy my work,” she said. As for her next steps, she hopes to get a welding certificate, “I’d love to become a fabricator or run the burn table. I’ve had to prove myself, but I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
Any women who are interested in bettering their lives can apply for the next Step Up program in Huntington by calling 304-528-9991 or filling out an application online at wvwomenwork.org/stepupamp. The next class begins on June 10 and runs through Aug. 16 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9-5 p.m. Women are not charged anything to take the class. Step Up is run by West Virginia Women Work, Inc, a statewide nonprofit. Women from anywhere are encouraged to apply – there are no residency or income restrictions. The Huntington class runs out of the Robert C. Byrd Institute on 4th Ave as part of RCBI’s Apprenticeship Works initiative.
Step Up accepts students on a rolling basis, so the sooner a woman applies, the better her chance of securing a spot in the program.
Submitted by West Virginia Women Work.