Hard Hats off to Education

Hard Hats off to Education
A local job-training program picks women off their feet and helps them enter a field traditionally dominated by men. Learn how the program turns "We can do it!" into "We are doing it!"

081610CAREER.jpgIn Judy’s Suding’s classroom, a poster of Rosie the Riveter hangs on the whiteboard behind her desk. Rosie’s iconic "We can do it!" call to arms is more than just a wall decoration to "Miss Judy," an instructor at Butler Technology and Career Development School. For almost 23 years now, Suding has used Rosie's words in her classroom and in homeless shelters, halfway homes, penitentiaries and rough neighborhoods where she recruits her students.


It’s a message that has resonated with the hundreds of women who have gone through Butler Tech’s Orientation to Nontraditional Occupations for Women (ONOW), a job-training program that equips its graduates with much more than construction certification.


"It instills so much as a woman, as a human being, as somebody out there in the job market," 2009 ONOW graduate Patty Mienko says. "You learn to believe in yourself."


One of two surviving programs of its kind in Ohio and the only one exclusively for women, ONOW weathered more than 20 years of government budget cuts until last December when sapped funding forced the program to shut down and Suding to go into early retirement. Thanks to a grant from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), ONOW was able to resume its classes again this past June.



ONOW students attend eight weeks of job training for free and are versed and tested in NCCER curriculum that includes basic math, safety, hand and power tool use, blueprint reading, rigging, and employability skills. They’re exposed to careers in welding, installation, machining and heavy equipment operation.


Either unemployed or underemployed and often single with children and on public assistance, Suding's students at ONOW "come from all walks of life," Suding says, but they share a common a goal — "to better themselves."


"Every one of these students that walk through this room, I relate to them because I know what they're feeling," says Suding, who was in the same position that many of her students are in. After her husband abandoned her and their three children 35 years ago, Suding worked her family off welfare in a Fisher Body plant. As a female in a dominantly male workplace, Suding's male coworkers openly derided her.


"I know that all of them want better and they want to do better for their kids, but they just don’t know quite how to go about it," she says. And she certainly teaches them how.


Based on last year's numbers, Suding says ONOW boasts 82 percent retention and 79 percent job placement. While students are encouraged to pursue higher paying careers in construction or placement in an apprenticeship program, self-sufficiency is the ultimate goal.



"This is just a stepping stone that helps them to do what they may have never done before," Suding says.


For 2004 graduate Marci Campbell it was the stepping stone that got her and her young daughter out of the Haven House, a homeless shelter in Hamilton. Campbell was laid off her job at a warehouse and evicted from her home shortly thereafter. Both of her brothers had turned her down for a place to stay, and she and Alesia didn’t have anywhere to go.


"That made me pretty determined that I was never going to, if at all possible, never have my daughter stay in a homeless shelter if I could at all help it," Campbell says.


Now an operating engineer with a journey worker certificate, Campbell runs a sheepsfoot compactor at a State Route Four Bypass site. She works hard — 10-hour days in the sticky summer heat without respite — but it's paid off. She and her daughter have moved out of the homeless shelter and into a home she rents in Middletown through metropolitan housing. She just bought herself a van and her next goal is to purchase a house — "to have something that's actually mine," she says.


"In a strange way, if I had never lost my job or got evicted back in '04, I never would have met Miss Judy, and I never would have gotten into that program, heard about ONOW or be in the apprenticeship program," Campbell says. "It's kind of a strange twist of fate. I guess, like they say, things happen for a reason."


The next set of classes at ONOW begins in October. For registration information call (513) 645-8200.

Photographer: Deanna Pan

Models: Judy Saling and the July 2010 ONOW Graduates



Deanna Pan -

Deanna Pan is Cincy Chic’s multimedia editorial intern. Send her an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .Read More >>

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