TERO career fair offers hands-on learning experiences

A highlight of the career fair was that Chief Leschi students attended. Here, they work with Red Hawk Fire Protection on learning how to correctly assemble a fire sprinkler system. Photo courtesy of TERO

Puyallup Nation Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) held its first annual “Investing in Your Future” hands-on career fair May 18. Occupying the Tribe’s riverboat and its surrounding parking lots, the fair included heavy equipment experiences outside for workers looking for this type of career, while inside the riverboat were vendors representing light construction companies and more. 

Organized by TERO staff members Ricki Williams and Justin Satiacum, with the help of Penny Fryberg and Tanya Coats, the fair was open to all interested workers both Native and non-Native alike. This first time out of the gate for the fair turned out quite successful. It was all put together in about two months, and the outcome was just what the TERO staff was hoping for. 

“This year we just wanted to get it going and we’re very happy with how it turned out,” Justin said. “We reached out to different contractors and companies and 40 were able to participate. A lot of companies had previous commitments but are interested in next year.” 

As Satiacum explained, the point of the fair was to help people into a career versus just a job. “We focus on getting people lined up with a career and doing something that they really enjoy and are going to stick with,” he said. “If you can do what you enjoy for a living, it will change your life. Plus with the added benefits and everything that comes along with a career, you can’t go wrong.”

Among the exhibitors was Nisqually Construction Services, which works with tribes around the state including the Puyallup Tribe – for example, putting in gravel roads at the new Culture Center (dairy farm) for the Canoe Journey where overnight camping will be, and working as a sub-contractor on the new casino project with prime contractor Absher-Kitchell, among other projects. 

Nisqually Construction Services project manager and estimator Chris Hansen was at the fair representing this majority tribal-owned company. He spoke of the choice medical and retirement benefits and income offered to folks in the trades. 

“As of November last year, I can take early retirement. I have enough money to go sit on a beach in Mexico,” said the 58-year-old. 

And the best news is that companies are in heavy need of workers, especially during summer with construction projects getting underway.  “The trades are crying for people,” he said, noting that Nisqually Construction Services has an apprenticeship program for equipment operators, including Operating Engineers School.

Red Hawk Fire Protection was another fair vendor. Lisa Radloff, with human resources, said that Red Hawk Fire Protection currently has a lot of work opportunities. “We’re real busy – and we need workers,” she said, very happy that a Puyallup Tribal member had come by that day and signed up ready to work the following Monday.

Radloff (a former employee of the Puyallup Tribe) and her Red Hawk Fire Protection partner Ricky Campbell, a field rep instructor and union rep with UA Local 699, were pleased that a group of Chief Leschi seniors attended the fair. The youth were given hands-on instruction on putting together commercial and residential sprinkler equipment and learning different parts of the overall system. “It was fun and they really enjoyed it,” Radloff said. 

RG Construction, with its 100 percent TERO workforce, was there with an excavator for interested fair attendees to try out and made it known that the company offers on-the-job training and apprenticeships. RG Construction is involved with many tribal projects that include a property development for Marine View Ventures and the Tribe’s North Shore Golf Course.

Laborers 252 set up an obstacle course for navigating a filled wheelbarrow around orange traffic cones, while other vendors at the fair invited people to run jackhammers, go up in lifts, operate a backhoe and much more. And with companies offering training and apprenticeship opportunities, new hires can earn while they learn. 

Chris Winters, a business representative with International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (AFL-CIO), said the fair was a brilliant idea to bring down that barrier of fear for people who are just getting out of high school or for those more elder workers who are starting a new career.

“It’s about employment and opportunities, but there’s also another piece that’s usually missing: When you bring someone in to talk about the trades or careers, how does that feel? Here, you get to feel the tools and be shown how to do it. It brings you from ‘I’m going to tell you about the trade or career’ to ‘you’re actually going to do it,’” he said. 

Chris Winters called Puyallup TERO the lifeblood foundation to protect working families. “Without it, our people will be thrust back into the shadows where the rest of the world has waited for us to become extinct,” he said. “We cannot just be simply swept under the rug of complacency and society must deal with the fact that we are still here because we were born of this earth and will never forget that.”

Justin Satiacum said he is already looking forward to next year’s fair, as this first annual fair presented new ideas and approaches for next year’s event to be even better. With the steady increase of TERO clients, this is exactly what they need to do to keep everyone moving forward.

“Now we know what to expect next year, and we’ll have a lot more time to plan and organize. Everyone’s feedback was positive and will help to improve it,” he said. “We would like to thank all of our sponsors, participants and attendees for making it a success. Our main goal is to make a positive impact in people’s lives and help them to create a successful future.”

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