Oregon’s highway construction workforce is getting more diverse – but discrimination remains a big problem, according to a study out Thursday from Portland State University.

PSU sociologists found women and people of color continue to complete apprenticeships at rates far lower than white men. Fifty-one percent of white men completed apprenticeships in 2014-15, while completion rates are 45 percent for men of color, 36 percent for white women, and 24 percent for women of color.

The Oregon Department of Transportation and Bureau of Labor and Industries have been receiving federal highway funds since 2010 to diversify the highway workforce. The PSU report, authored by sociologists Lindsey Wilkinson and Maura Kelly, points to discrimination as a factor. It follows a similar report in 2014.

“There seems to be something really important, particularly for disadvantaged workers, in having someone to talk to, someone to get advice from, about navigating challenging experiences that they might be having at work - helping them problem-solve,” said Kelly.

Portland State University sociologists found that apprenticeship completion rates vary widely, based on race and gender.

Portland State University sociologists found that apprenticeship completion rates vary widely, based on race and gender.

Portland State University/BOLI/ODOT

The study came away with five main conclusions: Oregon’s highway workforce is slowly getting more diverse; women and people of color continue to complete apprenticeships at lower rates than white men; women and people of color experience “hostile workplaces” in the trades; apprenticeship outreach is reaching a diverse set of participants; and support services improve completion rates for apprentices - especially women of color.

The study finds a majority of white women – and two-thirds of women of color – reported gender discrimination during their apprenticeships. The problem appears to have gotten worse for both groups since a similar study was conducted in 2014. Sixty-three percent of white women reported gender discrimination in 2016, up from 53 percent in 2014. Sixty-seven percent of women of color reported gender-based discrimination this year, up from about 65 percent, two years ago. The report finds harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and negative comments or jokes are all problems female apprentices reported on a regular basis.

The PSU report on efforts to diversify the highway workforce finds discrimination and harassment are problems on job sites.

The PSU report on efforts to diversify the highway workforce finds discrimination and harassment are problems on job sites.

Portland State University/BOLI/ODOT

The report gives ODOT and BOLI leaders some good news: federally-funded support services have helped women finish the programs in increasing numbers. The benefits are the strongest for women of color - whose completion rates jump from 24 percent to 56 percent, when they receive support services, such as fuel assistance, lodging for distant jobs, tools and work clothes, counseling and child care subsidies.

“[Thursday’s] report underscores the need for proactive measures so that more women and people of color have access to good jobs and economic advancement,” said Brad Avakian, Labor Commissioner and Democratic nominee for Oregon Secretary of State. “Both our highway construction workforce and our transportation infrastructure itself are aging. Despite the gains we’ve made diversifying the construction workforce, more work is needed to ensure harassment-free workplaces where apprentices can thrive.”

A report by Portland State University finds support services help apprentices complete programs at higher rates - particularly women of color.

A report by Portland State University finds support services help apprentices complete programs at higher rates - particularly women of color.

Portland State University/BOLI/ODOT

The PSU report updated recommendations from the 2014 “Measure of America” report. It pressed for more respectful workplaces and equal employment opportunities, as well as a continuation of the recruitment and support services geared toward diversifying the highway workforce.