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State ferry system's top new mechanic apprentices are women

Jules Hadley repairs a piece of equipment (KOMO News photo)

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- Keeping the Washington state ferry fleet afloat is a dirty, detailed job.

For decades, most of the maintenance work has been done by men.

“A lot of the people working at our Eagle Harbor Facility are in their 40s, 50s, some in their 60s, very close to retirement," said Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Justin Fujioka.

This led WSDOT to wonder--and worry--what would happen to a generation's worth of hands-on knowledge when they leave?

WSDOT asked the legislature for funding to hire two apprentices, which would be an opportunity for hands-on experience.

The top two candidates had something in common.

Both are women.

“They treat you just like one of the guys would get treated here which I think is awesome," said Jules Hadley, who worked in the pipe-fitting shop.

Celia Brooks is an electrical apprentice.

“They don't offer their help because I'm a girl. They let me struggle before and I have to ask for help just like anybody else would," Brooks said.

More than a hundred people work in the Eagle Harbor Facility and less than a handful are women.

“I think that women are still a little bit afraid to get their hands dirty and really come in to these kinds of jobs and are afraid that men are gonna be like 'Oh, woman in the shipyard you're not gonna be able to do as much as we can' but it's not that way," Brooks said.

WSDOT hopes to eventually have an apprentice in all 10 maintenance shops, but they're finding the jobs hard to fill.

Brooks was the only applicant for her position and Hadley was just one of six.

“I think it's definitely a struggle getting people into this trade," Hadley said.

“Technology has taken over so much that they're forgetting the basics of a wrench and a screwdriver and what makes boats and buildings everything run," added Brooks.

“We don't want to lose a lot of that knowledge. We want it to be passed on to the younger generation to keep our ferries running," Fujioka said.

At just 21 years old, Hadley already has that next generation in mind.

“Hopefully teaching another apprentice the same things I've learned is the future goal here," she said.

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