She Builds California: Q&A with Operating Engineer, Tana Harris

It’s been an exciting month! Not only have we been hyping up all of the cool perks of being an operating engineer, but we’ve also featured the women crushing stereotypes in our industry for Women’s History Month.


Now, we have a unique perspective with the best of both worlds. Check out our latest Q&A with Tana Harris, a woman in construction, an operating engineer, and the president of Harris Hoisting!


Q: What made you choose a career as an operating engineer?

A: I originally went into it [operating engineering] to give myself a raise. I was working at a grocery store and found I could double my income. I stayed and made it a career for the challenge, camaraderie, and benefits.


Q: For all of the future operating engineers: How do they get started? Take us through the process.

A: Operating engineers in Northern California have access to Training California | OE3 an apprentice program that is very supportive of the success of incoming operators. In order to get an application, you must watch the mandatory orientation video. After watching, follow the instructions in the video to receive an application. A driver record (DMV printout) from the DMV website or the DMV office will be accepted. After receiving your application, a letter will arrive within 60 days to notify you of the ASVAB test date and time. If you do not receive a letter after 60 days, call (916) 354-2029 to inquire about your application. Your career begins now!


The training is at no cost to you, and once you complete the initial eight-week training, starting wages with an annual cost-of-living increase are $25.87 an hour. The program spans from the Kern County line to the Oregon border. All applicants must reside in our area to be considered for the program. The apprenticeship lasts for four (4) years.


This was the program that I went through to become an operating engineer. The experience was challenging, exciting, and scary. Luckily, you are paired with skilled operators who show apprentices all the amazing things the heavy equipment is capable of.


Q: Let’s bust some myths about the trade. What’s a surprising fact about operating engineers that you wish more people knew?

A: The ability to make a six-figure income. But you have to be willing to put in the hours. By putting in the hours, it could mean 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some projects can’t stop until they’re finished, such as paving an intersection. The tradeoff is worth it because everyone is working toward a common goal and it’s so rewarding to see the finished product. I would definitely do it again, but what I would do differently is to make it my career choice sooner [in life]. Although I was doing the work, it took me some time to get serious about my [career] path.


Q: Tell me about a project you were really excited to work on/complete.

A: I’ve been on several notable projects, but the Salesforce Tower was pretty exciting. I was there from the groundwork to the last beam. I had the opportunity to run concrete pumps, operate cranes, and became the lead operator for the hoist and elevator scope of work.


Q: What was an unexpected skill you picked up in becoming an operating engineer?

A: I knew I was signing up to learn how to operate machinery, but I did not know I would become a crane operator. Moving large equipment, people, and material around the job site is exciting. I was also surprised to learn how to do maintenance. Just like a car, they need simple oil changes.


Q: How would you describe your experience as a female operating engineer?

A: Challenging to say the least, but those challenges got me to where I am today, and I embrace the path that was placed before me. It was challenging to enter into an industry that is male-dominated. At the time I entered the industry, the mindset was that this was not a woman’s line of work. I just showed up every day with prayer, determination, and drive. I also gravitated towards more progressive journeymen who were more open-minded. If someone is intimidated, it is probably because of the unknown. The culture has and continues to change. Today the culture is striving toward a more inclusionary environment.


Q: If you could tell women considering a career in the trades one thing, what would it be?

A: Go for it! The sooner you start your career the sooner you can begin shaping your future.


Q: What do you think is the biggest barrier for women wanting to enter the trades today? Any advice on how to overcome barriers in this field?

A: Balancing home, kids, daycare, school, and a career. In the trades, the typical shift begins well before daycares or schools open, so it’s about how you balance this. Sit down with your support system. Express how important this is to the success of your future and build a plan with them. I could not have started this without my sister’s help with my daughter.


Are you feeling inspired to check out our industry yet? Want to help us continue breaking barriers for women in the construction industry? Get started in your construction journey and check out career options today!


Tana Harris has 30 years of experience in the construction industry and has worked on a variety of large-scale projects including the Bay Bridge, Devil’s Slide, Chase Center, and Salesforce. Her entrepreneurial spirit, and devotion to building a legacy for her family, are what inspired her to create, Harris Hoisting. As the Founder and President, Tana oversees all company operations while upholding her core values of safety, diversity, professionalism, and teamwork.



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