LAS VEGAS — The United States is short of plumbers. One woman from New York City is determined to fix that.
After finding her footing in what is typically considered a male-dominated career, Judaline Cassidy, who works for the New York City Housing Authority as a plumber, is determined to encourage other women to pick up the trade.
“We are not visible, but we are here, and there are a lot more female plumbers out there,” Cassidy, 54, told MarketWatch on the sidelines of the IBS in Las Vegas. “But nobody gives us that visual.”
Demand for construction workers is strong: U.S. job openings were 11 million in December. The construction industry saw jobs jump by 82,000. Construction growth and the demand for plumbers, and other construction-related jobs, go hand-in-hand.
“‘When I knock on the door, I have to have my six-foot-two partner [show] his face because they don’t believe I’m the plumber.’”
There will be approximately 48,600 openings for plumbers, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters annually, on average, over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire,” the government says.
But the country lacks skilled construction labor, according to a Fall 2022 report by the Home Builders Institute. Plumbers are part of the construction industry.
“In fact, the biggest challenge in the residential construction space is getting American high-school students and American community college students to come into the construction industry,” Robert Dietz, chief economist and senior vice president at the National Association of Home Builders, told reporters during the International Builders Show (IBS) this week.
Although the share of women in construction is growing, they still only make up 11%, a relatively small share of total employment in this industry.
Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Cassidy had initially planned on becoming a lawyer. But life circumstances changed and compelled her to go to trade school. She had a choice between becoming an electrician and a plumber. Cassidy chose the latter.
“I fell in love with it and never looked back,”she said. “It’s been a blessing in my life.”
The job isn’t usually associated with women.
“When I knock on the door, I have to have my six-foot-two partner [show] his face because they don’t believe I’m the plumber,” Cassidy says, describing her experience on-the-ground, working in NYCHA apartments.
“They never want to open up the door,” she added. “But it doesn’t bother me. I make fun and say, ‘They let girls do this now.’”
When learning the ropes (or pipes), Cassidy recalled being mentored by men. Now that she’s been in the industry for a quarter of a century, she’s giving back by mentoring both young men — and women.
Plumbing may not sound like a job many may want to get into, given the exposure to cold water, sewage, and the physical aspect of the work, and job growth for plumbers, pipe-fitters, and steamfitters is estimated to grow by 2% from 2021 to 2031, slower than the national average. Still, approximately 469,000 were employed in this trade in 2021, according to the BLS.
“ Plumbers usually undertake apprenticeships, rather than four-year degrees, which last between four to five years.”
It’s also a job that doesn’t leave young people with student loans. Plumbers usually undertake apprenticeships, rather than four-year degrees, which last between four to five years.
They also earn a wage while learning, and can continue to work in the field after the program ends.
Plumbing “is a four-year degree without the debt,” Cassidy said.
The pay is also competitive. The median annual salary for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters nationwide was $59,880 in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is about $5,000 more than the median annual wage in the U.S.
For context, the median annual wage for news reporters and journalists was $48,370.
The pay for plumbers widely also varies by area. In some cities where the cost of living is high, they make more. In San Jose, Calif., a city with one of the highest costs of living in the country, the mean annual wage for a plumber goes up to nearly $95,000.
There are other benefits of working a hands-on job like plumbing as well, Cassidy said.
“You never take anything home. Nobody’s over you, micro-managing your work,” Cassidy said. “We’re very straightforward with each other.”
“‘You never take anything home. Nobody’s over you, micro-managing your work. We’re very straightforward with each other.’”
And it’s not just about unclogging toilets and repair work.
“There are just so many different fields” in plumbing, she added, from plumbing and fixture design, to working on medical-gas systems that take liquid oxygen from storage sites to hospital rooms.
Her passion for the job has compelled her to lure more women into the “trades,” which typically refer to construction jobs like carpentry and plumbing.
And that effort began at home. Her 31-year-old daughter also works in the trades as a sheetmetal worker, Cassidy said.
Cassidy also runs a nonprofit, called Tools & Tiaras, which offers workshops and caps to introduce girls to construction trades.
The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials has since partnered with Cassidy to launch a children’s coloring book called ‘My Mom Is a Plumbing Superhero.’
“I want young women to know that jobs truly don’t have genders,” Cassidy said. “When you find passion, and you put in hard work and have determination …you can definitely wake up every single day and love what you do.”