Apprenticeship Program Helps Women Stake Bigger Claim in Plumbing Industry

Tasha Lawrence is a plumbing fabrication shop foreman for Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors in Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Apprenticeship Program Helps Women Stake Bigger Claim in Plumbing Industry
Summer temp job turns into full-time plumbing career for Minnesota’s Tasha Lawrence. (Photo courtesy Tom Witta, Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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Tasha Lawrence was hired from a temp service for the summer to answer phones and schedule calls for a small service plumbing shop.

“I got hired on full time, and I worked for them for about four years,” she says. “They hired a woman plumber about two years in. At that time, I was filling bins, loading orders on the trucks. When we hired her, I thought, ‘Why am I doing this work for all these men when I could be doing the job myself?’”

Lawrence applied for the plumbing apprenticeship program offered by St. Paul Technical College. She took a standardized pre-admission test, then interviewed with a review board of union representatives.

“About 10 guys interviewed me,” she says.

Once admitted, she attended school two nights a week for 5 1/2 years, while working full time as a plumber.

“By the time I got into my apprenticeship, I had learned so much about plumbing. I was ahead of the guys who were there — I knew the fittings, I knew ways to do things,” she says.

Lawrence switched to a residential plumbing company during the second year of her internship, then was hired by Metropolitan Mechanical Contractors in 2007 and has been with them ever since.

She completed her apprenticeship and became a journeyworker in 2010. Lawrence has been in the fabrication shop since 2014.

“I replaced a guy that became one of our business agents,” she says. “I have foremen that are on jobs who need various things made. When they have large bathroom groups, I put all the toilets and sinks together, so they can just slide it into place. I make a lot of different things. I weld up rack. I’ll make up a package of pipe so they can just put A to B to C to D.”

For Lawrence, apprenticeship was the best form of training.

“Experience is the big difference. I did OK in school, but I’m really hands-on. If I wasn’t able to see exactly what I’m being taught, it would be really hard for me to be in this position. You can’t do a lot of what you do out in the field just going to school.”

Q: What’s the best part of the job?

A: We get paid really good; we get really good benefits; we have excellent retirement. There’s big benefits if you stick it out.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge?

A: Juggling everything, keeping up with everybody’s schedules.

Q: I hear you’re married to a plumber?

A: My husband works for MMC. We actually met a few years back on a job site. He’s president of his local. We’ve had our three-year anniversary.

Q: Why aren’t there more women plumbers?

A: When you’re a girl in high school, you don’t think “Hey, I want to be a plumber.” I don’t think men even think of that — a lot of the guys are here because of “my dad,” “my uncle,” “my brother.” Before we hired the woman in the service shop, I didn’t even think about it.

Q: How can someone find out more about plumbing careers?

A: Local 34 has a summer helper program. A couple years ago I was out on a job site and they brought out about 10 women who were going to start at the technical college. It’s nice to reiterate to them how far I’ve come personally and how much I enjoy my job.


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