Supporting Women in Plumbing

Women in Construction Week is an opportunity to increase awareness about the benefits of the plumbing trade and encourage women to complete a skilled trade apprenticeship

Supporting Women in Plumbing

Doreen Cannon, president of Journeymen Plumbers Local 55 in Cleveland, Ohio

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Now more than ever, skilled trade workers are vital to society's everyday safety, health and well-being. At Oatey Co., we try to shed light on the significance of the trades while educating, inspiring and empowering the next generation of professionals.

Oatey Co. recently received some insight from Doreen Cannon, president of Journeymen Plumbers Local 55 in Cleveland, Ohio, and an instructor at the training center to mark Women in Construction Week (March 6-12).

Educating other women about the opportunities that the trades offer is one of Cannon's passions. As a union president, she's been able to attend and speak at conferences for tradeswomen.

Cannon started a five-year plumbing apprenticeship program in 1998 when her son was starting all-day kindergarten. Her first career had been in retail management, but after staying home for five years to raise her son, she decided it was time to follow her passion. Cannon had always liked working with her hands and wanted to learn a trade. 

Below Cannon shares some helpful insights and advice for women in the trades or those considering a career in the plumbing trade. 

Why women should consider entering the plumbing trade

First and foremost, as Cannon explains, the wages are very good and union plumbing apprenticeship programs come with benefits and healthcare: “That is especially beneficial for single mothers because many face the challenge of trying to get healthcare for themselves and their children.” 

Not to mention the fact that you acquire a lifelong skill. A trade career involves an apprenticeship in which you're given the training you need without the debt that often accompanies a college education.

“It's a program where you get on the job and receive classroom training at no cost to you,” Cannon says. “While going through the apprenticeship program, you're also earning a weekly wage.” 

Meanwhile, the job outlook for plumbers is favorable. Individuals in the plumbing industry make a decent wage and experts expect that trend to continue with a 5% increase into 2030 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Successful completion of a plumbing apprenticeship

There is a misconception that plumbing or skilled trades apprenticeships are an alternative or backup plan when someone can't go to college. Cannon says it's the responsibility of those in the industry to debunk this misconception and promote skilled trades apprenticeship in high schools and beyond.

“A plumbing apprenticeship is not easy,” Cannon says. 

Plumbing is a specialized field requiring considerable training in plumbing codes, as well as how to install pipe according to very specific code guidelines. According to Cannon, commitment is at the core of successfully completing a skilled trade apprenticeship. 

“To learn what you need to learn in the classroom, you have to commit to doing the work that's expected,” she says. “If you don't know anything about plumbing, that's OK. We're going to teach you, because that's what the apprenticeship program is all about." 

It's simple: If you show up on time every day and work hard, you will complete your apprenticeship and have a thriving career as a plumber.

The challenges female plumbers face in the field and how to overcome them

According to Cannon, one of the biggest challenges women face is that construction sites present a unique environment for women. 

“It could be a challenge for women to fit in,” she says. “But I think whether you're a male or a female apprentice, as long as you show you are willing to learn, willing to work, and willing to do whatever is required of you to get that job done, you are going to succeed.”

It's no secret that some women may face physical obstacles on job sites.

“I always tell my female apprentices not to let that deter them, because there are ways of doing tasks safely on the job and equipment that helps with the ‘heavy’ part of the trade,” Cannon says.

Another challenge women face in the field is that they are usually outnumbered. This can often feel very isolating. For example, you may go on a job site and be the only female electrician or plumber there. Thankfully, that is slowly changing. 

Cannon's advice? Connect with other tradeswomen, share experiences, ask questions and seek out advice on handling certain situations. 

Career options for women in the trades and opportunities for advancement

According to Cannon, it helps to fully understand the trade and the industry before exploring all job options. The first task is to simply learn the trade. Then, after completing an apprenticeship, you could explore one of the many different directions and career paths available. Opportunities include becoming an estimator for a company, an instructor at a training center, an officer at your local union, a project manager, or a foreman. 

Additionally, Cannon says that the construction industry needs more minority-female-owned businesses. Tradeswomen can work in the field and eventually own their own company. 

“There are some across the country starting to pop up on social media feeds,” says Cannon. “That's a great way to create awareness and inspire other women to do the same. It may be something as simple as a service truck going down the road, clearly showing it's a female-owned business. Sharing your successes with the general public will help women realize that it is an option for them, too.”

How to get more women involved in the plumbing trade

“I always tell the females who are already working in the trades, ‘Let people know what you do,’” Cannon says.

She says that many women who get into the trades try to stay under the radar and might not be as inclined to do a newspaper interview or share their stories with a local TV station.

“If you have a great story to tell or an amazing career thanks to joining the trades, I encourage you to let people know about it, because that's how we're going to start spreading the word,” Cannon says. 

Another important way to educate on the benefits of a trades career is by connecting with the younger generation and helping them realize it's an option — whether that be at high schools, career fairs, trade fairs, workshops, etc. A part of the challenge is that many females don't even realize these apprenticeship programs are available to them. 

Listen to Episode 3 of Oatey’s new podcast The Fix. In the episode, Cannon provides ideas on how to effectively recruit women into the trades. She touches on how to empower them once they’ve entered the male-dominated field to cultivate safe, inclusive job site cultures. Finally, Cannon dives into thoughtful strategies women can employ to combat common misconceptions, foster career growth and meet their full potential. 

About the Author

Katherine Lehtinen is vice president of brand and digital marketing at Oatey. She joined the company in 2017 as director of marketing, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and brand management.



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