Recruiting Women to the Plumbing Industry

Courtney Wilkinson found her way to plumbing because it was the family business, and she’s trying to do her part to make the industry more accessible to women

Recruiting Women to the Plumbing Industry

Courtney Wilkinson, vice president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Arlington in Texas

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Courtney Wilkinson says she was lucky. Her avenue into the plumbing industry came via her father, who made a concerted effort at educating her on all aspects of the business.

“My dad was really a great teacher,” says Wilkinson, vice president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Arlington in Texas. “I’m one of those people who has to visually see it. So he would draw up pictures. I would go out on jobs. I would get down into holes underneath houses and really learn how a plumbing system works.”

That field education has complemented the core tasks Wilkinson has handled since starting to work for her father’s company in 1998 during her senior year of high school, everything from accounts payable and receivable to answering the phone and dispatching technicians. The company made the transition to becoming part of the Benjamin Franklin franchise system in 2004.

“It’s a great benefit because I understand when we have new employees what it is they’re talking about,” Wilkinson says. “It’s about building a trust factor. That they can lean on me. If they can’t reach one of our managers, then they can call on me for pricing a job. I’ve created a really good rapport with all of our technicians. Unfortunately, women have to work harder to gain that respect, but if you educate yourself and you know what it is you’re talking about, then it really makes it pretty easy.”

Still, the plumbing industry remains largely male-dominated, and to even get started, more obstacles than clear pathways exist for women. Wilkinson is trying to do her part to increase the industry’s accessibility for women. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Arlington currently has two female plumbing apprentices. Both found their way to the company via word-of-mouth referrals and had connections to the industry through family and friends. Wilkinson says she believes that type of encouragement, which she experienced herself from her father, is how many women get involved in plumbing. Otherwise, it’s a career path that most women don’t even consider.

“If only we can get into the high schools to really push it, then it would open up a lot of doors for females in this industry,” Wilkinson says.

That’s something Wilkinson is looking to do. Her company was trying to make some inroads with area high schools to help educate students on trades careers, but those efforts stalled when the pandemic hit.

“Just educating is what we’re trying to do. So once things open back up and they start allowing visitors back in schools, we can get rolling with that again,” Wilkinson says. “For years we couldn’t get into high schools at all to talk about our trade. So if we couldn’t even do that, what are the chances of getting a female into this industry? It’s slim to none.

“I think part of it is advertising and showing that we do have female apprentices. And making sure that in our job ads, we don’t use words like ‘him’ and specifically refer that it is open to females. Word-of-mouth has been our best recruiting method for women so far. I think as an industry we need to change and put in the effort — when we’re advertising for a technician or just spotlighting our female techs. I think that’s one of the best ways to approach this.”

Even if the female plumbing technician isn’t a common enough sight, Wilkinson says on the administrative side at least female representation in the industry continues to grow stronger. And thanks to tools like social media, it’s easier for all those women to connect and learn from one another’s experiences. Toward the end of 2020, Wilkinson joined a group called Lady Titans, which is tied to the software company ServiceTitan that the company uses. The group connects on social media and also has been doing monthly Zoom meetings.

“They’ll send out a topic ahead of time and you answer a couple of quick questions. So any kind of issues you’re having, they put you with a group that’s having the same issue so you can talk over those challenges,” Wilkinson says. “Every time we have the meetings you see more and more females. It’s not a closed door for just males anymore, whether it’s on the admin side or being a technician.”

Winter Comes to Texas

One of the biggest challenges for Wilkinson occurred just a couple of months ago, when she and all of her fellow Texas plumbing colleagues had to deal with the aftermath of a severe cold snap that knocked out power and heat for millions of people and subsequently wreaked havoc on plumbing systems.

From Feb. 11, when the first round of storms hit, to Feb. 23, Wilkinson says Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Arlington received over 6,000 calls.

“I’ve never seen the phones ring like that before ever,” Wilkinson says. “We couldn’t keep up.”

The company had everything forwarded to an after-hours call center and ended up having to tell the call center not to book any more jobs, only to create tasks for Wilkinson and her team to go through and follow up on.

“At one point we had over 1,300 customers to call back,” Wilkinson says. “Organization was the key.”

The company used tags to sort and prioritize the work. Membership customers were identified so that they could get their appointments booked first. Tankless water heater issues were prevalent, so the company grouped all of those together so that one person could reach out to those customers and gauge what kind of equipment order was going to be necessary.

“We just really triaged the calls into groups so that we could have one person working on certain types,” Wilkinson says. “I think one day I went through 1,200 different tasks to organize. We’d get rid of a couple hundred and a hundred more would be on the board. It was pretty crazy. It’s something I don’t ever want to live through again, but we got through it.” 

At most, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Arlington had 1,100  future calls booked at one time, but that shifted some based on cancelations. The company typically offers guaranteed appointment windows and will pay a customer $5/minute up to $300 if a technician is late for a guaranteed time window. But such guarantees weren’t possible in this situation. Wilkinson says customers were informed that all jobs were on standby with no guaranteed appointments. Jobs were grouped into zones and technicians were assigned to those zones, taking care of as many jobs as possible in a specific area.

“It’s called dispatching for profit. It’s something we’ve been practicing for years,” Wilkinson says. “Previously if we had a guaranteed appointment time, if that was the only appointment available, a technician might have to drive a long way to get to the job. But with all of the calls we had, we weren’t able to guarantee appointment times.”

The company’s normal call volume for a typical week is about 300, with some of those accounting for customers calling back regarding a job.

“So to have over 6,000 was just unbelievable,” Wilkinson says. “I knew it was gong to be bad, but I had no idea it was going to be this bad.”


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