LAS VEGAS — The United States is short on 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 enter 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 International Builders Show (IBS) in Las Vegas. “But nobody gives us that visual.”
As U.S. unemployment fell to 3.4% in January — the lowest level since 1969 — demand for construction workers remains strong: The number of U.S. job openings was 11 million in December, and the construction industry saw jobs jump by 82,000. Construction growth and the demand for plumbers, as well as 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.’”
— New York-based plumber Judaline Cassidy
On average, there will be approximately 48,600 openings for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters annually 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 report published this past fall 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 IBS.
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.
Cassidy, who has been in the industry for 25 years, talks to a young person participating in her workshop.
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. When faced with a choice between becoming an electrician or 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 said, 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.’”
Cassidy recalled being mentored by men while learning the ropes (or pipes). After being in the industry for a quarter century, she’s giving back by mentoring both young men and young women.
Plumbing may not sound to many people like the most appealing job, given the exposure to cold water and sewage involved, as well as the physical aspect of the work.
Job growth for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters is estimated to grow by 2% from 2021 to 2031. Still, approximately 469,000 people were employed in this trade in 2021, according to the BLS.
“ Plumbers usually undertake apprenticeships that last between four and five years, rather than four-year degrees.”
But it’s also a job that doesn’t leave young people with student loans. Plumbers usually undertake apprenticeships that last between four and five years, rather than four-year degrees. 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, 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.
Pay for plumbers also varies widely 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 to working a hands-on job like plumbing as well, Cassidy said.
“You never take anything home. Nobody’s over you, micromanaging your work,” Cassidy said. “We’re very straightforward with each other.”
“‘You never take anything home. Nobody’s over you, micromanaging your work. We’re very straightforward with each other.’”
— Judaline Cassidy
And it’s not just unclogging toilets and doing repair work. “There are just so many different fields” in plumbing, she said — like plumbing and fixture design, or working on medical-gas systems that take liquid oxygen from storage sites to hospital rooms.
Her passion for the job has compelled her to attract more women to 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 sheet-metal worker, Cassidy said.
Cassidy also runs a nonprofit called Tools & Tiaras, which offers workshops and camps 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, titled “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.”