An anecdote from one of the last “My Job” columns I wrote for the Star Tribune sticks with me: I interviewed Tasha Lawrence, who is foreman of a plumbing fabrication shop. It’s a well-paid, indoor job. A lot of the work involves picking or cutting, bundling and labeling pipe for plumbers going out on big commercial jobs.

How did she get there? As is almost always the case, she stumbled into her calling by accident. A temp agency sent her to a plumbing shop, where she was the receptionist. She worked out well enough to be hired on. After a few months, her duties expanded to filling lists of parts and putting them on the plumbers’ trucks.

She did that for three or four years, and she was happy in the job. Then, one day, the company hired a woman plumber. Within two or three weeks, Lawrence was thinking, “You mean I could be a plumber?”

With what she’d already learned, she breezed through the apprenticeship, spent a few more years at the same company, then moved on to a better job at higher pay.

Women are sought after in the building trades. Hazing and discrimination are largely a thing of the past. I’ve talked to a lot of technical college instructors and supervisors who say they like what women bring to the table. One interviewee told me she was a popular foreman because her planning skills enabled them to finish jobs more quickly.

There’s even free training, Woman Building MN, to encourage women to get into the building trades.

Apparently, nobody at Tasha Lawrence’s company thought to tell her that women were welcome–even though they eventually hired one of the few woman plumbers available. And Tasha Lawrence never thought to ask, because she had never seen a woman plumber until her company hired one.

That’s why the first step toward closing the skills gap is to bridge the communications gap. If you see an article here on TheJob4Me that might bridge the gap for someone you know, share the link!

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