Switching careers: from office assistant to plumber

wrench used for plumbingIt's been a tough summer, with high unemployment and even higher underemployment. But the Bureau of Labor Statistic's jobs report for August showed glimmers of good news, with the private sector once again adding jobs, 67,000. Job website Indeed.com also continued to see growth, with areas like manufacturing seeing a 67% increase in the number of jobs posted since last August and construction up 34%.

That could mean more work for Raven O'Neal, who is training to be a licensed plumber. The Brooklyn, N.Y. resident bounced around different jobs in search of a career. She thinks she found it working on pipes. She shares with WalletPop her tale of a new direction.

Raven O'Neal has been a baseball instructor, a salesperson and a model. A year as a billing assistant had her casting about for a new direction. An ad for the non-profit, NonTraditional Employment for Women (NEW), led her to think about trades like plumbing and electrical work in 2006.

Raven O'Neil
"This career suits my personality more than an office environment," O'Neal told WalletPop in a telephone interview. "I don't feel regimented like I do in an office, where you have a certain dress code and etiquette. And it frees me up to do some of the things I love, like traveling."

O'Neal, now 29, landed an apprenticeship in the plumbers union with the help of NEW's eight-week entrance test prep course and a loan of $250 for the examination fee. She became one of 20 women apprentices out of 370, according to the Plumbers Union 1 of New York City.

Currently in her third year of apprenticeship with two more years to go before she must take the exam to graduate to mechanic level, she hopes to earn at least $80,000 a year. Twice a month, she's hitting the books, taking courses on the inner workings of pipes at the offices of Plumbers Union 1. But most of her training is on the job, working at construction sites.

While the salary is a definite lure, the work is hard and the industry tough – especially for a woman. "Be well aware what you're getting into," cautioned O'Neal. "They [women] know it's a man's world but they don't understand what that means. A lot will go into the trade and quit, and that makes the women who stay on look bad. It is construction. It's hard work and you're working with men. They curse, swear and make lewd comments. You think they will change for you, and it's not going to happen."

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