Here’s what you may not know about plumbing. Most people think it means toilets and sinks, according to Josephine Tyndall, freshman plumbing instructor at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (TSCT), but it’s really all about the piping. How so? Read on.
What drew her to this career was a prior “thankless, unrewarding job.” Her own journey began with a water heater self-installation which she found fairly easy. “I’m a physical woman, energetic and wanted something rewarding. I decided to get into a job where I could use my hands.”
She completed two years at TSCT as a nontraditional student as she was in her 30’s and joined the local union. Starting at the bottom and working her way up through the five year apprenticeship she was a foreman on a job by year three. She credits this to being an older, nontraditional student, being organized and to being a woman. As she puts it, “Women are multi-talented and can do 15 different things at one time.”
In 2010 a TSCT instructor opportunity became available. Tyndall, with both plumbing and Masters plumbing licenses and additional certifications in hand, applied and was accepted. To date she’s taught ten freshman classes.
She’s also continues to surprise students as they don’t expect a female instructor. “In the end I think I get the ‘mom’ respect as many of my students are from single parent families, most often as not led by a woman. I try to be fair, and if I show them that quality from day one, you can’t go wrong.”
While most students enter right out of high school Tyndall may get one or two nontraditional students in their 30’s or even 40’s. Reasons for choosing the profession vary. Some research and find out how much they can earn (the median salary in Lancaster County is $46,390), others have a familial relationship through their fathers or uncles. Suggestions have even come from coaches.
At the outset most students don’t know anything about plumbing. To Tyndall that’s a good thing as they start with a clean slate. “We start at the bottom and work our way up. Everyone starts at the same basis. Some may have had prior instruction or experience, but eventually we all end up on the same journey. My job is to get them ready for a job.”
The first year course encompasses hand and power tools, the various types of piping and piping applications, how to put them together, their uses and purposes and how to hang and run pipe.
Tyndall emphasizes that a plumber can fit, but a pipefitter can’t plumb. As she explains it, “A fitter runs piping from one point to another which is usually all level. A plumber has to know when to slope a drainage pipe, and they have to calculate the gravity drain from a certain distance to determine how much pitch is needed. It’s all about the piping.”
While the math may initially scare the students, Tyndall teaches trades math including how to read a measuring tape and a refresher on fractions. Once they get over that hurdle, they’re fine.
She sees no slowdown in the need for commercial or residential plumbers and continues to try to change the stereotypical picture of a plumber. “When people think of plumbers they think of an overweight man with a scraggly beard, a cigar, a baseball hat and ill-fitting pants.” This isn’t reality at all she says.
Tyndall encourages everyone to consider the trade. “Don’t shoot it down. Find out all the facts before you make a decision. If you are smart and physical – you’ve got this job. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to be successful.”
She’s also on a mission to introduce girls to plumbing and the other trades and tells them not to let their gender prohibit them. One of the ways she’s doing this is by hosting Girls Scouts on campus visits to the 23 different shops. Another continuing initiative is with the YWCA TechGYRLS summer camp where she introduces plumbing but also focuses on mind empowerment.
Additional ventures include TSCT summer workshop experiences for Lancaster County school districts and a full day STEM initiative which Tyndall describes as summer camp on steroids. She knows it will take a few years to see results, but she is determined to make a difference and change someone’s thinking.
She welcomes anyone to shadow her for a day. If interested the best time to contact her is in the fall at Jo Tyndall. Visits will start in November because the course is in full swing and the participant will get a better sense of the projects. There are some conditions that must be met for safety reasons such as appropriate clothing, cotton jeans and shirt and work boots.
Plumbing, says Tyndall, has been very good to her. “There are few rewards better than the gratification of earning your money. That’s the difference and reward between making money and earning money.”