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2024 Virtual Return to Work Conference, May 14-16

Episode 134: Relaunching in the Trades with Judaline Cassidy (a great listen for all relaunchers!)

Judaline Cassidy headshot

Episode Description

In this episode we discuss relaunching or transitioning to a career in the trades with one of the leaders in the field, Judaline Cassidy. Judaline Cassidy is a feminist plumber, Tradeswomen activist, and public speaker. She was one of the very first women accepted into the Plumbers Local Union 371 Staten Island, and the first woman elected on the Examining Board of Plumbers Local Union 1 New York City. Prior to her relaunch, which began with her acceptance into the Union's five-year apprenticeship program, Judaline worked as a nanny and housekeeper. She's been a proud member of Plumbers Local Union 1 New York City, for the past twenty years. From her bio: "Being a qualified Plumber has drastically changed her life, and the lifestyle of her family. Financially, it has afforded her and her family upward mobility in society. She cares deeply for her fellow sisters in the trades and serves as a mentor and big sister to anyone who needs her stewardship." Judaline was a speaker at the 2017 Makers Conference and is featured on their website, and is also the founder of Tools and Tiaras, a non-profit introducing girls to the trades. For more information on Tools and Tiaras and Judaline’s upcoming podcast, see Links to Episode Content below.

Links to Episode Content

Tools and Tiaras

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice, and success stories about turning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chair and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host for today. Today we welcome Judaline Cassidy. Judaline was one of the very first women accepted into the Plumbers Local Union 371 Staten Island, New York, and the first woman elected on the Examining Board of Plumbers Local Union 1.

Prior to her acceptance into the union's five-year apprenticeship program, she worked as a nanny and housekeeper. She's been a proud member of Plumbers Local Union 1 New York City for the past twenty years. Being a qualified plumber has drastically changed her life, and also the lifestyle of her family. Financially, it has afforded her and her family upward mobility in society. She cares deeply for her fellow sisters in the trades and serves as a mentor and big sister to anyone who needs her stewardship. Judaline was a speaker at the 2017 Makers Conference and is featured on their website and is also the founder of Tools and Tiaras, a nonprofit introducing girls to the trades.

Judaline is releasing a new podcast called Tradeswoman Talk. And we'll find out at the end how we can get more information about when that podcast will be released. Today, we're going to talk about relaunching or transitioning to a career in the trades, what's involved, how long it takes and everything we want to know about it.

Judaline, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Judaline Cassidy: Thank you so much for having me, Carol. It's a pleasure and an honor to be on your podcast.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're honored to have you as our guests, so thank you. Judaline, I want to start by talking about what you did first. You were a nanny and a housekeeper, and I'm curious how you decided to become a plumber. Were you thinking about it for a while? Did you know other people who were plumbers, or did you wake up one day and all of a sudden you knew that's what you wanted to do?

Judaline Cassidy: So originally, my education started in Trinidad and Tobago, I'm from the Caribbean. And attending school, I wanted to be a lawyer. But my great grandmother passed away and I couldn't afford to go to university to become a lawyer.

So the trades were my next option and pivot point. I chose plumbing over electrical and secretarial work and seamstress and all of that, because I figured if I could learn a trade, I could teach it and I could make lots of money. That was the reason that I started plumbing. But then I migrated to the United States, and when I got here, I didn't get back into plumbing right away. I became a housekeeper and a nanny. And I loved both jobs cause I really love working with kids and that's how I did that.

Then one of my neighbors who lived next door to me remembered that I attended plumbing school in Trinidad and Tobago, and he helped me get a job on a construction site. Back then, a lot of minorities weren't allowed to do construction or to get into the union. So they formed this thing called a coalition, and they would go down to job sites and demand work. So I guess he told them he had a plumber, and that's how my lifestyle changed from being a nanny to being a plumber, and began all over again.

That's how it started and have been doing it for over twenty years plus since then.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's an amazing story. I want to know if you can educate our audience about the construction trades, and you mentioned plumbing, and electrical. Are those the two major trades in construction or are there others? Do you have to take tests in order to apply for trade school? And what's involved with going to trade school?

Judaline Cassidy: First of all, you can do it at any age, that's what I love about the trades. They don't discriminate.

You can start at eighteen years old, right after high school. It involves actually getting into the union and there are many trades. There is plumbing, electrical, iron working, carpentry, sheet metal, and doing AC and HVAC. There's just so many trades that someone could get into.

And the great thing about the trades and the secret about the trades or the untapped resources of the trades, and a lot of people don't know, that it's the other four year degree. What's good about the trades is the person could learn the skill and learn the craft and not incur college debt, and have a great salary.

So most apprenticeship programs within the building trades are four to five years. As an apprentice, we say this catchphrase, "you earn while you learn," meaning, you join the apprenticeship, you get into the union, you join the apprenticeship while you are attending school and learning the reason behind what you do, the why's behind what you do.

You get paid while you're also learning on the job site with a more seasoned veteran, which in the trades, we say apprentices is the person learning, and a journeyman is a person who has already achieved that status. You learn from that person. And most trades have been around, unions have been around for almost 130 years.

And the building trades were very pivotal in building America and building buildings and stuff like that. So it's a great, great resource for a lot of people who want to show their children and also for themselves, that you can really relaunch a career in the trades at any time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So do people of different ages who are not eighteen to twenty-two, they're people who may be in their thirties or forties, who have gone to trade school and become a tradesperson?

Judaline Cassidy: Yes, we have lots of people like that. A lot of women and a lot of men, my partner that I had four years ago, he was a salesman. He sold automobiles and it really wasn't working out and he joined the trades at thirty-eight years old and became a plumber.

We have a lot of women who were nurses, or we have people who were going to school to be doctors and decided that wasn't for them at late stages in their lives and join the trades. So it's one of those careers that you can really relaunch at any time. The only drawback is that you might feel like it's too late for you, but the trades are not saying it's too late for you.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you talk about the physical and mental demands of the day to day of the work that you're doing?

Judaline Cassidy: Yeah. So physically the trades are not what everybody envisions, like working so hard with your body that you're not able to do it because you're a woman or that you're older. Most of the things that we do are in teams. You work with a group of people, and you work with a partner. You look at me and if you or any of your listeners want to look me up, Carol, I'm really short.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I know you are because we know each other.

Judaline Cassidy: Yes, I'm 4'11-7/8", and I've been doing this for twenty-four years. The drawback for me, I can speak for myself being an island girl, is the elements, which are really detrimental on our bodies as trade workers. So when it's ninety-something degrees outside, we are there working. When it's below zero, we are outside working. For me, that is the most difficult part of the trades, the elements. You should have a sense of grit and love working outdoors and that will work really fine.

You love working with other people, that helps, because we are always surrounded by people from different cultures, different races. So that's some of the things that I love. The difficulty, I would say for me and a lot of people, is really the elements. And those are the days you have to dig really deep, especially being an island girl to get up and go outside and put on all of those layers to work. For me, that's the most difficult, it’s the elements.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So you're not talking about the hottest weather, you're talking about the cold weather.

Judaline Cassidy: The cold and hot. Because I suffer from migraines, and when it's a really hot day, it sets off. But I think because I love plumbing so much, on those days, I find a way to do it because the love and the passion I have for being a plumber pulls me through that. And you just have to figure out if you want to do this, is it worth it for you? Because like everything in life, you have to figure out “why” you do it. Your "why" is beyond whatever. And once you figure out that "why," I mean, the trades are lucrative. It's a skill that if any one relaunching decided after they went to the apprenticeship and they become a journeyperson, they can say, "You know what, I'm going to put up a world map, and I'm going to throw a dot and wherever it lands, that's where I'm going to go." That's the freedom of being a tradesperson. You can literally get a job wherever you want.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's a really important point. I want to ask a follow-up question about the physical and mental demands. How do you handle dangerous situations? Are you ever afraid that something's going to explode or something's hot, how do you handle that?

Judaline Cassidy: Yeah. There's a lot of situations that are really dangerous. Construction is one of the top ten dangerous jobs. And it's dangerous because we have to rely on each other. So in construction, when you're there, you really have to be paramount about your safety and speak up and have a voice. Because if you don't, the crowd and the team might push you to do something that's unsafe.

I've always had in my head that I want to go back home to my family. So even if somebody is trying to push me to climb up on a ladder that is not safe, or sometimes we go up, it's called a scissor lift, twenty, thirty feet up in the air to install a pipe. That's scary. And it's still scary. I do it because, like I said, there's so many things in life that you're going to be afraid of. And if you let fear stop you, you won't achieve anything. So I think most of that, over time, you really get to develop a sense of your surroundings, like always paying attention. Most people get hurt when they want to take a shortcut. It applies in construction and it applies in life.

Anytime we try to take shortcuts about something, we always end up getting hurt. That's why I've been really paramount and try my best to always focus on the task at hand and be safe.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And actually, this leads me to my next question, because I was trying to think about, you're describing, you must be pretty fearless and you talked about grit, and I'm just thinking about the kind of personality profile that you think is best for success in the trades.

And how do you suggest people test their potential for succeeding in it and really loving the work?

Judaline Cassidy: So if you're a person who definitely loves working with your hands, like you already like bacon, you like painting, just as simple as that, you love crocheting. You already have the first part, you love working with your hands. That's every trade, you're going to work with your hands. So I think that's one of the major traits, to love working with your hands. And then you have to love working, or not love, but at least like working with people. Because if I don't know how to navigate in a group of people in construction, you will have a very hard time.

In construction, we have this really bad habit where we cut each other off and we talk over each other. And it doesn't mean we don't want to hear your point or whatever, but you have to be a person who is okay with owning your own voice and speaking up. Because, if you don't, you could be left at the bottom in a sense, because people will think that you don't want to learn the trade, so they won't teach you anything.

So you have to find a way of being able to navigate, and talk to people, but you can still be an introvert, because I'm both. I am a very introverted person when I'm home, but when I'm on the job site, I'm entertaining everybody.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I want to get into that and a little more depth because I'm thinking about the team dynamic and how important it is, and all the different personalities and different types of people who might be on the team, and just this whole concept of banter, people kidding each other, the exchange, while people are working. Do you have to have a tough exterior to be able to be functioning in that kind of environment? Because you have to be focusing on what you're doing and get the task done. And there's a lot of things you have to be aware of and you have a team dynamic going on.

Judaline Cassidy: So definitely you have to step up your banter game and be able to come back with quick snapbacks. I'm known for that because if you don't do that, you definitely will be taken advantage of, like bullied in a sense. Construction has been, we've been way behind everybody else in a lot of things, and we're catching up slowly but surely. For a long time, it was really difficult for women to be on a construction site because nobody spoke to you, nobody taught you anything, and that's slowly changing. But you have to be able to know, men say everything whether it's true, whether they're angry, they use banter a lot to deliver criticism, praise, everything.

So you have to be able to be okay with that. And you don't always have to answer the banter with teasing, but it is something that we do all the time. I have a hard time navigating on the outside because I'm so used to just saying whatever, and nobody is taking any offense.

I don't know if that makes sense. Yeah, it's just a different world. I can tease you about the fact that, "Wow, you and your partner are both wearing green. Did you guys spend last night together?" In some other field that might be taken as, what are you trying to say? But we all will joke and say, "Yeah, he was loaded waking me up," and we know it's a joke. So I don't know if that makes sense. So it's just different. I don't know.

Since I started a nonprofit and I'm in that world of corporate, I realize how different we are in construction, and I'm learning. It's good, I'm learning to be better at listening to people and knowing when to be appropriate.

Carol Fishman Cohen: There's corporate environments and there's corporate environments. I spent part of my time in investment banking and there's a lot of language and bantering there too. And it was years ago, where now maybe people don't say the same things that they used to say.

But I'm interested. I think this is a really important point. Because you have to have a sense of humor, you have to be somewhat quick and be comfortable with that give and take part of the culture. And really it can impact how comfortable you feel and how successful you feel.

As a woman who's been in the trades, and I know that this is something that you've been a real leader in because you were one of the first women. And now I'm thinking you've watched this whole evolution where more women are getting into the field, but boy, when you started, you were probably, you were one of the very few.

Did you have to learn all this over time, and was there a harassment factor? How did you get confident enough to almost demand that people pay attention to you and give you the same kind of training that you needed in order to become really good at what you were doing?

Judaline Cassidy: Yeah, that's a really good question. When I first started I felt like I didn't belong there and I was invading their space. And for a long time I was living like that. I would let a lot of things go because I felt like it wasn't my space. I would get on a job site and nobody would talk to me. But it was always, what's great is there's always a hero and you just got to look for it. So there was always one guy who would, despite no one else talking to me, would come up to me and say, "This is my name. My name is Brian. How you doing?" And, that's how I got into the union. And that's how I learned my skill. As much as I'm an advocate for tradeswomen, I always tell everyone that I wouldn't be the world's best plumber if men didn't teach me.

So yeah, just think about it, when I was starting, there were only men. So I really feel like you within yourself have to, what the men respected about me was the fact that I loved plumbing as much as they did. They thought that I didn't, and that's where I gained their respect. I gained their respect by showing up for work every single day, even when it was cold. They were like, "She's here."

Those are the things.

And I was really very open to learning and I still am. To survive in the trades or even to be a good leader, you have to be able to be open for learning, being teachable. And the guys liked that I was very teachable. I would ask questions. And what they didn't teach me, I did that on my own. So if I was with someone and they weren't teaching me, I took out my own measuring tape and measured stuff to see where it was. I went over to the blueprint every time they went to the blueprint. If they sent me to get a fitting, because they didn't want me to learn, they already had it, they would send me for it. When I came back, I would bring four, and give them one. So when they said, "Oh, I forgot we need another one." I would just be like, boom, "Here it is." So those are the things that I did to succeed and be a plumber that gained a lot of my brothers, we always call each other brothers and sisters, to gain my brothers respect.

And it's so funny that I continued to believe that I didn't belong until I changed my mindset. So the day, I can't remember when that was, I started walking on that construction site, "This is my space and you should be happy that I let you work with me." Once I started doing that and owning that power, energy attracts energy, that shifted how the men thought about me. Didn't talk down to me anymore, they didn't talk to me like I was an idiot, because I didn't feel that about myself. Because for a long time, remember, I believed it was their space, I'm invading it. I should do this to make sure they like me. But once I started, “Listen, you are so lucky to be even working with the most awesomely skilled plumber. Hello!"

The guys tease me. They call me superstar because that's how I carry myself on the job site. And that changed everything. Even the other tradesmen will come up to me, like the carpenters or the steamfitters or the electricians. They're like, "Wow, you really know your stuff.” All the guys respect you. But I had to do that.

I had to put on that cape of ownership of "I belong" and that changed everything.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You know, what you're saying pertains to almost any work environment in terms of six dots. So I hope everyone is listening really carefully on the idea that, "I own this. This is my space. I'm teachable. I love what I do. I'm open to learning." And also this idea that you said there was always a hero. I have to say I never engage in male bashing because men also mentored me in my career and I really owe a lot of the opportunities that I had to men just treating me like everyone else, but also going to bat for me.

And it sounds, you learned from men. And this idea that there was always a hero, that must have been unbelievably critical in the early days until, I don't know what happened one day when you decided to walk in, and you owned the place with that kind of an attitude, if that just happened over time. And then one day you thought, "I'm ready to be this person." But I love hearing you talk about it and it's really instructive for everyone.

Judaline Cassidy: So a lot of people don't realize that in construction, the amount of women in construction since 1970 has been 3%.Three percent. It only went up to 3.4% last year. So, as much as I advocate for women being in the trades, I explain to them, at the end of the day, you most likely are going to be taught your craft by a male. That's the reality. But that doesn't mean, because of that you have to take being treated less than. You see what I mean?

So I have many incidents where men tried to do that to me, and I took it. And now, pffft, that doesn't happen at all, but you know what I mean? I'm operating on a whole different level now. But once I realized that the men are just more confident at selling their skill, which is maybe let's say their skill at 40% and I might be 50%, but I don't want to sell myself. Once I realized that, that's what I loved about that environment, that I learned that even at 50%, I can feel like I'm a hundred and that's what I love, I gained from the men. So I was like, "Whoa, he's not even good at this. He's walking around like he's really good." Because I know from working with them. Then I was like, "You know so much more and you walk around like, why would you do that?"

And that goes for everybody, whether you're male or female. Own it. You already have everything that you need to make you successful. You just gotta look in the mirror and do this thing that I do in my life every day. Anything that I've done: I conceive it. I believe it. And then I just do it. And just do that and you'll see the shift.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Incredible. Judaline, I want to know if you can tell us more about the organization that you founded, Tools and Tiaras, what happens there? Who do you work with?

Judaline Cassidy: So Tools and Tiaras was a nonprofit that I started in 2017. And the goal and mission of Tools and Tiaras is to teach girls and women, expose them to careers in the trades.

We teach women and girls. And I have those trademarked, so don't steal it, but jobs don't have genders. So we really, really push women and girls to understand that you can do any job you want, it doesn't have a gender. So we have free monthly workshops for women and girls, every month.

And then in the summertime, we have an all girls construction skills camp, where girls as young as six years old to seventeen come in for a week, and they get to learn and be taught and build projects, all taught by trades women: plumbing, carpentry, electrical, iron working, coating. They meet female firefighters. They meet female police officers. They learn about finances. They learn self-defense. Every empowerment level, that's what Tools and Tiaras is. We just want to empower a generation of girls to be inspired to pick up the tools, and join these lucrative, very lucrative careers that you can make over a hundred thousand dollars a year without college debt.

I did that. I do that. I don't have a college degree and I make a hundred plus. I don't want to say how much, because a lot of people will be reaching out for money. But because of tools being a plumber, I was able to start Tools and Tiaras. When I started the non-profit for almost a year, I was funding it with my own plumber salary.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That's incredible. Did I hear you say that you also teach women, not the camp in the summer, but some of these other sessions that you run?

Judaline Cassidy: Yes, we do. So the monthly workshops are for women and girls. And then sometimes we partner. Last year we had a workshop with Omega Institute. It's this awesome place, upstate New York, where you can go, you could do zen and yoga and mindfulness. And it's an amazing space. And I encourage them that women want to be empowered on another level while not bringing the trades. They were a little hesitant, but we actually had the workshop and I had to cap it off because we had almost twenty-five women sign up like that, to learn plumbing and carpentry. And we were supposed to go back this year. But with the whole situation, that workshop for plumbing was going to be in May.

But the funny thing is, I started Tools and Tiaras mostly for girls. But when I did the Omega workshop, I had women crying. I'm not even kidding. They made me cry. There was a woman that was sixty years old. She said, growing up, she wanted to be a plumber. And everybody told her that she couldn't be a plumber.

So she went into nursing and she said, "It's another kind of plumbing in another way." And she said this weekend inspired her so much that she was able to live her dream. So we taught women how to install a facet, and how to change the toilet bowl.

And that's the kind of emails we get all the time. I get a lot of emails from women wanting to learn this or exposing their daughters to it, and even get men asking me, “How can I get started in the trades?” So it's something that a lot of people, just because of the perception of what they see on television, that a tradesperson is this baffling idiot, and we look really filthy with construction clothes. They assume the wrong idea. You have to be really smart to work in construction. Everyday people go into these buildings, and if I didn't or another trades person didn't build your home that you are in right now, where would you shelter during this crisis?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. I'm glad you mentioned men. Because we have men in our audience and we have men in our relauncher community. So I know we're talking about Tools and Tiaras being focused on girls and some programs for women. But we also want to tell the men in our audience that relaunching in the trades is something that you can also do, and relaunch as a man. Something to keep in mind. That sounds like amazing work.

I will ask you at the end how people can find out more about that work, but I want to wrap up with a couple of questions for you. One of them is, you were on Makers, which is so amazing. How did that happen? Did they find out about you because you were in a newspaper article or something, and did they prep you and what was that experience like?

Judaline Cassidy: So the Makers' experience really literally changed my life. I had followed Makers, because I am the feminist plumber. So I followed Makers, and I was on the advisory board for a building that was going to be built in New York City called the Women's Building.I reached out to Makers and I said, "It would be amazing if you did a story about this building that is being built by women for women."

And they were all fascinated with it. And they were like, "Actually, we'll come and see the building, but can we do a profile on you?" And I kept telling Makers, "No, because I'm very, I know it sounds awful, but I really like being an activist, but not being in the spotlight." And I still struggle with being in the spotlight working on that, but Makers said, "We want to do the profile on you." And I kept saying "no." And they said, "We'll make it really comfortable for you." One day after work, my dress was in my backpack and I changed from my Carhardt jeans and cap and Carhardt t-shirts and put on a dress. I didn't have on any makeup or anything in that video.

They kept the room really dark because I was really shy. I don't like being on camera or taking pictures, and I did that video. When I did the video, they were like, "Oh my gosh, this is so amazing. We want you to be one of our keynote speakers at the conference."

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow.

Judaline Cassidy: Yes, because sometimes people don't realize, and the funny thing is, I wouldn't have done Makers if my friend, I have this friend, Pamela Schiffman, and she touched me on the shoulder and she said, "Judaline, it's not about you. It's about all the little girls and women you're going to inspire. Sometimes you can be that spark for someone else." If she didn't tell me that I would have probably kept on saying "no." I was on Megan Kelly, and I told Megan Kelly, "no," also.

So I get these opportunities and I say "no" a lot, but I'm learning to be better and say "yes" to everything and find a way to do it. But I had to get there. I still struggle with that, but it was a great experience being on Makers and telling my story, because a lot of people don't know about the amazing careers that exist in the trades. So it was my opportunity to be a representative for the trades that I love.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That sounds incredible. Thanks for sharing that. Judaline, we're wrapping up now. I'd love to talk to you for hours, but we are going to finish and I want to finish by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience even if it's something we've already talked about today?

Judaline Cassidy: Yeah, I would say the best piece of advice that I got is, do everything with a 10X kind of energy. You want to go after a new job, even though you are definitely scared, go after it with all the energy that you possibly could, and the universe will have this way of paying you back.

I am in the process of doing Tools and Tiaras, doing Tradeswomen Talk, I go speak and I'm doing all those things while I'm scared, but I still do it at 10X energy. So just do it. You got this.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, that's an incredible way to wrap up and really good advice. How can our audience find out more about your work and your upcoming podcast, which you are about to launch?

Judaline Cassidy: Yeah. So we're going to be launching a podcast called Tradeswoman Talk, where we are going to be talking with tradeswomen and men, within the trades, within construction and male dominated careers. It's going to be on our website so you can follow us at And if you type our name in Google search, you'll see us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Follow us and see the inspiring stories of young girls that are changing in the world.

Carol Fishman Cohen: What a pleasure. Thanks for joining us today, Judaline.

Judaline Cassidy: Thanks for having me. It was a blast and I so believe in relaunching, cause we always have an opportunity to relaunch ourselves. I love this.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, great. Thank you.

Thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss strategies, advice and success stories about returning to work after a career break. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the chairman co-founder of iRelaunch, your host. For more information on iRelaunch, go to

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