Girl Power in the Trades

Bella Caggiano
Issue Date: 
March, 2018
Article Body: 

Many make their career decisions when considering a college or major, but Norwood plumber Susan Marshalsea, of S. Jacobs Plumbing, is looking to spark interest at a much younger age. With the shortage of licensed plumbers in the area, during extreme weather conditions, she is forced to turn away new clients in order to service her existing customers. With her career, there is little time for rest, but during those precious hours Marshalsea does not spend her time idly. She is so devoted to her craft and the trade industry, she has developed a creative and informative solution to get the younger generation to use their hands other than on a cell phone or computer game.
What started as a vision has now turned into a constructive realty. As one of only three licensed Massachusetts plumbers, Marshalsea has made it her personal mission to introduce the trades to young women. To achieve that objective, in 2015, she teamed up with the Girl Scouts. At that time, there were no established plumbing badges so she coordinated three woodworking camps in Waltham for approximately 35 girls to earn their woodworking badge. The initial plan was to educate 20 girls, but to Marshalsea's delight, over 60 eager, young, students learned the basics, such as how to use a level, hammer, Philips and flat screwdrivers.
At that time, a plumbing badge were considered an elective. But that didn't stop Marshalsea. With her determination, she developed a plumbing curriculum and badge design. The response has been tremendous!
The young Girl Scouts, all under 14 years old, are now learning basic plumbing techniques and knowledge they can apply at home. They are taught safety procedures, where to find a main water valve and how to shut it off, how to clean an aerator, how to test for a toilet leak (with a free gift from Marshalsea), and how to use basic plumbing tools.
"Each girl walks away with a gift bag that includes a level or tape measure, a trademarked patch, main water shut off tag and other useful information," Marshalsea said.
Marshalsea's introduction to the plumbing industry was a little more personal than her Girl Scout classes. Her career began in 1980, when she needed a high school job and began working for her father, Bill Jacobs, who owned a plumbing business. While she definitely had a knack for the trade, and passed her father's 'informal' test, it would be ten years before she pursued plumbing full time.
"He gave me a test to remove a section of a boiler, and if I could get it out of the basement, I could have a job," Marshalsea explained. "I used a pulley system and when he came back, it was on the grass, and I said 'I quit.' It was dirty, hard, and the hours were horrible. I became a secretary and eventually helped my Dad in his office, but soon realized I hated the paperwork. I've been doing plumbing full time since 1990!"
Over nearly three decades, Marshalsea has seen a large decline in the trades industry and is doing her best to restore the art of working with your hands to children and young adults. As she describes it, 'the trades are a dying art,'.but it is a career she is passionate about.
"I'm just trying to get interest in the trades," Marshalsea said. "You saw it at the end of December and January were there were so many people calling with problems and so few people who can handle the problems.
In addition to her full-time job and classes, Marshalsea is also looking to amend new Massachusetts licensing laws to become a licensed plumber. In the past, the requirements were three years for a Journeyman and one year for a Master; those numbers have been increased to five years for a Journeyman's license and one year for a Master.
"It's a big commitment," Marshalsea explained. "With helper wages and school, financing is hard. I'm trying to work with the Massachusetts legislature. The Commonwealth killed the trades."
The concept of plumbing badges has taken off within the Girl Scouts and Marshalsea has many more young girls waiting to learn her unique skills.
"I have done plumbing workshops in Waltham and am now scheduled to teach at a camp in Plymouth in May and Mansfield in April," Marshalsea proudly said. "I have also started with a combined class for troupes in Norwood and Dedham."
While Marshalsea has committed herself to mentoring young women, her mission does not stop there. She is already planning to work with the Boy Scouts and accelerated her classes to teach adults the basics of home plumbing techniques. In the coming years, the Massachusetts' trade market will hopefully experience a surge, and Massachusetts homeowners can thank one of Norwood's own.