Illustration by Candace Wingfield for M.O.B. Editorials™

How many times have you been on a vacation and planned an afternoon to tour the sights of a city or town? How many times have you found the perfect photo opportunity in front of a fountain or stood in awe of an impressive skyscraper? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you have, perhaps without realizing it, appreciated the work of a tradesperson.

“People take for granted what we do,”  says Union Plumber, trades advocate and founder of the nonprofit, Tools and Tiaras, Judaline Cassidy. “They pay money to travel the world to look at things that tradespeople built. We need to restore the respect and love that trades work deserves.” Standing at four feet, eleven inches, the pride Judaline has for being a plumber gives her a larger-than-life perspective that has been infectious amongst her peers and is igniting real change within the industry. “It’s the one area in my life where I walk around like the bee’s knees,” Judaline laughs. “I love plumbing!” she exclaims. “It fires me up and get’s me up in the morning.”  Although she is currently living her best life as a full-time union plumber for NYC, her journey into construction was not a direct path and came out of necessity.

photo source: CNN changemakers

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, young Judaline had goals of another profession. “I wanted to be a lawyer but could not afford the schooling,” she recalls. So, instead, she enrolled in trades school where she became a plumber. After her move to NYC, however, she could not find work as a plumber and, instead, found more readily available work as a nanny and housekeeper. “I actually loved that job too. I love being around kids. I love their wonder of the world and their honesty. If you want to know how good of a person you are, ask them, they have no filter!”, she laughs. Although she enjoyed her work with families, when an opportunity presented itself to get back into her trade, Judaline jumped in.

“One of my neighbors remembered that I was a plumber by trade [and at the time], there was a coalition that had been formed to help black people get opportunities for work in their communities where a lot of buildings were being built.”  So, her neighbor suggested Judaline to a company in need of plumbers. “I showed up on the job and they weren't expecting little me!”

Often being judged by her appearance, it’s a reaction that she is all too familiar with. “People look at my exterior and they are surprised when they hear I am a plumber,” she explains. It’s a stereotype that she has taken head-on throughout her career by smashing people's expectations of what a plumber looks like and setting an example for other women looking to get into the trades. “I love that I get DMs from women who say I have inspired them to pursue plumbing!” says Judaline. Her passion for inspiring others and breaking barriers is led by a guiding principle. “I believe in the sisterhood of women. I truly believe in it,” she exclaims.

So in 2017, while keeping her full-time job as a plumber, she launched her nonprofit organization, Tools and Tiaras, to build on the strong foundation she had forged through the years. Her program works with girls of all ages to introduce them to the endless possibilities of working in the male-dominated industry of construction, ultimately instilling in them their courageous motto, “Jobs don’t have genders!”

“I want girls to know they never have to compromise and they can be whatever they want to be. And I want to be able to support them with a group of other amazing superhero women!”, says Judaline. So with the help of her network of amazing women, they mentor and guide these curious young girls to build change. After decades of young people not being encouraged to pursue trades work, her mission is critical and the type of forward-thinking that the construction industry desperately needs.

A huge fan of working hands-on, Judaline has had to make a shift during COVID into virtual learning. Admittedly nervous about how well it would work, she was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. After careful planning, she has been able to expand her mentorship to girls all over the country. Sending building kits and hosting guest teachers from other states, Judaline has been able to spread the love of building far and wide. One highlight of the virtual success was a tour of a construction site where Judaline was able to give them a behind-the-scenes look and introduce them to strong tradeswomen working on site.

Exposing these young girls to her expansive network of trailblazers truly fuels her messaging of sisterhood and shows these girls the change that she wants to see in the world. “Teach young girls that we are all sisters. It doesn't matter what color because the world is not kind to us women. We do most of the work and we don’t get the pay and in order to change that we have to believe in the sisterhood.”

Judaline’s infectious passion has naturally set her on a path that is lighting the way for the women around her and future generations. Like pieces to a divine puzzle, her drive, her love of children and her love for trades have created a foundation for real change that illuminates the path for others, and fortunately, the world is taking notice.