I was amazed recently when the Wall Street Journal, a periodical of American capitalism, ran the opinion piece Finding a Good Plumber Is a Heavy Lift.
The author, a developer, acknowledges the complexity of the field, calling his plumber a “drain surgeon.” The author goes on to cite the clear business value of someone who will “show up at 11 p.m. or on a weekend” since, as he put it, “water goes wherever it wants, whenever it wants.”
And yet the author simultaneously minimized the value of this essential trade, stating he “doesn’t like plumbers with secretaries,” perpetuating long-held stereotypes that are as outdated as they are unrealistic.
Most people don’t expect business owners to answer phones around the clock personally. Most people applaud business owners who build successful businesses that create jobs. The Wall Street Journal celebrates them all the time. What is different about plumbers?
Here’s what I think: the reason the Wall Street Journal accepted this opinion piece that is markedly different from their typical business coverage is because of how society has persistently demeaned small construction trade business people like plumbers. My Dad was a plumber. I’m CEO of a global organization dedicated to plumbing safety in the built environment. I’ve seen it firsthand my entire life.
Thankfully, it is a fading bias as more people become aware of how advanced plumbing is today. U.S. communities face incredible infrastructure and resiliency challenges. Drought and fire, legacy environmental hazards like lead piping, PFAs, 2.2 million Americans lacking clean water and safe sanitation–these are just a few of the big problems that plumbers are taking on right now.
To perpetuate negative stereotypes against plumbers when there’s only one plumber to replace every five who retire is not only pretentious and privileged, it’s just not smart. Plumbers and others in the construction trades are critical to our future growth and prosperity, nay to our very survival. With the well-documented benefits of a plumbing career, from job security and livable wages to the personal satisfaction of contributing to public health and community resiliency, we should be actively encouraging our youth to join the profession.
I invite the Wall Street Journal to talk to some of the fine plumbers we see every day about their business success and job satisfaction. At a reasonable hour.