The Texas State Technical College and The Dwyer Group, which licenses the Mr. Rooter franchise, have joined together to set up a two-week continuing education program in service plumbing at Texas State's Waco campus. While the program is open to men and women, its main focus is to recruit and educate women for a career in the plumbing industry.

The pilot program ran Aug. 13-23, with nine female enrollees sponsored by the Heart of Texas Workforce, an organization that helps women off the welfare rolls. Attendees were given classroom instruction, as well as hands-on training, on the basics of sewer and drain cleaning. They also learned about plumbing codes.

All nine attendees graduated, and several Mr. Rooter franchise owners came in to interview the graduates. At press time, it was not known how many were offered jobs.

Dina Dwyer-Owens, president and chief executive officer of The Dwyer Group, developed the "Women In Trades" idea.

"As I was sitting in a restaurant, I looked at the waitress and thought, 'She can't be making much money. Why can't she be a plumber?'" Dwyer-Owens said.

She realized that the waitress, like many other women, probably didn't know about the opportunities for women in plumbing and the money she could make. "Women don't think about plumbing as a career. We need to get the word out and make them aware of the tremendous opportunity available for them in the plumbing field."

In 1999, there were 540,000 plumbers in the United States, with about 10,000 of them female, according to the Women's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Barriers do exist for women entering the industry -- companies not wanting to hire women plumbers or service techs that don't accept women in the field. With the training program at Texas State, enrollees are not only given the tools needed to start out as a plumbing helper but also the "experience to be confident," Dwyer-Owens said.

With her own experience at Mr. Rooter, she knows that customers like having female service techs in their homes (see "Mr. Rooter's Woman Of The Year," September 2002).

As to the continuation of the program, Dwyer-Owens would like to have the course offered again, at least quarterly. After a year or so, she'd like to work with other educational institutions around the country to develop similar programs; first in plumbing, then branch out to others areas such as electrical or HVAC.