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Labor and Economic Opportunity

History-making apprentice, master plumber dominates in a rewarding career

State highlights pioneer in Professional Trades for National Women’s History Month to encourage other women to consider Going PRO in Michigan

CONTACT: Erica Quealy517-582-2961

March 22, 2019

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan needs more skilled talent like Adrienne Bennett, a leader in the plumbing and construction industry, who blazed a trail for other women to consider pursuing high-demand, high-wage Professional Trades careers.

As Ford Motor Company works to rebuild the historic, and abandoned, Michigan Central Station in Detroit, it is only fitting that the plumbing contractor on-the-job has herself made history – leading the nation and state as the first and only African-American licensed female Master Plumber, Plumbing Contractor, Plumbing Inspector and Certified Medical Gas Inspector and Installer.

Adrienne Bennett, started her career more than four decades ago after she accepted an offer to join a federally funded, five-year plumbing apprenticeship program. Since then, she has held a wide range of professional jobs including, code enforcement officer, plumbing contractor and her current role, President and CEO of Detroit-based Benkari LLC, which she founded with her sons in 2008.

It all started in 1976 while attending a “get out the vote” rally when Gus Dowles, a former UAW official and activist, approached her about a $50,000 a year plumbing apprenticeship he was looking to promote to minority women in construction fields.

At the time, Bennett was a freshman at Lawrence Tech University, studying to become a metallurgical engineer. But thought this was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. “It was a means to make my own money, provide for my family and walk away debt free,” she says.

Bennett happened to be in the right place at the right time—she had a point to prove to her male colleagues. And, a promise to keep to her professional mentor and recruiter, Dowles, who she told, “I’m the right woman for the job.”

Professional Trades careers pay about 45 percent higher than other occupations, and offer a median salary of $51,000. With 811,000 jobs coming upon through 2024, the Going PRO campaign was launched to address the state’s talent gap issues. The campaign includes messaging to encourage women to consider a career in Professional Trades, and professionals like Bennett play a role in helping the state advocate for students to consider careers in computer science, information technology, healthcare and manufacturing.

 “Adrienne is an outstanding example of an individual who turned an apprenticeship into a promising Professional Trades career,” said Talent and Economic Development Department of Michigan Acting Director Stephanie Beckhorn. “We’re working hard to make sure more Michigander’s – especially young girls and women – will see Adrienne’s success as an opportunity for themselves to explore these career paths and take advantage of the training or credential opportunities that lead them to rewarding, good-paying careers in Professional Trades.”

Bennett has built a reputation on fundamental values that she learned while growing up in Detroit, such as, integrity, discipline and tenacity. "I was taught to stick to my word and do the job beyond expectation," she says. Her work ethic has not gone unnoticed – she’s worked on large projects for the Little Caesars Arena, Fox Theatre, City of Detroit and Henry Ford Hospital.

Luckily for the state and City of Detroit, Bennett has no plans to retire. Even at 62, she continues to learn new skills, and plans to continue hiring skilled talent to help rebuild the city she loves – Detroit.   

Bennett added that hiring talent is one of the most rewarding elements of being CEO because she’s offering an opportunity for job security, and a chance to build on Michigan’s rich history.

Now, as a mother and grandmother, Bennett remains North America’s first and only licensed female Master Plumber and Plumbing Contractor. A title she’s held for over 30 years.

And she’s not done making history yet.

On May 8, Bennett will graciously accept the 2019 Michigan’s Small Business Women of the Year award from the Small Business Association of Michigan, adding to her multitude of accolades. In 2018, Benkari LLC also made the 2018 ‘Michigan 50 Companies to Watch’ list.

The journey to becoming president and CEO of her own company wasn’t easy, she often faced adversity from her male peers in the industry. But she never let it get in the way of her dreams. Bennett leaves this piece of advice for women in the field, and young women looking to pursue a career in Professional Trades, “Never let anyone or anything stop you – aim high,” she says.

“In many ways, I am blessed because I found a career that was a good fit for me and I’ve grown to love it,” she adds.

Students, both men and women, and lifelong learners looking to start a rewarding high-wage career in Professional Trades are encouraged to visit,