What’s The Difference Between Blue-Collar And White-Collar Jobs?

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 29, 2021
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As humans, we love to categorize all the different things we do, and work is no different. There are many different ways to classify the work we do, whether we consider ourselves technology workers, government employees, freelancers, or all the three at the same time.

Classifying workers by collar color has been a common practice for at least a hundred years now. The distinction involves not only the nature of the work done but socio-economic factors as well.

The two main colored-collar designations are blue-collar and white-collar, but you may have heard of others like pink-collar or gold-collar.

These designations are not rigid, thorough classifications, but they are common in casual language. The blue-collar and white-collar distinction is often referred to in everyday life and politics, and it can be useful to understand the definition of these terms and how they compare and contrast.

This article will help you understand the differences between blue-collar and white-collar jobs, some common examples of jobs in each category, and some other colored-collar designations you might hear.

What Does Blue-Collar Mean?

When people talk about blue-collar workers, they are referring to a subset of the workforce that makes a living through manual labor or industrial work, otherwise known as “working class” people.

This labor can be classified as either “unskilled” or “skilled.” Though the term “unskilled” may not be the kindest way of putting it, most blue-collar work is classified in this way.

Classifying labor as “unskilled” simply means that the skills can be learned on the job by people with little or no experience and that specialized education or training is not required.

“Blue-collar” as a term dates back to the early 20th century. The origin is quite literal, as it refers to the blue chambray or denim shirts worn by many manual laborers at the time. The dark-colored shirts served a practical purpose for these workers, as you were likely to get dirty in the course of your job.

Seeing how well these dark blue colors concealed grease, dirt, and stains, many employers began making uniforms in these colors. In many blue-collar professions, blue uniforms are still the standard.

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Blue-collar jobs are typically distinguished by the amount of manual labor required for these jobs. Rather than sitting down at a desk to do work, these workers use their physical capabilities to get their work done. Thus, blue-collar work typically doesn’t require a college degree, but it may require a high school diploma.

However, many blue-collar jobs require specialized experience or training. Some jobs may also require workers to have a certification. Blue-collar workers typically receive hourly pay, but more advanced workers may have a salaried position.

Common Blue-Collar Jobs

  • Electrician. A worker who repairs and installs electrical wiring systems.

  • Structural Iron and Steel Worker. In this profession, workers fabricate and lay iron, steel, and sheet metal for construction projects. This job requires skill in welding and a lot of prior experience.

  • HVAC Technician. These workers are responsible for installing and maintaining ventilation, heating, and cooling systems.

  • Electrical Lineworker. Electrical power-line installers or lineworkers install and maintain electrical power distribution lines.

  • Mechanic. These workers help to maintain and repair vehicles and other types of equipment.

  • Construction and Building Inspector. Someone who closely examines the safety and quality of buildings, construction projects, and other large structures.

  • Flooring Installer. These workers lay carpeting, hardwood, linoleum, and other floorings in buildings.

  • Boilermaker. A worker who creates and installs boilers, machines that hold and heat fluids for various purposes.

  • Trash and Recyclables Collector. Also known as refuse collectors, these workers gather discarded materials from designated areas.

  • Telecommunications Equipment Installer. These workers install and repair radio equipment for telecommunication services.

  • Landscaper. These workers maintain the outdoor areas of their clients’ buildings with groundskeeping duties.

  • Train Engineer. Locomotive engineers operate battery-powered and diesel-electric trains. They operate train controls and ensure that the trains run on time.

  • Warehouse Associate. Warehouse workers might be responsible for several duties, including moving materials, loading and unloading trucks, operating machinery, and more.

  • Gas Plant Operator. These workers are in charge of producing, storing, and transporting gas. They typically work for oil and utility companies.

  • Elevator Repairer. These workers install, repair, and inspect elevator machinery.

What Does White-Collar Mean?

White-collar workers are people who hold office-based, administrative, or managerial jobs. These jobs often pay more than traditional blue-collar jobs, though not always.

The term “white-collar” refers to the white or light-colored dress shirts worn by office workers, and this term also came into use in the early 20th century. The stark differences in color between the working class’s uniforms and the middle or upper-class uniforms created a clear visual socio-economic distinction between people.

White-collar workers typically receive fixed salaries and benefits, and they rely more on mental labor than physical labor in the course of their job.

Whether they are doing professional, managerial, or administrative work, white-collar workers are almost always required to have a college degree, typically a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There may be some physical components of a white-collar job, but most of the job requires mental labor along with specialized skill or skills.

White-collar employees will need some level of experience before starting their job, whether from schooling or from professional experience because these skills cannot be learned easily on the job without this.

White-collar workers have a different lifestyle than blue-collar workers based on the differing demands of the jobs. White-collar workers experience significantly less strenuous physical activity at their job than blue-collar workers, which can be both a positive and a negative.

While white-collar workers are less likely to be seriously injured by equipment or other occupational hazards, they also don’t have to deal with long-term health consequences, such as lifting heavy objects or breathing in chemical fumes every day.

However, white-collar workers may struggle to get any physical activity into their days, as they are often required to sit at desks for extended periods of time. This can cause health complications such as obesity and heart disease.

Common White-Collar Jobs

There are a great number of white-collar jobs existing in every industry, including:

  • Physician. A highly-trained medical professional working in many specialties, including cardiology, dermatology, pediatrics, and more. Physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.

  • Attorney. A worker with specialized training and knowledge of the law. Lawyers and attorneys represent and aid individuals in court proceedings.

  • Publicist. Someone who helps convey the public image of a person, product, or brand. Publicists often work as part of an advertising or marketing team.

  • IT Specialist. These workers are responsible for setting up and managing technological systems. They utilize specialized knowledge to solve technology-related problems.

  • Dentist. Dentists are trained in oral and dental health, and they use this training to diagnose and treat patients.

  • Sales Manager. Someone who serves as a leader for an organization’s sales team. They develop sales goals and work within their department and organization to achieve these goals.

  • Engineer. Engineers work in many different fields, including chemical, software, electrical, industrial, and more. They use specialized math and science training to develop new products and solve problems.

  • Stock Broker. A professional in trading and investments who buys and sells shares on behalf of a client. They can work independently or with an organization.

  • Accountant. Accountants are responsible for financial and budgetary matters. They process taxes and manage budgets and accounts.

  • Real Estate Appraiser. Someone who estimates the market value of buildings and properties.

  • Graphic Designer. A creatively-skilled worker who creates logos, fonts, layouts, and digital artifacts for clients.

  • Market Researcher. These workers gather information and create studies in order to make marketing recommendations.

  • Business Executive. This is an all-encompassing term for high-ranking leaders at an organization, such as CEO or CFO.

  • Health Services Administrator. These workers oversee daily operations at medical facilities, and they handle the administrative tasks of healthcare settings.

  • Software Developer. These professionals build and code software for clients, and they are also known as coders or software engineers.

  • Architect. In this profession, workers design and plan out buildings and restoration projects.

Who Makes More Money: Blue-Collar or White-Collar Workers?

In the general understanding of blue-collar vs. white-collar jobs, most people associate white-collar jobs with having a higher pay grade.

The specialized education or training required for these jobs typically makes the workers more in-demand, thus earning them more competitive pay, or so the theory goes.

However, white-collar workers don’t always make more money than blue-collar workers across the board. There are plenty of jobs considered blue-collar that have very competitive pay rates and benefits, such as a power plant operator.

And there are tons of white-collar positions with lower salaries, especially entry-level or mid-level positions.

As a general rule of thumb, if the job requires what’s considered unskilled labor, it typically offers less monetary compensation. If a job requires skilled labor, whether that’s in the blue-collar or white-collar sector, it will have higher pay.

Other Colored-Collar Designations for Workers

Though blue-collar and white-collar are the most common and well-known colored-collar designations, some others have come into use over the years. Here are some other colored-collar designations you may hear:

  • Pink-Collar. Refers to workers in the service industry. This could be those in foodservice, retail work, or other jobs involving a high volume of serving and interacting with others.

    Traditionally, this term referred to jobs held most often by women and often forgotten within blue-collar and white-collar discussions.

  • Green-Collar. Refers to those who work in an industry that relates to the environment. This could be renewable energy workers, conservationists, environmental engineers, and many others.

    The purpose of this term is to shed light on the necessity of industries that advance our sustainability practices.

  • New-Collar. This very recently introduced term refers to workers who have built the soft and hard skills required of certain technological professions through non-traditional, often self-led paths.

    These workers may work in cybersecurity, app development, and other fields in the technology industry.

  • Gold-Collar. Refers to workers with highly specialized skills, a vast and specialized knowledge base, and whose jobs may require both physical and mental labor. This could be academic researchers, highly-advanced workers in the technology industry, or others.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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