What Does Blue Collar Mean? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 16, 2020

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Do you wonder what the term blue-collar means? Working-class individuals are broken up into blue-collar and white-collar groups. Here you’ll discover what the term blue-collar means. We’ll share what kinds of workers are in the blue-collar group. Plus, we’ll share what is expected for workers in this category.

What the Term Blue-Collar Means

According to Investopedia, “Blue-collar originates from the common appearance of a manual labor worker’s attire: blue jeans, overalls, or boilersuits. Dark colors, such as blue, help hide dirt and other elements that may soil clothes as a result of work.”

A Man’s Story of Growing Up Blue-Collar in America

My husband, Mike, grew up in a blue-collar family. He and his father started the family machining business CRV Industries, Inc. After eight years, it grew to become a progressive die company that produced parts for the sheet metal and automotive industries.

As times changed, much of the industry demand started going to China. Their company had to adapt to survive.

They purchased another company that produced cams and indexers. The new combined company was named CRV Lancaster, Inc. It produced parts for the canning industry and was thriving.

When he was just ten years old, he started working alongside his father, Jim, learning the business. Soon his two brothers would also follow in his footsteps. He grew up in the business.

He learned how to work the machines and fix them if they broke. Soon he knew the entire production process from start to finish.

As he grew older, he learned to work on the business side, writing customer quotes and running the finance side of things.

When he was in high school, the guidance counselor kept pushing, asking him what college he wanted to go to. He said, “I don’t want to go to college; I want to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a tool and die maker.”

Guess what they wore at work? A blue T-shirt and blue jeans!

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A Woman’s Story of Growing Up in a Blue-Collar Industry

Anne’s grandfather started their Chicago based machinery shop in the late ’60s. The machinery shop produced machining cams, indexers, and special machinery. Her dad grew up in EW Lancaster, their family business. As a young girl, she always tagged along with her father when he went to work at his machinery shop. It was only natural for her to help out when she got older. She would help with clerical work while her dad worked in the shop.

There are certain things about the blue-collar life you get used to. Your hands get very dirty. You can get squirted with coolant from the machines while you are working. You learn to change your shoes and clothing as a safety measure. You have to be careful that metal chips from the equipment didn’t drop out of your shoes, clothing, or hair to cut someone. And you always had to take a shower when you got home.

As Anne grew into her teens, she taught herself how to run the equipment and honed her skills working alongside the other guys in the shop.

At its peak, their company netted 3.2 million in the late ’80s with 30 employees. But it changed in the early ‘90s. New technologies phased out much of the need for parts they made. To save money, many companies started sending their orders to China. Both of these things really cut into their business.

She worked towards pursuing a college degree as an engineering major. Then she left school to help out with the family business. After her dad passed, her mom sold the family business to CRV because it was overwhelming to run by herself. The new company was called CRV Lancaster.

Today she is basically a white-collar office worker for this blue-collar machinery business. But growing up in this industry has definitely given her the strength to push through in tough times.

For Many, Blue-Collar Work is a Family Affair

Many of them work in the trades doing manual labor. Perhaps they grew up in a family of plumbers. Maybe the father taught the sons about carpentry. Or perhaps an uncle passed along his knowledge of being an electrician to the rest of the family.

Most of them have only a high school education. Many have learned their skills by working alongside someone else or doing an apprenticeship.

Rather than receiving a salary like white-collar workers, most blue-collar workers earn an hourly wage.

What Jobs Are Available for Blue-Collar Workers

If you love working with your hands, there are several blue-collar opportunities available to you.

Some of these blue-collar career options include: factory workers, machinists, tool and die maker, mechanics, welders, plumbers, electricians, carpentry, construction, food service, cable installations, janitorial work, sanitation, manufacturing, firefighting, retail, warehousing, steelworkers, dispatchers, dock workers, elevator repair, transportation inspectors, refinery operators, electrical power repair and heating/cooling technicians.

Pros and Cons of Blue-Collar Workers

Like every career choice, there are advantages and disadvantages.

  • Pros

    • Only need a high school diploma. Save a lot of money by not paying for a 4-year degree.

    • With an apprenticeship, you get paid for job-training.

    • You feel the satisfaction of making and doing things with your hands.

    • The job’s physical nature keeps you active, moving, and in better shape than a desk job would.

    • You get to dress more casually on the job.

  • Cons

    • Manual labor – many of these careers are physically demanding and require stamina.

    • Job hazards – working with machines, tools, and other dangerous conditions can up your chances of on-the-job injuries.

    • Judgment. Many blue-collars don’t get the respect of their white-collar counterparts.

    • Loss of work due to overseas companies. Many companies seeking to cut costs are transferring their blue-collar work overseas.

Labor Unions

Some companies that employ blue-collar workers have unions that represent the workers. Collective bargaining is a way to solve workplace problems. Unions have won higher wages and better working conditions for their members. Union members work together to negotiate with management for better raises, affordable health care, safer workplaces, job security, and a stable schedule. You pay dues to be a union worker.

Blue-Collar Workers Are in Hot Demand

There is an upcoming shortage of workers for blue-collar careers. According to The Conference Board, “The US labor shortage, especially for blue-collar workers, will continue through at least 2030. That means there’s a huge opportunity for those interested in joining the trades.

The trades and blue-collar industries predict a considerable worker shortage as baby boomers retire. Younger individuals entering the workforce are choosing white-collar jobs. When older trade workers retire, there are no trained workers to take their place.

There is a talent shortage. The attendance of apprenticeship programs declined by 40% between 2003 and 2013. So there is a smaller trained work pool to draw from for blue-collar jobs.

Why the Shrinking Blue-Collar Labor Force?

  • Baby Boomers are retiring.

  • Individuals are choosing to go to college and pursue white-collar careers hoping for higher salaries.

  • Uneducated men are living with their parents and less motivated to get work.

  • Some blue-collar workers are leaving the work-force for white-collar opportunities

The demand for blue-collar and manual services workers is increasing. To fill this gap, many companies have increased their efforts to recruit underserved populations such as women, mature workers, the disabled, immigrants, and veterans. Plus, many companies are raising wages to attract new talent.

Blue-collar workers are how America gets stuff done. They have a great work ethic. They aren’t afraid to put in a hard day’s work. They are the guys behind the scenes that keep everything running. They keep the machines running, the lights on, and construct the buildings for our nation’s future.

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Chris Kolmar

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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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