4 Myths of Blue Collar Labor
Is there really something natural about bankers and lawyers wearing white shirts and plumbers and mechanics wearing blue ones?
Not really. When it happens, it’s a conventional way for manual laborers to keep their uniforms looking cleaner despite messier work conditions. But certain ideas and assumptions have grown up around the image of blue and white collars—many of which are turning out to be false.
Some of the myths about blue-collar labor in particular have influenced the way both employers and workers view various lines of work. While some of the myths may be partially based in fact, the credibility of several blue-collar labor myths is fading. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions about working in the trades.
All the Great Career Opportunities Are Gone
Many people believe it’s nearly impossible to break into a fulfilling new career these days. While that may hold true if you’re limiting your search to white-collar work, it couldn’t be more false when it comes to the skilled trades.
According to a 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers are currently seeking no fewer than 3.1 million people to fill skilled trade positions nationwide. And companies anticipate needing to fill an additional 2.5 million blue-collar jobs by 2018!
You might be thinking all those millions of Help Wanted ads would afford no opportunity for career growth. If so, read on.
Blue-collar Work Is Unfulfilling
Many Americans overlook blue-collar work as a career path because of what one career expert calls “aspirational bias.” In 2016, Mike Rowe, founder and CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, told Forbes.com such bias is “real and dangerous and completely without merit. . . . Learning how to weld, or how to run electric, or how to install a toilet—these skills can and often do lead to fulfilling careers, balanced lives, and better than average pay.”
Say again? That last point about pay deserves a debunking of its own. . . .
Blue-collar Work Doesn’t Pay Well
This myth is easily disproven by the stats—millions of Americans are not only working, but also thriving in blue-collar positions. A 2015 report from Salary.com listed some of the many skilled trades and manual labor fields yielding annual pay of $50,000 or higher.
As Rowe puts it, “The mastery of a trade doesn’t just give you a skill you can fall back on—it gives you an opportunity to start your own business. . . . A skilled tradesperson has a great shot at earning a six-figure salary.”
In fact, Rowe says in his quest to understand labor in America, most of the entrepreneurs he’s met have been skilled tradespeople. The opportunity to make money and grow your career in the blue-collar fields has never been greater.
Everyone Has to Go to College and Get a White-collar Job
“If you’ll just finish college, a great job related to your degree is as good as yours.” As popular as this view is, it’s another myth. Not everyone has to go to college. Nor do all graduates find easy employment in their degree field. In fact, the idea that they should is relatively new.
Although the percentage of Americans who have a degree keeps rising, so does the size and frequency of student loans. That wouldn’t be so bad if the white-collar jobs and salaries promised were keeping pace, but they aren’t.
Instead, workers with student loans are finding it increasingly difficult to make financial progress. The loan totals are so high, and starting salaries so comparatively low, that getting out of debt is hard.
But if the above blue-collar salary numbers and job openings are any indication, blue-collar training and work are well worth considering. That goes for both new high school grads who have no student debt and for those looking for greater opportunities and a career change.