When Did ‘Blue Collar’ Become a Dirty Word in America?

“When did blue collar become a dirty word? I don’t even use the word blue-collar anymore. We say essential workers, because we need them more than they need us” That’s what actor John Ratzenberger says, as he continued to advocate and educate Americans about the stable and wealth-creating blue collars jobs.  “America is, and has been, facing a crisis of epic proportions. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that there will be a (severe) shortfall of millions of skilled worker positions in America. The average age of skilled workers in many trades is 54-56 years old, and as this veteran group retires, there are not enough trained workers to replace them. Today’s shortage sharply reduces the growth of U.S. gross domestic product — certainly not a help in the current economy.”

Ratzenberger states, “From aviation to energy, the skilled worker gaps are enormous. This has dangerous implications for our national security. To maintain the world’s most sophisticated military, we must produce systems, parts and hardware in America. Without domestic manufacturing operations, critical component work has been moved offshore as a stopgap measure.

Negative media images of skilled workers — what I call “essential workers” — pervade our culture. Educators, employers and community leaders are slowly becoming engaged in efforts to counter this dangerous trend that glamorizes “celebrity” and “corporate” living at the expense of skilled trades that offer a good living to those who choose to work with their hands and minds” Ratzenberger concludes.

As an impassioned supporter of this country’s manufacturing and trades sector, I urge my readers, audiences and clients to also become champions of careers in manufacturing and other blue collar jobs. As I have traveled the nation, speaking and consulting with American manufacturers and trades professionals, they have repeatedly asked me for answers and strategies for recruiting more workers to manufacturing and technical careers. I say- start by raising awareness with the parents!

The challenge in attracting younger adults lies in changing misconceptions and long-held stereotypes associated with blue collar jobs, often by their parents. Blue collar used to mean “low-paying, menial, back-breaking work for those who couldn’t get into college.” The modern reality is that manufacturing is a high-tech, advanced industry requiring skilled and talented people, many of whom will earn more per year than their college-educated cohorts.

Consider my friend Mike who is a certified HVAC technician. After just 2 years in the industry, he is making $52K a year, has great benefits and is getting ready to buy his family a brand new home. He routinely gets calls from recruiters attempting to woo him away from his current employer. Mike joyfully adds that he has no student loans to repay!

However, Jessica, a liberal-arts major, who graduated from a top-ranked state school, can’t find a job after being laid off from a nationally known insurance company. Recruiters are not returning her calls. Her student loan balance, 2 years after graduating, is $23K.

Following is a list of blue collar jobs experts say are in highest demand, and their median annual salary according to online salary database, Training for many of these positions includes a paid, on-the-job apprenticeship, and the work can be physically rigorous. None of these jobs require education beyond a two-year associate’s degree.

1. Plumber, pipefitter, or steamfitter

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these occupations are among the highest paid in the construction industry. Most of these workers receive their training in a technical school or community college, in addition to a four- or five-year apprenticeship, the BLS reports. In most states and municipalities, plumbers need to obtain a license.

Average annual salary: $70,116

2. Carpenter

The BLS expects carpentry opportunities to grow by 23 percent this decade. According to the BLS, a third of carpenters are self-employed. In addition, many acquire the necessary skills by training on the job, enrolling in a vocational program, or working as an apprentice for three or four years.

Average annual salary: $48,675

3. Electrician

According to the BLS, employment growth in the field will increase 12 percent this decade. Those with the widest range of skills such as voice, data, and video wiring will be the most marketable, the BLS reports. Electricians usually get their training during a four-year apprenticeship. As with plumbers, state and municipal licensing is usually required.

Average annual salary: $57,429

4. Automobile mechanic

No matter what the economy’s doing, this is one job in demand. A vocational training program in automotive technology (often six to 12 months) or a two-year associate degree is usually needed to be competitive in the marketplace, the BLS reports.

Average annual salary: $45,613

5. Heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration mechanic/installer

The BLS estimates that job opportunities will increase by a whopping 28 percent this decade. To compete in the job market, the BLS says, a six-month to two-year vocational program or an apprenticeship are usually required. Same goes for state and local licenses.

Median annual salary: $50, 776

6. Roofer

If you’re strong, comfortable with heights, and don’t mind getting dirty, you might like this line work. Since much of the work revolves around repairing or replacing outdated roofing systems, the occupation is fairly recession proof, the BLS says. Training is often obtained on the job or through a three-year apprenticeship, the BLS reports.

Median annual salary: $42,717

7. Elevator installer/repairer

This is one of the best-paid blue collar positions!  According to the BLS, most elevator technicians start their career in a four-year apprenticeship program and belong to a union. In addition, city and state licensing is often required.

Median annual salary: $65,001

Sounds to me that the term ‘blue collar worker’ is truly outdated. Wouldn’t ‘golden collar worker’ be more fitting?

For a list of vocational schools in your state: click here

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