Have you ever wondered where the term “blue collar worker” came from? We did a little digging on this and it turns out the term first appeared in an Ames, Iowa newspaper article in 1924. Everything gets a little murky after that but suffice it to say the description of those engaged in so-called manual labor – miners, construction workers, manufacturers, etc. – were defined by their clothing. This was often a blue chambray or denim shirt and contrasted with those white-collared workers who were employed in offices.
Over the years the term “blue collar” has been widely applied to those working in the trade industries, as well. Traditionally, a “blue collar” worker was someone who learned a skill – often by attending a trade school or by apprenticing – rather than going to college. While this definition still applies, the changing world of the tech economy has added new layers and new opportunities.
Hence, the “new” blue collar. What does that mean?
Blue collar still refers to manufacturing but has grown away from the assembly line jobs of the past. Mostly because these jobs are the first to be automated. Today’s manufacturing jobs require workers too often tweak processes for custom made products and feature proprietary technology. Some examples of this are in the steel industry, custom furniture, computer components, medical technologies and even baked goods.
These types of positions are generally safer, require a bit of a skill set and generally pay higher than before.
The new assembly line, however, is more virtual than actual. If a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters (kids, look that up) could eventually yield Shakespeare you get the idea of what the modern assembly line looks like.
Often referred to as “middle-skill” jobs that focus on the technology sector and usually require specialized training. Some of the areas of opportunity include coding for websites and apps, telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, systems and network administrators, help desk workers and even Internet publishing.
The new blue collar positions are not about innovation. They are more like support positions. They do require a solid technical skill set but the rewards are worth it. These are solid, growing middle-class paying jobs that bode well for the future. They are often fueled by training schools or two-year degrees and are less expensive to obtain than a four-year college education. And, ironically, they are less likely to be replaced by automation.
One other trend that is emerging is that many young people are seeking out the physical trades – carpentry, welding, plumbing, etc. There are several reasons for this. These skills are evergreen, the pay is dependable and for those with the entrepreneurial mindset offer a host of micro-business opportunities. Think artisanal.
Besides greater opportunities for growth and security, the term “blue collar” is losing the stigma some applied to it.