Redefining “Blue Collar”

engineersThe terms “blue-collar” and “white-collar” are thrown around awfully frequently these days without much sense of what the terms actually mean, and what the modern connotations of their use actually are.

Generally, blue-collar workers “perform labor jobs” and work with their hands. Theoretically, blue-collar workers employed in skilled trades like carpentry receive formal vocational education, but most blue-collar occupations are thought to require little formal education to perform basic job duties.

White-collar, on the other hand, was coined in the 1930s by Upton Sinclair and tends to connotate “highly skilled and formally trained professionals.” When thinking of white-collar jobs, many people think of accountants, bankers, attorneys, and real estate agents, among others. White-collar jobs are often thought to pay better because of higher education levels required to perform the task, and the common presence of a salary as opposed to an hourly wage. Most people think that blue-collar jobs pay by the hour, and that these wages are often less significant and substantial than white-collar jobs.

Technically, the American Heritage Dictionary defines blue-collar as “of or relating to wage earners, especially as a class, whose jobs are performed in work clothes and often involve manual labor.” And while there’s no doubt that this is often the case, problems arise when the world sees blue-collar jobs exclusively as those that pay low wages and require grit and grime along the way.

Take the list that Forbes compiled of high-paying blue-collar jobs, for example, and it’s easy to see that this isn’t always the case. Elevator installers make an average of $73,650 annually, and transportation inspectors make an average of $65,6770. There’s massive potential for growth, too: The top 10% of transportation inspectors average out at $110,210 annually.

To some extent, these distinctions are arbitrary. There’s subcategories of blue and white collar delineations (grey-collar means a skilled technician like an IT worker: someone who is primarily white-collar, but performs blue-collar tasks with regularity). Green-collar workers hold environmentally friendly jobs, and yellow-collar workers are in the creative field and do both blue and white collar tasks. Think about engineers, or civil engineers: They’re considered white-collar, but must be trained in skilled and technical labor in order to do their jobs well. The point of these descriptions is that categories can be useful, but only to a certain extent. Rejecting the possibility of a blue-collar job simply because of the traditional connotations of blue-collar misses the point of these categories, and certainly doesn’t take into account the wide, wide variety of possibilities under the blue-collar umbrella.

At the end of the day, you’ll care far less about what color your imaginary collar is than whether or not you love the work that you do. Keep an open mind and explore jobs that fascinate you, regardless of category.

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