The blue-collar industry sustained an allure that enticed the typical working man of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. And why not? A job of this caliber afforded a person the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream” — the white picket fence, the 2.5 children, and nice house. A college education was not required to be comfortable in the middle-class.
In the ensuing years the quality of blue collar work didn’t change, but our attitude towards it did. We began to hear over and over that college was necessary to experience life success. As a result, the perception of blue-collar work declined and even as the work continued to offer solid careers. Now there aren’t enough interested candidates to fill all the excellent high-paying jobs available – but the lack of employees means those who are interested now can make a lot of money and maybe even become a millionaire.
The Gap Is Growing
The gap between available jobs and interested employees is only growing. The baby boomer generation is retiring in large numbers across the board, while high school students are being influenced to choose four-year universities in record numbers. As a result, the blue-collar labor force is having trouble keeping up, with 7.6 million positions unfilled and only 6.5 million people looking for work.
The coronavirus may put a temporary halt on hiring, but it’s not going to reverse the overall trend. In fact, more demand for infrastructure, construction, and repairs that will accumulate for the duration of the coronavirus crisis and create more demand for workers on the other side.
If you were a blue-collar worker a month ago you were likely seeing wages rise as companies scrambled to find and retain employees. If you’re a blue-collar worker in a few months, the story will likely be the same.
How can you take the biggest advantage of the hiring gap, which jobs are most in-demand, and how can we fix our labor shortage? That’s the subject of my book Blue Collar Cash.
Blue Collar For The Kids
In the long-term, the solution, it seems, would be to encourage the younger generations to skip the expensive college programs and consider the blue-collar universe. Heath Moody, department chair for A-B Tech Community College’s Construction Management, Building Science & Sustainability Technologies department, suggests exposing students to these options as early as their middle school years. Showing kids the “solution-oriented” nature of blue-collar positions (i.e., making the work environmentally friendly) could make them more desirable.
The prospects are many, and it is a near-guarantee that a job would result from a defection from the societal “norms” of modern-day. There’s a tremendous need for carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc., and the societal stigma of these positions are unfounded. Mark Bolton, Vice President of Bolton Construction & Service Of WNC, Inc., has a difficult time finding workers “who are good with their hands but also have the intelligence to handle complicated systems.” But these specialized workers can be molded, given the right tools and sent off to make a boatload of cash.
The increasing demand for blue-collar workers is driving up the value of every position. People who choose this route will undoubtedly have the most leverage in salary and benefit negotiation. And none of these jobs will have expensive 4-year price tags or result in ultimately irrelevant degrees (a real fear for many soon-to-be college grads).
HVAC mechanic Spencer Hollifield worried about wasting time on a degree: “…a lot of guys go who don’t know what they want to do go into college, and they basically waste four years of their lives and then go into something else.” Instead, Hollifield chose trade school, and now looks forward to making $50,000-$60,000 annually.
It’s about time we encourage other young people to follow suit. By increasing the number of people who go this route, we will ultimately squash the stigma and breathe life back into the incredibly necessary blue-collar sector.
Plus, we’ll be helping our children reach financial security.