What is a Blue Collar Worker?
Blue collar worker is an employee whose primary responsibilities require manual labor and the use of physical strength to create a product or deliver a result. “Blue-collar” and “white-collar” are terms in the English language that evoke different images. The blue-collar worker is perceived to make less than the white-collar worker. The white-collar worker might work behind a desk in the service industry, while the blue-collar worker gets their hands dirty doing manual labor or working in a division of manufacturing.
A blue-collar worker is a working class person who performs manual labor. Blue-collar work may involve skilled or unskilled labor. The type of work may involve manufacturing, warehousing, mining, excavation, electricity generation and power plant operations, custodial work, farming, commercial fishing, logging, landscaping, pest control, food processing, oil field work, waste collection and disposal, recycling, construction, maintenance, shipping, driving, trucking and many other types of physical work. Blue-collar work often involves something being physically built or maintained.
In contrast, the white-collar worker typically performs work in an office environment and may involve sitting at a computer or desk. A third type of work is a service worker (pink collar) whose labor is related to customer interaction, entertainment, sales or other service-oriented work. Many occupations blend blue, white, or pink-collar work and are often paid hourly wage-labor, although some professionals may be paid by the project or salaried. There are a wide range of payscales for such work depending upon field of specialty and experience.
Origin of Term ‘Blue Collar Worker’
The term blue collar was first used in an Alden, Iowa newspaper called the Times in 1924: “If we may call professions and office positions white collar jobs, we may call the trades blue collar jobs”. The phrase stems from the image of manual workers wearing blue denim or chambray shirts as part of their uniforms. Industrial and manual workers often wear durable canvas or cotton clothing that may be soiled during the course of their work. Navy and light blue colors conceal potential dirt or grease on the worker’s clothing, helping them to appear cleaner. For the same reason, blue is a popular color for boilersuits which protect workers’ clothing. Some blue collar workers have uniforms with the name of the business and/or the individual’s name embroidered or printed on it.
Historically, the popularity of the colour blue among manual labourers contrasts with the popularity of white dress shirts worn by people in office environments. The blue collar/white collar colour scheme has socio-economic class connotations. However, this distinction has become blurred with the increasing importance of skilled labour, and the relative increase in low-paying white-collar jobs.
Since many blue-collar jobs consist of mainly manual labor, educational requirements for workers are typically lower than those of white-collar workers. Often, not even a high school diploma is required, and many of the skills required for blue-collar jobs are learned by the employee while working. In higher level blue collar jobs, such as becoming an electrician or plumber, vocational training or apprenticeships are required and state-certification is also necessary.
The term blue-collar worker does not automatically suggest low-pay. Many blue-colour jobs require extremely skilled labour and are therefore well-paid. At the same time, while white-collar jobs are typically associated with being high-paid, there are now many lower-paid jobs in the white-collar sector, such as interns, assistants and executives which are often entry-level.
The Difference Between White Collar and Blue Collar Workers
There are several differences between white collar and blue collar workers:
- Work setting. The most obvious one is that a white collar worker works at an office, while blue collar workers can work in various non-office settings, such as construction sites, production lines, on the road etc.
- Type of labor. While white collar workers may often use their hands to do their job (e.g. data entry clerk), they most often don’t rely on their physical abilities like blue collar workers do. Manual labor is a characteristic of blue collar jobs.
- Pay. White collar jobs tend to pay better than blue collar jobs. But, there are exceptions – for example, a skilled machine operator might make more money than a bank teller.
- Education. Many white collar jobs require degrees, so workers in these professions are usually more educated than blue collar workers.
- Legal regulations. For example, in the U.S., white collar workers are exempt from FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), while most blue collar workers aren’t.