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What Is Blue Collar? Definition and Job Examples

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What Is Blue Collar?

The term blue collar is used to describe workers who perform manual labor, work at factory jobs, or do any other type of labor that does not involve working in an office.

The term derives from the darker clothing they tend to wear, distinguishing them from white-color workers who are required to wear a white shirt and tie to work. Needless to say, those lines are blurring.

Some fields that fall into this category include construction, manufacturing, maintenance, and mining. Blue-collar workers were once perceived to be less educated, lower-skilled, and of a lower social class, but that perception is changing with the growth of blue-collar jobs that require extensive specialized training and technical skills.

Blue-collar and working class are often used as synonyms.

Key Takeaways

  • Blue-collar workers are usually paid by the hour and perform manual labor.
  • The term originated in the 1920s when blue-collar workers usually wore darker-colored clothing, distinguishing them from white-collar office workers. 
  • Many blue-collar now command high salaries because they require significant skills and training.
  • Factory workers, welders, nuclear technicians, elevator installers, and subway operators are examples of blue-collar jobs.

Understanding Blue Collar

Classifying workers by the color of their shirts dates back to the early 1920s. This categorization system was based on the color or type of clothing people wore in their jobs. Uniforms or work gear for many of these jobs were blue.

Blue collar is one of a number of job types that are now classified based on the color of clothing they typically wear. Others include white collar, gold collar, pink collar, red collar, and green collar.

Many of those in blue-collar or skilled trade occupations perform physical labor. Coal miners, masons, bricklayers, boilermakers, and welders all wore darker colors that didn’t readily show dirt. They may wear overalls, chambray shirts, or jeans, all in the color blue.

Blue collar is still used to refer to the section of the labor force that performs manual labor. The jobs may be in factories, plants, or mines, or on farms.

Many blue-collar workers work with heavy machinery, using skills that can be acquired on the job or through trade schools.

Some common blue-collar jobs include welders, mechanics, electricians, and construction workers.

Many require specialized skills. Power plant operators, power distributors, and nuclear power plant operators all require extensive training.

The term blue collar is considered by some to be offensive. It is often associated with people who have little to no education or skills and lower earning potential.

Special Considerations

Being blue-collar used to imply that a worker was less educated and possessed few desirable skills. They were perceived to belong to a lower social class, especially when compared to white-collar workers.

In fact, the term has evolved, as many of today’s blue-collar workers are highly trained and skilled and are highly paid accordingly.

Although blue-collar work still entails some manual labor, advancements in technology have required highly-skilled blue-collar workers in industries such as aeronautics, film-making, electronics, and energy.

They may not require a four-year college degree, but many blue-collar jobs require highly skilled personnel with specialized training and a license or certificate from an apprenticeship program or trade school.

Blue Collar vs. White Collar

White collar is the most common term that is contrasted with blue collar, especially when it comes to employment. Some of the main differences between blue-collar and white-collar include the environment in which each works, their educational background, their roles, and how they’re paid.

Work Environment

Blue-collar employees usually work in industrial settings wearing blue (or dark) clothing that hides residue.

White-collar workers were classified as such because of the white shirts they wore to work, typically with a suit and tie. Their jobs are normally situated in offices, where they sit at desks and use computers.

Remote work from home is changing that pattern, as is a loosening of dress standards in some professions.

Education and Skills

Most white-collar jobs require at least an undergraduate college degree. Higher positions often require higher educational credentials, licenses, and special certifications.

For instance, an accountant for a corporation needs a degree in accounting or finance while a financial analyst needs the certified financial analyst (CFA) designation.

Most white-collar jobs now require basic computer and software skills. Those who hope for advancement may also need people management skills.

Examples and Salary

Some of the most common white-collar jobs include:

  • Administrative assistant
  • Accountant
  • Consultant
  • Marketing manager
  • Executive director
  • Computer programmer

These individuals earn annual salaries, unlike blue-collar jobs pay workers who are paid by the hour or by piece,

Blue Collar vs. Other Collars

Other lesser-known collar colors represent segments of the workforce. Unlike white and blue collars, the other categories are not derived from their workers wearing any particular color. They include:

  • Gold Collar: This segment includes specialized fields of law and medicine. This is a reference, presumably, to the high salaries these professionals command.
  • Gray Collar: These individuals are white-collar but they regularly perform blue-collar tasks as part of their jobs, like engineers.
  • Pink Collar: These jobs are in service fields, such as nursing, teaching, and retail sales. The pink collar denotes fields traditionally dominated by women.
  • Red Collar: These are civil servants. The classification is a reference to the red ink used to denote salaries in a budget.
  • Green Collar: This segment refers to jobs in the environmental sector. Companies and individuals classified as green collars are in conservation and sustainability-related jobs.

Examples of Blue Collar Jobs and Wages

Many blue-collar jobs aren’t easy to land or easy to keep.

Not all blue-collar occupations pay less than white-collar jobs, either. Workers in some trade fields can earn more than their salaried counterparts. Nuclear technicians, elevator installers, and subway operators earn more than $70,000 per year, which is higher than the average college graduate earns after graduation.

Since most blue-collar jobs pay by the hour, working overtime could mean that a blue-collar worker can earn six figures in a year. Some blue-collar jobs also pay by the project or follow a salary scheme. In short, in the 21st century, the color of your collar doesn’t necessarily dictate the level of your income. 

Here are some top-paying blue-collar jobs per the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on median annual salary as of May 2022, the latest available survey: 

  • Nuclear power reactor operator: $117,510
  • First-line supervisors of firefighters: $84,810
  • Boilermakers: $69, 780
  • Supervisors of construction and extraction workers: $77,650
  • Avionics technician: $74,730
  • Airfield operations specialists: $64,070

What Does Blue Collar Mean?

Blue collar is a classification of working people by the types of jobs they perform. It typically refers to those in hands-on jobs that involve manual labor. Some of the industries that rely on blue-collar workers are manufacturing, mining, construction, and automaking.

People who are considered blue-collar may or may not have specialized skills. Most earn hourly wages rather than salaries.

The term refers to the blue uniforms or other work clothing that is usually worn for blue-collar jobs.

What Are Examples of Blue-Collar Jobs?

Some blue-collar jobs include factory work, mining, construction work, welding, and electrical work. Some require a high skill set, including nuclear power plant operators, elevator installers, criminal investigators, and dispatchers.

What’s the Difference Between Blue-Collar and White-Collar?

Blue-collar jobs usually require manual labor and pay hourly wages. Some jobs are for unskilled labor but today’s blue-collar workers often need substantial specialized training and earn high wages.

White-collar workers work in offices. They were traditionally suit-and-tie professionals. Most are paid a salary rather than an hourly wage. Their jobs generally require a college degree, specialized skills, and software skills.

The Bottom Line

Blue collar is just one of the classifications of people in the workforce. It was traditionally used to describe laborers with little education and few skills.

That has changed thanks to the specialized training and technology knowledge that many blue collar jobs now require. Many blue-collar workers earn as much or more than their white-collar counterparts.

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