Myth: Blue collar jobs, like plumbers, are less than White collar jobs
Since ancient times, manual labor has been looked upon as a job for slaves. The upper classes did their work with their minds. They philosophized, ran cities and nations, sold and traded goods. These groups of people spurned physical labor, and forced others to do it for them. It was hard, and as our human tendency is to seek comfort where we can, it was a mark of status to be above manual labor.
During the industrialization period at the start of the 20th century, manual labor lost some of its stigma. It was where the economy was going, it was where most of the jobs were, and there was the sense of it being absolutely essential to the building up of the country’s quickly expanding roads and cities. As learning a trade was a definite step up from being a cog in the factory system that had arisen in the 1800′s, skilled craftsmen gained a greater measure of respect.
After WWII, however, more and more folks began enrolling in 4-year colleges, beginning in large part by vets getting their tuition taken care of by the US government through the GI Bill. If you could make a living with your mind and not have to physically work hard, all the better.
The increasing number of college graduates coincided with an economy that was shifting from manufacturing and agriculture to a more intellectual and service-oriented market. Today, over three-quarters of Americans work in some kind of white collar position.
With the image of blue collar work diminishing and the market for white collar jobs expanding, it began to be cultural dogma that if a young person wanted a good, respectable, well-paying job, the only option was to go to college. More education was always seen as better, the assumption being that the more education someone has, the smarter they are, and the better job or life they’ll have later on. Trades, on the other hand, often require less schooling (by about half, in most cases, but sometimes as little as a third or quarter as much), and so this career path became associated with lesser prospects for success.
In the last 30 years, both the respectability and desirability of learning a trade had greatly diminished, while the distance between white and blue collar workers had grown. This belief that different work means lesser work, is a myth that truly needs to be busted. It is time that we ask, “What defines ‘better’ anyway, in terms of a career?” Trades jobs have in many cases become better paying and more stable than most office jobs. Many of the office jobs today can easily be outsourced overseas which, in turn, saves the companies a lot of money.
In the past, it was a sign of cultural status to be a businessman rather than a factory worker. As our economy shifted to the service sector, the difference between wages and quality of life was enough that being a businessman really was a better job. But today, in many trades or blue collar professions, those gaps are simply no longer present based on how we define good jobs — largely in terms of pay, stability, autonomy, benefits, work-life balance, etc.
Plumber Jobs are here to stay
There will always be a need for plumbers. As long as there are water delivery systems, septic tanks, and toilets there will be a need to have plumbers. You can’t send that job overseas. Since the education and training for the plumbing trade is shorter and costs less, plumbers can start off ahead of the game by not having high student loans to pay off.
“Blue collar and white collar are two sides of the same coin, and as soon as we view one as more valuable than the other, we’ll have infrastructure that falls down, we’ll have a skills gap.” -Mike Rowe