What is a blue collar worker?
Blue collar workers work most often in a non-office setting (construction site, production line, driving etc.). They use their hands and physical abilities to perform their duties. Examples of blue collar employees include construction worker, machine operator, millwright, assembler and truck driver.
The blue collar job definition doesn’t specify the skill level or the type of pay workers receive: they can be skilled or unskilled, waged or salaried. It does imply that employees are likely to do jobs that can get their clothes dirty – e.g. from soil or grease. This is the source of the “blue collar” description, dating from the beginning of the 20th century when these workers were wearing darker clothes than “white collar” workers, or clothes more resistant to the increased wear and tear of physical work, such as blue denim. However, workers in some service professions could also be categorized as being blue collar, e.g. home health aides or cashiers.
Under U.S. federal law, blue collar workers are usually not exempt from overtime or minimum wage regulations in the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act); although, some states may exempt specific types of blue collar workers, like drivers.
How many blue collar workers are there in America?
The US. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provided the numbers of workers in every profession, including blue collar jobs. For example, in 2018, construction laborers numbered around 1,405,000 while workers in maintenance and repair totalled 1,488,000.
Also, based on a 2018 Washington Post article, about 13.9 percent of workers are in blue collar professions.
The growth of blue collar jobs is presented in a map on the site of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, based on BLS data. According to some reports, it’s currently challenging for employers to find workers for blue collar jobs.
If you liked our blue collar worker definition, check out the rest of our HR terms.
Types of jobs and industries typically associated with blue collar work
Blue-collar jobs encompass a wide range of professions that primarily involve physical labor or skilled trades. These jobs are often contrasted with white-collar roles, which are typically office-based and may involve administrative or managerial tasks. Blue-collar professions can be found in various industries, and while they might be physically demanding, they offer a high level of job satisfaction for those who enjoy hands-on work or mastering a particular trade.
Construction, manufacturing, mining, and maintenance are some of the primary industries associated with blue-collar work. For instance, construction managers oversee projects from start to finish, ensuring timely completion and compliance with safety regulations. Electricians, on the other hand, are responsible for installing and repairing electrical systems in homes, factories, and businesses.
Other examples of blue-collar jobs include train conductors, who ensure the safe transportation of passengers and cargo, and aircraft mechanics, who inspect and repair aircraft engines. These roles might not always require a college degree, but they do demand specialized skills or expertise, making them indispensable in their respective fields.
Distinguishing blue collar from white collar
Blue collar and white collar jobs have historically been differentiated based on the nature of the work, the work environment, and the educational prerequisites. Blue collar workers generally perform manual labor and are either paid by the hour or on a piecework basis.
Conversely, white collar workers are typically found in office settings, performing roles in clerical, administrative, or management capacities. They usually earn an annual salary and their jobs might involve working at a desk without physically taxing demands.
The term “white collar” is associated with white button-down shirts adorned with ties worn by business professionals. There’s a societal perception that white collar jobs are more prestigious, often due to the higher educational requirements and the office-based environment.
However, it’s essential to note that both blue collar and white collar roles are crucial for the functioning of the economy and society1.