I read an article today that stated blue-collar workers are closing the pay gap between themselves and white-collar workers. This got me thinking, as an electrician am I a blue-collar or white-collar worker?
I decided to do some research and this article is my investigation into the question; are electricians blue-collar workers? I also wanted to look at if it is offensive to call workers blue-collar? And if all roles within the electrical industry are blue-collar. Hope you find it as interesting as I did to learn about!
Electricians are considered skilled blue-collar trade professionals because they work with their hands and learn most skills through hands-on experience. As electricians climb the career ladder they may take a more office-based engineering role and then be considered white-collar.
Depending on how you want to interpret it, there can be a few interpretations of the phrase blue-collar workers and where it fits into today’s modern workforce.
Are Electricians Blue-Collar Workers?
Blue-collar workers perform manual labour and this fits the description of an electrician’s role well. Electricians may specialise in certain electrical work such as residential, commercial, or industrial, but whichever path they choose the job description requires manual labour.
Blue-collar workers usually have a trade and can find employment fairly easily in many different industries, including manufacturing, construction, plumbing, and electrical work. Some electricians work for large companies, while others work for themselves as contractors but if they are ‘on the tools’ they are considered blue-collar. My favourite electrician tools can be found in the article linked here.
In addition to working with their hands, electricians also need to know how to read and interpret blueprints which require them to learn basic math skills and understand physics principles such as voltage and current flow through conductors. This shows that although we are manual workers we still need critical thinking skills in order to perform our jobs.
Blue-collar certainly doesn’t mean unqualified and it takes a lot of time, experience and exam passing to become an electrician!
Electricians generally start learning how to perform the job by becoming an apprentice first before becoming fully qualified electricians. An apprenticeship program typically lasts for four years, where the apprentice learns fundamentals about electricity and safety procedures. This time frame is similar to many white-collar workers who go to university to earn a degree before joining the workforce.
Is Electrical Engineering White Collar?
Electrical engineers are considered white-collar workers as their jobs were reserved for academics, professionals, and managers with a college education. An electrician can climb the career ladder and become an Electrical Engineer, transitioning from a blue-collar to a white-collar worker.
Traditionally white-collar workers were considered the “cognitive elite.” They don’t work like most electricians in physically demanding environments and are not exposed to the many physical hazards and risks. Electrical engineers often visit the site to check on the progress of the work but they usually do it wearing a nice pair of clean trousers and a shirt!
In other words, electrical engineering does not require the same level of physical labour as an electrician; however, both professions require equal dedication and effort to become certified or licensed.
Is the Term Blue Collar Offensive?
Some people find the term blue-collar offensive because it implies that the person has low skills and education. To those people, the term suggests that the person does not have the knowledge and skill required for a white-collar job. In addition, some people use the term to refer to someone who is crude, unrefined, or from a lower social class.
On the other hand, the term can be used positively by those who feel pride in their work but do not have a college education. These people think they are respected for their hard work and ability to get a job done rather than just having an academic degree.
Many blue-collar workers including tradesmen such as electricians and plumbers now have the ability to earn in excess of many of their white-collar counterparts (some electricians can even earn 100k a year!). This financial incentive has helped reduce the stigmatism associated with being called blue-collar.
Is Blue Collar Outdated?
The term “blue-collar” originated during the Industrial Revolution in the United States when factory workers wore dark blue uniforms to distinguish them from the businessmen and managers who wore white collars and suits.
The term continued after World War II when manufacturing jobs were plentiful in the United States, men who worked with their hands often referred to themselves as blue-collar workers.
However, because society’s ideas about manual labour have changed over the past several decades, “blue-collar” has also meant uneducated or unskilled, which as we’ve seen is not always accurate. It can also be used as a pejorative or classify people without offering respect.
In fact, many blue-collar workers have advanced technical skills and are highly educated. They may not have a college degree, but it would be a mistake to assume they don’t have important skills and knowledge.
Consequently, the phrase “blue-collar” is becoming outdated because it tends toward stereotypes and generalisations that don’t reflect reality, and that distinction has blurred somewhat in recent years for several reasons:
- Not all blue-collar workers wear uniforms or identifiable clothing anymore. The image of a man in coveralls and a hard hat isn’t as accurate as it used to be. While some manual labourers still wear uniforms, others dress in regular clothes for their jobs – for example, a car mechanic might wear jeans and T-shirts rather than overalls.
- Particularly in service industries, there are many traditional jobs associated with white-collar professionals requiring manual labour. Examples include nursing assistants in the healthcare industry or food service workers in restaurants. While these people may not wear traditional blue-collar garb like coveralls or tool belts, their jobs can be physically demanding and often pay less than white-collar professions with similar levels of education and training.
- Many blue-collar workers are now women who don’t wear blue overalls. For example, housekeeping is one of the fastest-growing industries because more Americans choose to stay at hotels instead of owning their own homes.
Do Blue-Collar Jobs Require a Drug Test?
Most blue-collar jobs don’t do drug tests, but there are exceptions. Traditional blue-collar Jobs such as construction workers are often required to undergo drug testing as part of their company’s health and safety policy. It all depends on the company and what industry they are in.
As an electrician, I have been randomly drug tested at work many times throughout my career and I wrote an article devoted to the topic linked here.
It appears that it really depends on what you mean by “blue-collar” jobs as to whether or not we the employees are subject to drug testing. Most transportation jobs, construction jobs, and warehouse jobs will require you to take a drug or alcohol test at random intervals and during pre-employment checks.
Overall, it seems that electricians definitely fit in the blue-collar worker category. Our work entails being a part of the working class, who do manual labour even if it is highly skilled manual labour. In addition, we use our hands regularly and the work is physically demanding requiring the use of machinery and tools.
In my opinion, I don’t find the term blue-collar offensive. Electricians are experts in a vital field whose work drives the modern economy. We may not wear suits or interact with upper management (unless getting told off!) but we are as essential to big businesses and corporations as any other employee.