What is it blue-collar workers are called these days? Laborers?
Manual laborers, physical laborers, workers. Disdained by the educated, mocked by cubicle dwellers, sneered at by entitled teenagers who think turning off their phones is a hardship.
Were you planning on digging up your own leaky sewer line and fixing it? Hauling your own trash to the dump every week?
Laborers are a laughingstock, until a vehicle check engine light comes on.
Without laborers, we’d be up shit creek without a paddle. As my grandpa, the trucker, used to say. And yet, most people aren’t willing to do the work that keeps our society functional.
What used to be called honest labor, is now seen as something less.
At one time, high school graduates were praised for going into a trade, encouraged even. Now, graduates are expected to cripple themselves with debt at university instead.
Or find some low-level office job that keeps them clean, temperature regulated, and on the cusp of poverty.
But at least it’s not manual labor. Phew!
The thing is, we don’t need any more office workers.
Which technology is proving by automating those jobs out of existence.
Worried the robots will take your job? If you work at a desk, you should be. Analysts seem to agree that jobs most at risk of automation are data entry, telemarketers, and the like.
You know, people who maybe weren’t a fit for college, or who couldn’t find a job in their particular bachelor-of-arts field.
Or even people who couldn’t possibly lower themselves to work in the trades.
I’ve met healthy, able-bodied men and women who’d rather stand on a corner with a sign, begging for handouts, than get an actual job.
I’ve volunteered at our local homeless shelter, and had to serve food to 19-year-olds while they played on their smartphones. Which happened to be newer than my own phone.
How did being homeless become more dignified than honest labor?
And before anyone starts sending me hate mail about the homeless, please realize I’m referring to the specific situations above. Situations I’ve personally experienced.
I too have had a choice, of giving up and doing nothing, or taking any job that I could get.
It wasn’t much of a choice.
I was raised in a blue-collar family, where asking someone for money was the worst thing you could do. It meant you’d failed.
- Failed to take care of yourself
- Failed to provide for your family
- Failed to be a functioning member of society
I chose to work. And I worked my ass off. In kitchens, at lumber yards, and in gardens. It may not have been glamorous, but it was necessary.
Being a laborer taught me a helluva lot more than college ever did.
Because I did earn a college degree, while working as a laborer. I’ve also done my fair share of office work. Which means I know what I’m talking about when I tell you that labor work, is no joke.
It’s hard. Some days it’s downright miserable. It requires a certain amount of perseverance, and when it’s not fun, it’s really not fun.
But it’s not all misery and back-breaking effort. Manual labor has its upside. And we need laborers now more than ever.
It’s time to stop mocking the hard-working people that keep things running, and realize just how important they are.
So here are 4 things laborers don’t want you to know
Because it keeps out the riff-raff.
#1: Their jobs aren’t mindless, and they’re not stupid.
Although they may act stupid if it gets you to shut up and leave them alone.
There’s nothing workers like more than a client telling them how to go about their business. Smile, nod, and play dumb is a time-honored tradition.
And a necessary one, as labor work is under-valued and disrespected.
And yet, while the average college-educated employee is staring glassy-eyed at a screen, laborers are getting things done.
They don’t have time to secretly surf the web, watch the clock, or wander out for a 7th cup of coffee. They’re meeting new people, discussing ideas, trying to figure out the best way to handle the current obstacle.
Troubleshooting in my office meant rebooting the computer before calling IT.
For laborers, troubleshooting requires quick thinking and increasingly complex problem-solving. They don’t call people. They’re the people who get called.
#2: Trades people are in high demand…and can’t be outsourced.
As young people are being indoctrinated into the idea that the only good job is hunched over a keyboard, our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling.
There are fewer and fewer skilled laborers to build bridges, lay pipe, and run electrical wire. Which means those who are out there have no trouble finding work.
In fact, there’s more work than they can handle.
Companies are desperate for skilled labor, yet more laborers are retiring than coming into the field. Without people to pave our roads, build our houses, keep our lights on and our water flowing, our lives will become very unpleasant, very quickly.
Those cushy computer jobs won’t be much use without electricity. They’ll also be the first jobs to disappear under the tide of automation.
But trade jobs can’t be outsourced, and they’re a long way from being automated. We live in a place built by people, and when something goes wrong, it’s people that fix it.
#3: Laborers make good money, maybe more than you.
It’s true that you probably won’t make a million bucks without a college education. But if your goal isn’t to be in the top 1%, does it matter?
Most of us just want to be comfortable. We don’t want to worry about money, and we want to be able to do what we want to do. You don’t need a million dollars for that.
You don’t even need a bachelor’s degree for that.
The average wage for trade jobs is at or above other careers. Especially when you factor in the cost of education, which gives trades people an edge.
And those with no interest in higher education? They’ll be making far less than trades people. Yet, not all trades require going to school. There are plenty of options for high school graduates. Here’s a few:
- Firefighter – EMT & specialty training; median annual salary: $44,597
- Personal trainer – certification; median annual salary: $53,056
- Bricklayer – apprenticeship; median annual salary: $45,965
- Plumber – certification & apprenticeship; median annual salary: $40,334
That’s not bad, but keep in mind, additional training leads to higher wages. Base salaries for high-end trades, such as nuclear technicians and aircraft mechanics, start in the $60,000 range, and only go up from there.
#4: Laborers actually enjoy their work.
They have something to show for their efforts at the end of the day, something other than red eyes and carpal tunnel.
They have the satisfaction of working with their hands, leaving their mark on a place. It’s not just data, and files, and one mindless phone call after another.
Laborers spend their days moving. They’re actively working off stress and anxiety. They go home sweaty, tired and dirty, and sleep like a rock.
The things that can make blue-collar work difficult – the physicality, the elements, the grime – are the very things that make it worthwhile for the people who do it.
There’s no water cooler drama, no germs floating around in stale office air, no hurt feelings over poorly worded emails, and no memos about casual Friday.
It’s just honest labor, and there’s nothing wrong with that.