Why Aren’t Young People Considering Blue Collar Jobs?

It’s ironic that every manufacturer or contractor that I talk to have plenty of work to do, but a limited number of qualified people to do it. Mike Rowe recently pointed out that young folks can make up to 100K a year working in a factory according to a recent article on CNN Money.com. The same holds true for other tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and HVAC contractors. These folks can make 60-80K a year, and they can’t ship those jobs across the pond.

These factory jobs aren’t low tech anymore, or are they in dingie old factories. These are high-tech, high-salary jobs running multi-million dollar manufacturing cells using the latest computer technology. Right Skills Now is a program that was started to get both technical schools and colleges to work together to train workforces. Its model can be started anywhere in the country and for various types of jobs.

If we want to have a resurrection of manufacturing jobs here, we need to start letting parents and kids know there are alternatives to a 4-year degree. If you’re a manufacturer or contractor, here are some grass-roots things you can do in your community to promote these kinds of jobs:

  • At career days at your schools, volunteer to talk to the kids. Give them the benefits of the opportunities that are available. Make it fun, exciting and cool!
  • Work with your trade associations and school guidance counselors to make sure they have the proper info to give to kids.
  • Have an open house or career day event and bring local students to your place and show them the opportunities.

What things can you add to the list? We’re all in this together and we need to let young people know about these opportunities.

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  1. tiffanylardomita

    Great post!

    You’re right… many of our kids are discouraged from even looking at “blue collar” jobs because we have brainwashed them into believing that a college degree is the ONLY acceptable path.

    From a very early age, we train the kids who are kinetically and spatially intelligent to go into office jobs which aren’t suited for them. I would love to see more tradesmen speaking to kids in the schools… as well as offering follow up “How to Get Your Contractor Business Started” classes.

    It’s about time that we discuss all options with our kids — and let them know about these worthy (and necessary!) careers.

  2. Kristen Manes

    Hi, John –
    I think the issue is that people confuse “additional education” with only “a college degree.” Also, when you hear folks talk, “the American dream” is one with a college degree…it’s interpreted as a “step up.”

    I have a MBA and oversee tradesmen (pressmen). I always tell them how much I appreciate their work and their skill. They can be self-conscious at times because they don’t have a degree. But their hard work, great attitude, and team work make them a joy to work with.

    I agree with you…there just isn’t a big push out there for blue-collar jobs. And, many of them require bright people…especially folks good in math. I have always had great respect for carpenters, HVAC, electricians, etc. Their wealth of knowledge is astounding.

    And we need them…for those of us who are “college educated,” we are really dependent on the blue collar workers to help us get heat in the winter when our furnace goes down, replace an old electrical panel so our house doesn’t go up in flames, etc., etc.

  3. Eileen Smotzer

    Thanks, John, for the exceptional article! In Cleveland alone, we have so many organizations well equipped to help students, young and old, develop specialized skills that will lead to high-dollar careers in the trades. Just for starters: Ohio Technical College for those interested in graduating with the highest level of skills available in the automobile and power sports industries; Tooling University at Jergens, Inc. – brush up on your CAD, Welding, and so on.; Great Lakes Towing’s vocational outreach with Max Hayes high school, teaching students about the unique opportunities for careers in the maritime industry right here on the shores of Lake Erie.
    Clearly, gone are the days of the liberal arts degree! Young men AND women should look to our region’s technical education resources when considering their post-high school plans.

  4. Pat Lee

    Please direct your readers to the website for Manufacturing Day, October 5th.
    If every manufacturer who is concerned about the skilled labor shortage would consider joining this grassroots movement and hold an open house at their Plant for a couple of hours, they could help to change the image of manufacturing by showing the community that manufacturing providing a wealth of desirable careers in clean, high- tech environments.
    Invite a local boy scout or girl scout troop to take a tour, or bring a junior high math or science group through. There’s no better way to get kids excited about what manufacturing offers.

  5. Gary Morgan

    This is a great post John. So many of the schools, at least here in Texas, did away with the vocational type programs 20 plus years ago as the push for “everyone” to go to college began it seems like. Unfortunately, not all have the finances to go, and in some cases may have no interest in spending 4-6 years on college as they want and have a desire to do more of a trade type job. This left a huge gap in in finding people to fill jobs. I have heard it referred to as “the lost generation”. I have spoke at High Schools and stated something to the effect of not everyone having the desire to go to college or the finances etc… and stressed how the trades work, has become a very technical skilled job these days. The teacher was aghast that I would even consider mentioning that ALL students weren’t meant to go to college so to speak. I don’t think I will be invited back this year. Sadly it is a representation on how out of touch our educational system is with reality.

  6. Hazelnut

    I think that one of the reasons kids today are discouraged from the trades is that their parents know way too many people who worked 10 or 15 years for the same company and then were let go. These workers by this time had too many obligations to go to college and did not have a trade, all they had was their experience with XYZ company and no matter how high they had climbed the ladder, they could not find a job because they did not have a college degree.

    Career counselors in schools today seem to be teaching that the best way to stay employed is to develop marketable skills through the lifetime. Whether this means a college degree or other certifications, often with the current generation of kids being forced to transfer jobs 3 or 4 times in their career, it is important to have the right credentials.

    If my kid told me he was going to not go to college, I would sit him down and make him discuss with me what his alternate plan was. With the current move away from an industrial economy to a service economy, I would want to make sure that my kid was going to get the proper sheepskin so that if his current employer downsized or folded in a few years, my kid would be able to find new employment at the same level and pay that he had today.

    I think that the problem for many of us in the trades is that we still view employment the same as we did when we started, it is a whole new world and kids today no longer have to just find a company that they can stick with till retirement. Instead they have to figure out where their chosen sector is headed, what changes will take place and what jobs will be outsourced or done away with by new technology, and whether the certifications and experience they are gaining today will become obsolete in the next 40 or so years that they will be working. I certainly hope they can predict what the world will be like in 40 years better than I could at 18. I thought we would all have jet packs and would be living off of atomic power by now.

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