Blue-Collar Work is Rewarding, and Teachers Need to Help Students Realize That

man working in a refinery

Mainstream media doesn’t always portray blue-collar jobs nicely. Some blue-collar workers are portrayed as people in poverty and have no choice but to pursue manual labor. And in some cultures, parents point to manual laborers to “scare” their children into studying well. Some parents would say “if you don’t work hard, you’ll end up just like them.”

This degrading image in which blue-collar workers are portrayed makes people veer away from pursuing such careers in life. Some people would prefer having a corporate job and work in an office, rather than doing manual labor. This lack of interest in the blue-collar industry has resulted in a labor shortage. Between 2018 and 2028, there will be an estimated 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs.

Let’s be real: there’s no shame in hard labor. And blue-collar jobs are essential to society. So it’s important to eradicate the stigma surrounding blue-collar jobs. This can start at school. If educators do what they can to promote the real value of blue-collar work to students, they’ll see it in a better light and may become more interested in pursuing a blue-collar job when they grow up. But what exactly can educators do?

Change the Label

The term “blue-collar job” is quite old. It was coined in the early 1920s. The term was based on the blue or dark clothes used by manual laborers, often miners and construction workers, to hide the dirt they accumulate from work. Looking at the term’s origin, it’s easy to see how the name might contribute to the stigma. The term suggests that blue-collar jobs are dirty. Sure, most jobs are not that glamorous. They’re physically tiring and sometimes messy, but that isn’t always the case. Besides, if you really think about it, all types of work are exhausting.

Changing the name may help in eliminating the stigma surrounding blue-collar jobs. In essence, people who work these jobs are highly skilled individuals. Most of them must undergo training and receive certification to work professionally. Many blue-collar workers are also highly paid, even more than other white-collar jobs. Instead of “blue-collar workers,” we can refer to them as “skilled industry workers” or just “skilled workers.” These terms emphasize the positive trait of blue-collar workers.

Raise Awareness About the Value of Blue-Collar Jobs

Understandably, many people are not attracted to blue-collar jobs. What they often see in such jobs are manual labor, dirty work, many hours in the field, and so on. But if educators highlight the many positive aspects of blue-collar jobs, students may realize that they are worth pursuing after all.

One great thing about blue-collar jobs is job security. Manual work will always be needed. All buildings will always need sanitation and maintenance workers to keep facilities clean and orderly. Warehouse workers are also important, especially with e-commerce booming these past few months. These workers are highly skilled in operating heavy warehouse machinery; a warehouse owner can’t buy order pickers or forklifts if there’s no one to operate them.

Another positive aspect of blue-collar jobs is to pay. As mentioned earlier, some of these jobs pay more than white-collar jobs. For example, nuclear reactor power operators have a median annual salary of $100,530. The lowest of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs are electronic repairers who earned around $58,930 annually. Some white-collar jobs like computer-support technicians, graphic designers, teachers, and professors have lower annual income, ranging from $20,000 to $50,000.


Integrate Labor Activities in School

Giving students first-hand experience of what skilled laborers do can make them more interested in becoming one. Students can do projects that require blue-collar skills. For example, one interesting science project they can try is creating a simple electric circuit using a battery to light a bulb. Or students can go on cleaning drives to get a peek at what custodians do daily.

Teachers can also encourage students to take industrial arts classes where they can learn about craftsmanship and basic home repairs. These classes will help students see how valuable labor tasks are. Blue-collar work can also teach them valuable life skills that they will need in and out of school. For example, students can develop keen attention to detail, patience, people skills, problem-solving skills, and other critical thinking skills.

Skilled laborers are talented in their own right. But the stigma surrounding manual labor jobs seems to hinder students from pursuing careers as skilled workers. Thus, educators must do their part in giving students the right information about skilled workers. Doing so will encourage them to make wise career decisions and consider blue-collar jobs, instead of dismissing them from the get-go.

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