The term “Blue-Collar” is NOT outdated – it is being stigmatized by not recognizing the fundamental issue.
The Blue-Collar workers that I know were highly skilled. And I am a proud card-carrying member of those who support the Blue-Collar dirty finger-nail, soiled work clothes trades.
The reality is those jobs are necessary to making and maintaining the things we live in and use every day and will use in the foreseeable future.
Those skills are in short supply because their very nature and workplace environment have been stigmatized by parents who had achieved financial security as blue-collar workers themselves and envisioned college as a pathway to greater (and cleaner) success then they had achieved.
These parents pressured the public schools to make high-schools as preparation for a college education with the result that vocational education classes were eliminated. This move deprived students who had an interest to develop their untapped ability to work with both their hands and minds, to have exposure to blue-collar jobs. I believe these students wouldn’t have been bothered by work that required cleaning up and changing clothes at the end of the day. And they wouldn’t know that those jobs could lead to stable and well-paying employment.
Young people need the opportunity, and some experience, to help them decide what they may want to do. For example in becoming a surgeon spilled blood and surgical gowns and masks are part of their “shop-floor' environment, only it’s not called a shop floor. This doesn’t deter some from studying medicine. And students shouldn't be deterred from choosing blue collar jobs due to lack of high-school vocational programs which provide a way for students to see if their talents and interest fit these jobs.
It must also be recognized that vocational education can be college prep as well. Had I been introduced to the Blue-Collar trades in a high school, I would have been better able to relate my engineering courses at MIT to the practice of engineering in the real world.
So let’s stop kidding ourselves, The answer to creating a pipeline of entry-level shop-floor employees is to stop stigmatizing the nature of blue-collar work not to rename a rose.
We don't need to “incentivize” these jobs with signing bonuses or after-hour parties. We do need to re-invent and reestablish early shop-floor training in high-school followed by post-secondary education to further develop previously learned skills that can be applied to company funded apprentice programs for specialized training.
As far as the current skill-shortage is concerned, We dug our own hole and can only blame ourselves. Now, the future is a matter of course correction and catching up.
Gerson S. Ecker is CEO of EECO Services, Inc.