How Blue Collar Jobs Are Changing in 2020
Contrary to popular belief, blue-collar jobs in America aren't disappearing — they're just changing.
Traditionally, blue-collar work referred to manual labor, while white-collar workers performed professional jobs. Today, blue-collar workers are just as likely to be writing code in front of a computer as they are walking the factory floor. They're in a wide range of workplaces, from clinics and nursing homes to stores and restaurants.
Such work is widely needed in today's economy, and experts say a blue-collar job crisis is on the horizon. With a population that's becoming increasingly college-educated and less willing (or qualified) to take on manual labor jobs, even if they're well-paid, the country is primed for a worker shortage.
We took a closer look at the current stats on blue-collar employment, which covers everything from custodial work to operating a nuclear power plant, in hopes that job seekers will use this information in their job hunt.
Keep reading to learn more.
The U.S. economy has a worker shortage.
For nearly a year, the number of job openings has been larger than the number of job seekers for the first time since the Department of Labor began tracking job-turnover stats 20 years ago.
There are 7.6 million unfilled jobs, but only 6.5 million people looking for work, according to the most recent figures (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Virtually every sector is affected.
Here are the current number of job openings per unemployed job seeker by sector:
- Education and health services (2.2 openings per job seeker)
- Information (2.1)
- Professional and business services (2.0)
- Transportation and utilities (1.8)
- Financial activities (1.8)
- Government (1.7)
- Mining (1.4)
- Leisure and hospitality (1.3)
- Wholesale and retail trade (1.3)
- Manufacturing (0.97)
- Construction (0.85)
Employers say blue-collar jobs are harder to fill than those requiring a college education.
That's especially true of positions that require skills and training.
The number of days it takes to fill an open position for skilled production work (e.g., welding, machining) rose from 70 to 93 days between 2015 and 2018. (Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute)
And, things are likely to get worse before they get better. The trucking industry, for example, predicts that the economy will be short 175,000 workers by 2026. (American Trucking Associations)
To stay competitive, Walmart recently raised pay for its truckers to nearly $90,000 a year, which may be music to many job seekers' ears. (CBS News)
To some degree, blue-collar work is stigmatized. It shouldn't be.
Blue-collar workers are generally happy with their jobs …
The great majority of blue-collar workers (86 percent) are satisfied with their jobs. (The Harris Poll)
… and the pay is improving.
In fact, after years of working class wage stagnation, their wages are growing faster than that of the average professional.
In the past three years, white-collar workers have seen their wages grow by nearly 7.5 percent while other workers, most of them without college degrees, saw their pay increase by 10 percent. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Most of the jobs with the fastest wage growth don't require a college degree. Here are 10 that are growing quickly:
Several top companies are even dropping their education requirements to attract talent.
About half of Apple's hires in 2018 did not have a four-year college degree, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Business Insider)
Here are the top-20 occupations that don't require a four-year college degree. You may be surprised by some of them:
- Mechanical designer
- Electrical technician
- Manufacturing technician
- Telecommunications technician
- Computer network technician
- Information technology technician
- Food and beverage specialist
- Technical support specialist
- Public safety officer
- Customer service representative
- Network operations analyst
- Insurance agent
- Information technology coordinator
- Marketing representative
- Healthcare assistant
- Retail consultant
Why is this happening?
One factor for the blue-collar shortage: The working age population in the United States is becoming more educated …
The number of degree-holders in the labor force grew from one-quarter to two-fifths of the labor force in less than 25 years. (Deloitte)
… and has little interest in blue-collar work.
The number of liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities degrees has nearly doubled since 2000. (National Center for Education Statistics)
Meanwhile, labor force participation has been declining for decades.
Labor force participation peaked at 67 percent in 2000, and it's largely been on the decline ever since. It's projected to decline to 61 percent by 2026. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Baby boomers are retiring …
About 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age every year, and 5,900 leave the labor force. (Pew Research Center)
… and not being replaced quickly enough.
Over the decades, the participation rate of prime-age workers, especially men 25 to 54 years old, has fallen steadily, from 98 percent in 1954 to 88 percent today. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Many workers are dropping out of the labor force because of disabilities, especially those with lower education levels who, in the past, would have filled the blue-collar jobs.
Here are the percent of people on disability ages 25 to 64, broken down by education level:
Yes, artificial intelligence will hurt blue-collar workers … eventually.
Here are the top-three job sectors with the highest risk of workers being replaced by AI:
Those holding a bachelor's degree will be five times more likely to be hurt by AI than someone who has a high school education, according to the latest research. (Brookings Institute)
A few occupations that will be most affected include:
Market research analysts and marketing specialists
Until then, let's take a look at some of the most attractive options for a blue-collar career.
Here are the highest-paying blue-collar jobs:
- Nuclear power reactor operator ($94,350 median annual salary)
- First-line supervisor of police and detectives ($89,030)
- Power distributor and dispatcher ($86,410)
- Detectives and criminal investigator ($81,920)
- Powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairer ($80,200)
- Elevator installers and repairer ($79,780)
- Power plant operator ($79,610)
- First-line supervisors of firefighting and prevention worker ($76,330)
- Transit and railroad police ($74,030)
- Gas plant operator ($71,070)
After decades of plant closures and low wages, blue-collar work is seeing a significant turnaround, especially for highly-skilled trade jobs. You should consider:
Creating a new resume or fixing up your old one. Knowing that the blue-collar job market is bustling, having a strong resume can help set you apart from the competition.
Getting training to pick up skills that will help you land a high-paying job that doesn't require a four-year degree. From driving trucks to writing code, employers will be looking for people like you in the 2020s.
Working on your negotiating skills. For the first time in a long while, blue-collar workers have the upper hand. You may finally have the leverage you need to negotiate better benefits, pay rate or schedule.
If you'd like to keep learning, read more of our employment stats 2020 series, including:
Why working into retirement has become the new normal. We look at the underlying conditions causing the trend, and which jobs are best suited for workers 65 and older.
How you can ace your next job interview. Interviews are key to landing your dream job. We reviewed the most common questions, employers' interview pet peeves and the body language that will project a winning confidence.
How to reenter the workforce without breaking your stride. Today, more workers are taking career breaks and employers have started offering "returnships" for people interested in returning to the workforce. We pull together key stats explaining this trend.