September 23, 2010

Why You DON'T Want A Blue Collar Job

Office Space - Special Edition with Flair (Widescreen Edition)I really enjoy the movie Office Space.   Its one of my favorite movies.   I work in the hi-tech industry and empathize with the characters in the movie.   I've also gone through my own phase of day dreaming about a simple and low stress blue collar job like Peter Gibbons ends up with at the end of the movie.  While he shoveled debris he had a big grin on his face and it was a happy ending.  I'd like to see if Office Space 2 is a follow up that shows us how awful his construction job turns out.

Many of us who work in boring office jobs can have a tendency to look at blue collar work through rose colored glasses.   If you work in a white collar office job you may view a blue collar job as being better in various ways.   I've heard people talk about wanting a stress free job where you get the pride of build things and accomplishing something with your own two hands and then don't have to take your work home with you at night.    But peoples views of blue collar jobs may be a case of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence".   People who work white collar jobs may not be very familiar with blue collar work and may be simply romanticizing the work.

There are a lot of positives in blue collar jobs that may make then a great choice for many people.  But blue collar work has negatives along with the positives.   Every job and industry is a bit different but some downsides that blue collar jobs may have are given below.

Low Job Security
Right now unemployment in the construction industry is 25%.   That is not good.   My father was unemployed for about 1/2 of the 1980's due to the recessions and low construction activity.   My father also had to travel for work sometimes and was away from home and family for months at a time.   When I finished one of my stints in construction I was handed a pink slip on Friday afternoon and given a 'thanks'.  There was no advance notice and no severance and that is commonly how it works.   You are laid off when the project ends or when the employer decides to cut staffing and thats that.

Safety Hazards and Higher Fatalities
Blue collar jobs are much more dangerous than cushy office jobs.   As I sit in my cubicle the largest work hazard in our office is people falling in the stairwell.   As an electrician my father spent most of his day risking death by electrocution.   My grandfather had his hand cut off in an industrial accident.   They were able to reattach it but he had permanent nerve damage.  Construction industry jobs are among the most dangerous and have a very high fatality rate.  Police officers and firefighters are paid well for their highly dangerous jobs yet the fishermen, loggers, roofers and linemen usually die on the job at higher rates.   The list of most dangerous jobs is full of blue collar jobs.

You Won't Necessarily Build Anything
Some people romanticize the idea of blue collar work by equating it to "building things".   They sum it up with the mental picture of someone dusting their hands off and standing back to look at the magnificent building or thing they helped to create themselves.   Your first day on the job you will NOT be handed a hammer, hard hat and blueprints to create the Taj Mahal 2.   You are likely to be handed a broom, a shovel or instructed to move heavy items from one location to another.   That menial labor may be your roll for several months if not years.   Some blue collar jobs never really create things but instead you may end up repeatedly fixing things.  My father worked as a maintenance electrician for many years which meant repairing various miscellaneous broken items.

Working In The Elements
When you are working construction there is generally no climate control.   If its raining then you get rained on.  If its 20F degrees outside and snowing then you are cold and you get snowed on.  Other blue collar jobs often work outdoors or in unfavorable working environments.   I worked in a UPS for a few months while in college and it was a vast open warehouse which was hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

Demanding Work that Takes a Toll 
Blue collar jobs often require physical effort that strains your body.   Demanding physical labor can take a toll on you over the long run.   The work is demanding and it doesn't stop being demanding if you're having a bad day or your back is sore.   When my back is sore I can still go to work and I'm fine.  When my dad broke his foot he simply couldn't work for months.

Every Job has Stress
If you don't think that a blue collar job has stress then think again.    Every job can have its share of stress.   A manager who is a jerk is going to be stressful on any job and there are an equal share of such managers in blue color jobs.  Your work load may be heavy, your co-workers may be jerks who drop the ball and you may have annoyed customers upset with something that you get blamed for.   There is no reason that blue collar jobs should be considered immune from stress.   In fact all the negatives listed in this article can contribute to stress too.   Don't tell me that hooking up electric lines at the top of a ladder in 12F degree temperature while it is snowing and your back hurts is "stress free".

Any Job Can Be Boring
You may end up doing the same tasks over and over and over all day long for weeks at a time.   One time I spent an entire month changing light bulbs.   Many people would get bored with such work quickly.   Blue collar jobs can be boring just like any white collar job can.

You Can't  Escape Futility
White collar workers may bemoan how their jobs are basically a futile waste of time in many ways.   You go to a pointless meeting then your boss makes you work late to write a report nobody actually bothers to read because the customer abandoned the project.    Blue collar work may also have instances of futility in your daily work.  You spend all day putting up drywall and then you just find out the electrician has to move his wires since the project manager read the plans wrong, or you can't do any work on the electrical since the carpenter isn't done framing or you get to do something three times since the customer keeps changing their mind.

Inflexible Hours and Low Vacation
I don't think my father ever had any paid vacation and at most he got 2 weeks a year he could take unpaid.   He had to be at work at 7:00AM or 6:00AM or whatever early morning hour the bosses decided work started and he had to work the full 8 hours with a 30 minute unpaid lunch break.   I get to come to work at 9AM if I choose and I can take a 90 minute lunch if I want.  I get 4 weeks of paid vacation in my cushy white collar job. I generally get to take vacation when I want and I've only had to 'work' one holiday in the past 13 years.

While things are better nowadays I don't think that construction work is beyond sexism.  Few women work in the construction industry and there are still lingering issues with sexism in the blue collar world.

Lower Pay
Of course pay varies from job to job and there is no absolute but average pay in blue collar jobs is lower than white collar positions. From a slightly dated 2003 BLS report : "Nationwide, average hourly earnings of workers in white-collar occupations exceeded those in blue-collar occupations by about 45 percent;"

Of course every blue collar job won't suffer from all of the negative things above.   You might have good vacation time and low stress at some jobs.   But the above are negative aspects that blue collar jobs may commonly suffer from or at least aren't immune from.

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