America’s romance with blue-collar workers is well documented and varied. The Works Progress Administration made countless posters celebrating laborers with illustrations of broad-shouldered men working in construction, farming, plumbing, and more. Somewhat paradoxically, many films have portrayed blue-collar workers as uneducated men who work hard so their kids can go to school and learn to do something other than manual labor.
Neither of these are realistic depictions of what it’s like to hold a blue-collar job, and an important reality to recognize is that our businesses and society as a whole do not function without blue-collar workers. Not everyone aspires to have a white-collar job, and a lot of parents work hard in both blue and white-collar jobs in order to send their children to college.
Currently, Arizona Suffers from a Shortage of Blue-Collar Workers
Many of the veterans who received craft trades training under the G.I. Bill have retired and not enough workers are replacing them. At a recent forum organized by The Valley Partnership in Phoenix, representatives from the construction industry, educators, and community leaders cited several reasons why young people have failed to show interest in construction trades. The biggest reason given was the stigma surrounding blue-collar jobs that has propagated over the last thirty years.
How can it be that Arizona, a state that has long attributed its economic success to the Five C’s (copper, cattle, citrus, cotton, and climate), now finds itself with blue-collar stigma? Four of the C’s could not exist without manual labor, while the fifth, climate, is strongly connected to the service industry.
The Notion That Blue-Collar Jobs Do Not Pay Well Is A Misconception
According to Forbes, elevator installers and repairers make $76,860 annually. This trade is expected to grow 13 percent over the next six years but can only be obtained by serving an apprenticeship. The great thing about apprenticeships in the trades is that you are paid while you learn.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salary for electricians in all fields of specialization is $54,110. An apprentice electrician earns an average of $16.53 per hour according to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the prospect of moving into highly specialized fields paying six figures is very good.
Indeed.com shows the average carpenter apprentice salary in the United States is $16.15 an hour, with Salary.com reporting the median salary for a carpenter in Phoenix is $53,428. Of all construction jobs, BLS projected plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters to have the fastest employment growth between 2016 and 2026. The median annual wage for a plumber is $52,000, with an apprentice starting at approximately half of that amount. Formal apprenticeships typically last 4 years but can take as little or as long as 1 to 6 years.
Trades Are Growing in Popularity with Men and Women
Women are showing interest in joining the blue-collar workforce through Career and Technical Education programs and apprenticeships. In fact, young people overall have shown they are reluctant to accumulate student debt unless they feel certain a degree will financially pan out.
Learning a skill will only expand career opportunities, not restrict them, and entering the trades does not mean the end of learning. We must stop feeding the untrue stigma against blue-collar jobs because it benefits no one. Industrial and homebuilding projects are struggling to find sufficient labor here in Arizona, and we all need to support the people and the programs who are working to solve this important problem.
Mike Trueba, CCIM is a vice president for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.9 billion financial institution, which serves a growing membership of nearly 150,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels, as well. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA. VantageWest.org