Blue Collar Work: Happy Workers. Happy Life

A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation by Mark Perna, author of Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose and Performance in Younger Generations.

For me, it was not only a validation of my belief that American workers are sorely lacking the competencies or soft skills they need to do their work, but also that a 4 year degree in a higher learning institution isn’t always the right answer, for every employee, in every job.

For the first time in modern history, blue collar job openings outnumber white collar opportunities, yet workers are scarcer than ever, according to studies from The Washington Post and The Conference Board, respectively. This unique combination of circumstances creates significant new opportunities for Americans who may not have a college education. And, as they look to invest in a career, they face a question: is taking a blue collar job a smart decision? The answer is a resounding yes.

This doesn’t mean that the STEM jobs are any less important than they have been for the last decade, or that white collar work is going away. It simply means that workers have more opportunities to make decisions that make sense for them.

Mark cited two examples of conversations that he had with two significant employers within the past year. One was with a heavy equipment manufacturer who predicted they would need to hire 18,000 employees in the next 3 to 5 years. Of those, only a fraction will need a 4 year college degree. The other was with an aerospace manufacturer with about a 10 year backlog of work. They made the decision several years ago to abandon the idea that everyone they hired needed a 4 year degree or that all engineers needed to have a master’s degree. Instead, they are looking for things like work ethic, work experience and soft skills, opting instead to provide additional degrees, apprenticeships, training and certifications where needed.

Another recent example that struck home is the lack of over-the-road truck drivers. The projections for open positions for that job alone are dire. Walmart recently announced they are looking to hire 2,000+ drivers and have raised the compensation for this position to attract more workers. Additionally, they continue to sweeten their benefit packages to encourage longevity.

As we look at our talent management practices, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we need to hire, develop, measure performance, promote, reward, recognize and compensate differently than we have in the past. In other words, as parents, educators, employers and workers we need to change our paradigm. Here’s one example to consider:

Technical competence   Behavioral Competence
·         Machine operation   ·         Teamwork
·         Welding   ·         Creativity
·         Software   ·         Problem solving
·         Electrical   ·         Adaptability
Transferrable work experience   ·         Coaching/mentoring
·         Project management   Culture fit
·         Inventory control   ·         Sense of Purpose
·         Change management   ·         Alignment
·         Related industry   ·         Strengths-based


It is in all of our best interest to check our preconceived notions at the door. Though we’ve been fed the story from many sources, for many years that manufacturing jobs are gone and that all workers need a higher education, that’s proven not to be true. Our collective future will be determined in part by whether these blue collar jobs are filled or not. One thing that will never change is the importance and value of skilled workers in the modern and future economy.

Give us a call at 513-528-9700 or contact me by email at to learn more.

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Jackie Messersmith is President and CEO of Talent Management LLC. Talent Management provides consulting services to small to mid-size businesses to put an employee engagement culture and talent strategy in place, and is the developer of Talent Snapshot®, an integrated, competency-based, online talent management solution. Jackie can be reached at 513-528-9700 or