As a host and dishwasher at a senior home for people with mentally debilitating diseases, I work with a number of personalities and machines, and both need to be handled with care.-The need to be focused is present at all times when doing the jobs I’ve been assigned. Tasks must be accomplished in a timely manner, and efficiency is key in my field. Next to that, being able to trouble-shoot things and think on-the-fly are vital skills to have. Being able to routinely do the tasks at hand so efficiently come with experience, but the skills acquired through that experience are invaluable. Mike Rose in “Blue-Collar Brilliance” says that blue-collar workers are often overlooked and seen as less intelligent than their white-collar counterparts when in reality the jobs that they do take more intelligence than one might think. I agree that blue collar work is often stigmatized, but the skills taught in blue-collar jobs that need more emphasis by Rose are those that help to develop critical thinking skills, and the knowledge of the importance of efficiency, competency, and time management.
There seems to be a sort of prestige that comes with white-collar jobs because of the misconception that it is more challenging than blue-collar work. This is probably because of the “more-schooling, more intelligence” notion. Rose asserts, “Intelligence is closely associated with formal education— the type of schooling a person has, how much and how long— and most people seem to move comfortably from that notion to a belief that work requiring less schooling requires less intelligence” (247). Rarely is that always the case. If a lawyer was to have to go and weld city sewage pipes, unless they knew the layout of the sewer system, and how to use all the equipment necessary for the job, they would have a difficult time doing so. I doubt that law school pertains to anything that would be necessary, or relevant, for knowing how to weld city sewage pipes. That being said, white-collar work is respectable, of course, but so is blue-collar work. Both require a certain type of knowledge, yet one gets paid more than the other.
Evidence of the overlooking of skills required by blue-collar work as being respectable is seen in the pay disparity. Specialized work, regardless of collar-type is difficult. The ins and out of a job are learned with experience, and that goes for whether someone is a politician or a plumber. Because society thinks of one as more important, and maybe even more difficult, they get paid more. Rose laments, “Our cultural iconography promotes the muscled arm, sleeve rolled tight against the bicep, but no brightness behind the eye, no image that links the hand and brain” (247). What the author is putting forth is that society’s perspective on blue-collar work is that of all brawn and zero brain. That is definitely far from the case. The lesser pay shows how valued and respected the blue-collar work force is. Lo and behold, it is the everyday-blue collar workers who are supplying the most services to the majority of people when they are ignorant of how, or are too lazy, to do things such as install internet, repair a roof, or make a meal for themselves. With all of that lack of appreciation, it’s a miracle how blue-collar workers stay sane; most blue-collar workers probably hate their job, right?
Too often, people think that blue-collar workers despise their jobs because they feel little career success. Emilie Hennequin, a scholar, writes in an article about how blue collar workers measure their success, “blue-collar occupations that are defined by physical work and an often stagnant position within the hierarchy ( Gibson and Papa, 2000) do not provide the possibility of traditional career success, comprising notions of hierarchical progress, and increased wages and power” (Hennequin). What she’s saying is that usually in blue collar jobs, the employees have to physically work hard and are often stuck in the same position the whole time, which challenges the traditional notion of being successful as moving up the career ladder and earning increasing wages. On the contrary, career success can be defined in terms of psychological or social rewards which are highly treasured to people, especially blue-collar workers. After all, the seniors who live where I work have a difficult enough time thinking for themselves, so I’m glad that I can be there to do it for them. In my own work experience, I get tremendous amounts of social and psychological satisfaction from my job at an assisted living facility, which far outweighs the value of the monetary compensation I receive.
One might ask, “What kinds of people are happy at work?” Well, according to Blake Nielsen and J. R. Smith, who conducted a report on personality types and their pay satisfaction, “[t]he results indicate that extroverts are more likely going to be happy with their pay, while those who are neurotic, conscious, or open may be less satisfied with their pay” (Nielsen and Smith). In essence, those who are more outgoing and probably more outspoken are relatively more satisfied with their monetary compensation than their more introverted, perhaps over-analytical counterparts. In blue collar work, where most transactions take place (e.g., Vons, Target, auto shops) it would make more sense to employ those who are happy with what they are doing, than doing otherwise. Knowing this, hiring managers would better be suited to pick those blue collar workers who are more extroverted and will more work efficiently and with more contentment, than those who are more inclined to be introverted and perhaps hurt production efficiency or cause workplace disruptions. That way, for a mutual benefit for both the employees and employers, it would be best for those with the most inter- and intra-personal to be hired; but, those are only a few skills that are revered in blue-collar work.
Today, there are blue-collar jobs that require much more technical skill than maybe previously thought. In the words of Michael Salter, who wrote in Canadian Business, “[t]he people who are getting hired–the new blue-collar elite–have a broad range of manual, technical and personal skills” (Salter). In context, Salter is saying that even many factory jobs require a comprehensive knowledge of machinery, customer service, and problem-solving. Moving from factory jobs, even employers in the food business have to deal with machines such as drink dispensers, blenders, mixers, and juicers. As a dishwasher, I have to be familiar with the dish washing machine that is highly technical and takes some getting used to. Indeed, a person working with the dish washing machine has to know how to change wash-tank water, clean filters and trays, insert soap dispensers, and trouble-shoot the machine if it decides to stop working for any reason. Obviously, it takes more than meets the eye to do blue-collar work, and critical thinking is a large part of that.
Critical thinking is priceless to humans. It is one of those skills that are abstractly defined, yet expected by most schools. To be able to think critically is to have an intelligence far beyond a great memory for academic text. It is so often thought that intelligence is associated with higher levels and longer lengths of schooling. Lesser realized, though, is the intelligence that it takes to be able to perform any kind of job that may have a lower education requirement than white-collar jobs. The kind of intelligence learned in blue-collar work is that of critical thinking, problem solving, and communicating. Countless situations in blue-collar jobs require those skills, and arguably most do. It is in the “in-betweens” of a job that critical thinking takes place. For illustration, Rose tells the readers “our traditional notions of routine performance could keep us from appreciating the many instances within routine where quick decisions and adjustments are made” (251). Coming from a job that serves food, I know the feeling. Take this for example: if someone is a trainee in a kitchen job and they are asked to do something that they are yet to learn how to do, then they will probably become nervous and worry about how they will get their job done and possibly make a serious error. I know that happened to me in a couple of instances when being asked to prepare things that I had never done before, especially in a professional setting. With practice, I was able to keep a cool head in the face of adversity and be able to help those who faced similar issues. The experience from working in blue-collar jobs will help to relieve pressures and allow for cooler, more efficient work experiences anywhere.
Being competent on a job is critical to surviving there. A person already set in their routine knows that they have a certain window of time to get things done, and is aware of how many things need to get done in that allotted frame. Rose defines blue-collar work, especially the restaurant where his mom worked, as “a place where competence was synonymous with physical work” (245). By that he means competency is the key when doing physical work. It takes quick thinking, experience, and critical thinking to do a job in the most effective manner. From gardening, to hosting, to building houses, being able to do the job correctly and promptly is what is highly valued.
When first starting, it may take a while to get a routine down, and figure out how to find the time to finish all the chores of a job. Having experience in a certain field is the key to being efficient and getting things finished. That also applies to the outside of work world, where everything is on someone else’s schedule. For instance, in school, one can know that they have a week to turn in a paper. With skills learned from their kitchen job where they have to use 10 minutes to polish and replace the silverware, and then 15 minutes to vacuum the dining room, they can allot their time to a day for the pre-write, a day for the rough draft, a day for revision, and a day for submission. Another example would be when a person is trying to get their house clean. Similarly to the way things are done at work, they know to start in one place, finish the job, and move on to the next. Who would have known that learning to manage one’s time at work could help them in a variety of ways outside of work?
Managing time and being able to trouble-shoot are crucial skills in the blue-collar world. When there are a million things to do and only twenty minutes to do them, man do people get overwhelmed. To fan the flame, the cash register stopped working and change and calculations have to be done by hand. Learning from work, blue-collar jobs help people to make decisions about what how to parcel out their time to get the most done, and how to substitute one thing for another when something goes awry. To put things in perspective, sometimes in the kitchen where I work, a resident will want some sort of dessert. When I go to look in the fridge, I see a hideous looking caramel flan, but know that it is the last one and that it is what the customer wants. I begin to think “oh man what can I do to make this look a little better?” Thinking quickly because of the experience and knowledge my blue-collar job has provided me with, I put the flan in a smaller dish and add some blueberries and whip cream as garnish and send the dessert on its way. The things that have to be done to keep blue-collar businesses going should be seen as being as challenging as the tasks that those with a white-collar job have to do.
Blue-collar work is important and makes up society as it’s known. Most businesses are run by blue-collar workers who keep the flow of things going and provide services to keep the lives of the American people happy. In order to do that, there are skills that they must possess which include critical thinking, time management, and trouble shooting. To further expand, a knowledge of the importance of efficiency and competency is crucial for blue-collar work. It would be a travesty to minimize the joys and productivity of blue-collar work to keep the work of the white-collar on a pedestal. Western civilization today is grounded in the bedrock that is blue-collar work, and for that reason, it should be appreciated, valued, de-stigmatized, and cared for.
Hennequin, Emilie. “What “Career Success” Means to Blue-Collar Workers.” Career Development International. 2007. 565-581. Proquest.
Nielson, Blake E, PhD, and J R Smith, DBA. “Personality and Pay Satisfaction: Examining the Relationship of a Sample of Blue Collar Workers Personality and Their Pay Satisfaction Levels.” Journal of Management Research. 2014. 63-78. Proquest.
Rose, Mike. “Blue-Collar Brilliance.” They Say/I Say With Readings. 2nd ed. Eds. Cathy Birkenstein, Russul Durst, and Gerald Graff. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2012. 243-255. Print.
Salter, Michael. “The New Blue Collar Elite” Canadian Business. 1995. 55-63. Proquest.