Blue Collar Workers: Happy But Hard to Find

Blue Collar Workers: Happy But Hard to Find

By |

Blue collar workers are generally quite happy with their careers. At the same time, it can be difficult to find the right ones for your company. Why is this? Understanding the reasons that construction labor providers have identified can help you find these workers more swiftly.

How Happy Are Blue Collar Workers?

The first thing to understand is just how happy blue collar workers are. A whopping 86 percent are happy with their jobs, according to the NY Post. The split on whether they think the country is heading in the right direction is more down-the-middle. Why is this important? It highlights that they're able to judge their own circumstances separately. It means they're happy with their jobs because their jobs are good, not because of other factors.

This is encouraging for construction labor providers. Anytime a group is largely happy with their jobs, it means it's easier to retain workers who are still in the middle of their careers. The difficulty comes in the increasing age of blue collar workers. There hasn't been a huge influx of new workers from the Millennial or Gen Z generations. At the same time, older workers of the Baby Boomer generation are retiring.

Millennials Are Wary of Blue Collar Jobs

Why are younger generations hesitant to enter blue collar fields? Understanding the lack of blue collar workers means going back a decade. When the financial crisis hit in 2007-08, it slowed down the construction and manufacturing industries and others like it. Those industries were quick to recover nationally, but not in many regions of the country. Certain regions saw massive slowdowns, which meant that the influx of new blue collar labor wasn't national.

In many areas, younger generations saw blue collar jobs as unsustainable or risky. They offered little of the stability that they had for decades prior. This is why blue collar labor is more region-based than ever before. Certain regions did well, and the ones that didn't saw interest in that labor evaporate.

With regular fears of recession and evidence of what the one 12 years ago caused, these generations don't always have the confidence in blue collar jobs that older generations do.

Couple this with the increasing access to college education – and the increasing need for it in many fields – and Millennials and Gen Z have seen more opportunity in going to college. Whether this is an increased opportunity or not is debatable, but it is the perception of younger generations.

A third factor is the fear of increasing automation. While some blue collar jobs may be replaced by automation, those in the construction industry are less likely to be impacted – at least in the short term. Yet there is a fear among younger generations that even if they aren't replaced tomorrow, automation may replace them in 10 or 20 years. Is that a full career?

Putting It Together

Consider how many building inspections of everything from skyscrapers to bridges are conducted today. Small drone operators are increasingly in demand. In many circumstances, that requires technical and robotics expertise. These are fields that are often covered by college and that intersect with automation.

Often, these very legitimate considerations get dismissed as other factors. You've almost surely heard that Millennials are lazy and don't want to do hard work. Yet the truth of the matter doesn't support this. Millennials are worried about job stability in an increasingly service-oriented economy that prioritizes part-time gigs. They don't perceive any job as truly stable.

Millennials see college as a way of gaining flexibility to shift between different workplaces and jobs. There's no such thing as staying with a company for 30 or 40 years any more. They're often lucky if they can stay with one for 3 or 4 years, despite how hard they work. College to them offers adaptability between industries.

This is unfortunate as many college grads struggle under the weight of enormous debt, and the jobs they dreamed of fail to provide enough income to live the life they envisioned. The reality is that trade schools, apprenticeships, and other blue-collar paths to work offer a sustainable path without the crushing debt.

How to Improve Millennial & Gen Z Recruitment

What are you supposed to do then? Well, if you treat Millennials and Gen Z as lazy or despising hard work, they won't want to work for you. Recognize and address their concerns head-on. These are information-oriented generations, so give them evidence of the stability of blue collar work. Give them evidence that they'll still be picking up good jobs with good pay in a few years' time. Give them evidence that certain jobs will never be replaced by automation because they'll always need a human eye and talent to do them.

Blue collar workers are hard to find because older generations are retiring out, and younger generations have genuine concerns about those jobs. The solution isn't to tear down that generation for the economic fears they learned growing up. They lived that. They experienced that. You're not going to convince them that their lives and experiences didn't happen.

The solution isn't to make college the enemy either. Plenty of blue collar workers have college experience and a degree. If you pose blue collar jobs as the enemy of college, then you'll have to win a pretty pointless fight that takes time and energy and doesn't get you more workers.

Pose blue collar jobs as something that college experience can capitalize on. College teaches flexibility of roles, working in teams, communication skills, and how to learn new skills throughout life. Doesn't that sound like exactly what you're looking for in blue collar trades?

Many college graduates would rather work in trades than in offices, but because they're not targeted by recruiters, they imagine that path has closed to them when it hasn't. Their college experience – time, money, and work spent investing in their own future – is sometimes even treated as a negative. How are they supposed to enter trades that treat their college experience as something offensive, rather than a strength that can be built on?

Understand the New Environment

The world has changed and these younger generations are doing their best to keep up, often working extremely hard to do so. It is the job of construction labor providers to work with them, not to belittle or dismiss them. Do this and you can retain younger skilled workers as well as helping to change the perception of the industry in these generations.

Sure, it's easy to view Millennials as lazy and college as the enemy of blue collar labor. That doesn't get you new hires, though. It closes you off to some of the strongest blue collar workers you could hire and it further reinforces the perception that younger generations aren't welcome and don't have opportunity in these fields.

Recognize their concerns as legitimate, address them, and go from there. Their concerns are about stability, and adaptability of blue collar skills in the face of oncoming automation. Blue collar workers are happy, but they're hard to find because a dozen years after the recession and in the midst of worry over automation, all we've taught ourselves is that these are concerns to be belittled instead of engaged and addressed.

When you rethink your approach - and reframe how you recruit workers - you’ll find that sourcing qualified, skilled blue collar workers is much easier.


Download a Checklist for Hiring a Labor Staffing Agency | Labor for Hire