Careers Without College: Is a Blue-Collar Career Right for You?

Lesson 1: Is a Blue-Collar Career Right for You?

Is a blue-collar career right for you?

man using a chisel

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of focus on college these days. More and more students are pushed toward a college track, with the idea that it’s the best or only way to get a good-paying job. The truth is, college can be a great path for some people, but it’s also very expensive and doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job. So it’s important to weigh all of your options to decide which path is right for you.

We’re going to talk about a category of jobs that often doesn’t require college: blue-collar jobs. Unlike white-collar jobs, which generally involve working in an office, blue-collar jobs tend to be more physical. Carpenter, electrician, plumber, and mechanic jobs are a few examples, but there are many others to choose from. If this path is a good fit for you, it can offer a well-paying, rewarding career.

Why are people steered away from blue-collar jobs?

Unfortunately, many people assume that a blue-collar career isn’t for them, so they never give it a serious look. They may even be steered toward other paths by their parents, teachers, or peers. This is partly due to a perception that blue-collar jobs are boring, repetitive, or low-paying—but for many jobs, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many blue-collar jobs offer a lot of variety, and every day may be different. This can involve meeting new people, traveling to different homes and businesses, or solving unique problems each day, which keeps the work interesting.

It’s true that the average blue-collar job pays less than the average white-collar job. However, statistics don’t always tell the entire story. Both blue- and white-collar jobs have a wide range of salaries, and many blue-collar workers make more money than the average white-collar worker. It’s a good idea to research the typical salaries for specific blue-collar jobs to see which ones pay more. You may be pleasantly surprised at how well some jobs pay.

Aren’t blue-collar jobs going away?

Yes and no. The rapid pace of technology and globalization does cause some jobs to go away. Some fields, like manufacturing, use robotics and other automation to increase productivity, allowing companies to produce more with fewer workers. However, they still need human workers to operate and maintain the equipment, and many of these jobs are still in high demand—even if there are fewer of them.

Many skilled trades are less likely to go away. For example, electricians are needed almost everywhere, so these jobs are more resistant to automation or outsourcing.

Keep in mind that white-collar jobs can disappear too. The job market is changing for many different career fields, so don’t let it discourage you from taking a blue-collar career path.

Education and training

man showing a coworker how to use a hand plane

Like most jobs, blue-collar jobs require training. Although there are four-year college programs that can prepare students for blue-collar jobs, it’s more common to get a two-year degree from a community college or technical school. In some cases, you only need a high school diploma to get started.

Many skilled trades can be learned through on-the-job training, often through an apprenticeship. During an apprenticeship, you’ll spend a few years (or more) working alongside an experienced tradesperson, earning money and learning all of the skills you’ll need to know. Once the apprenticeship is complete, you can become a journeyman, which means you’ll be a fully qualified tradesperson.

Every job will have different minimum requirements, but if you want to be competitive you shouldn’t settle for the minimum. Even if it isn’t required, spending a year or two in a relevant program at a community college or technical school will show employers that you are serious about your career, which will give you an edge over other candidates. You should do some research to find out which path employers prefer for your career.

Weighing your options

person thinking about blue collar and white collar careers

Deciding whether to pursue a blue-collar or white-collar career path is an important decision, and both options have pros and cons. A white-collar path will typically require college, which takes time and money. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with student loans, but if you get a good-paying job it may be worth the investment.

College can also provide benefits in addition to preparing you for a career. It can give you opportunities for personal growth and enrich your life in numerous ways.

On the other hand, if you choose a blue-collar path, you can avoid the expense of college and start working (and making money) sooner. Although you may need to start with a relatively low-paying job, you can use your work experience to start building your resume and work toward a successful career.

As you can see, both options involve some risk and uncertainty. There’s no way to know exactly how much money you’ll make or where your career will take you. However, by doing a little research you can at least make an informed decision. You can use tools like the Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn about specific jobs, including the typical salary, job growth, educational requirements, and more.

Ultimately, the decision of which career path to pursue is up to you. Spend some time evaluating your own needs, skills, and personality, and you’ll be well-equipped to find a career that is right for you.