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Blue-Collar Headwinds: Millennials Misconceptions

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Despite the high demand for blue collar labor, Millennials, the very workers who in the years to come will be needed to replace outgoing blue-collar retirees, have shown little—and declining—interest in blue-collar work. 

For, example, only 6.9% of 25- to 34-year-old workers had a construction job in 2015, down from 7.9% in 2000.11  

The decline in manufacturing employment among young adults, meanwhile, has been even starker. Just 9.5% of 25- to 34-year-old workers had a manufacturing job in 2015, down from 14.4% in 2000.12  According to a 2013 Georgetown University report, a whopping 35% of employed 18- to 24-year-olds worked at a blue-collar job in 1980. By 2010, that share had dropped by nearly half, to 19%.13 

Why the decline? IIn addition to suffering a drop off in demand, blue-collar work has acquired a stigma that keeps many Millennials away. Decades ago, manufacturing and construction jobs were the preferred fields by which able-bodied young men earned a living. But heavy industry undoubtedly has lost its luster among young job-seekers who are keenly aware of its downfalls. 

When Millennials think of blue-collar work, they see a shrinking sector of the economy where wages are low and stagnant. Dating back to 1990, wages have been lower—with growth virtually nonexistent—for professions (like blue-collar work) that require a high degree of physical skill. Between 1990 and 2015, the average hourly wage at this type of job grew by just 11%, to $16.14  By comparison, the average hourly wage at jobs requiring high analytical skills grew by 15%, to $27.15  Jobs requiring high social skills are the same story, wages at this type of job grew by 15% between 1990 and 2015, to $26.16 

The result? A perceived “hollowing-out” of the middle of the job market for Millennial job-seekers. Those looking for a bona fide career have gravitated toward white-collar, salaried positions that offer a fixed amount of money per paycheck and employer-provided benefits. These fields also offer something else that is highly coveted by Millennials: a perceived better quality of life. A recent Fidelity survey found that the average Millennial would take a $7,600 pay cut in exchange for a job with higher “quality of life” benefits (such as better career development, more purposeful work, better work/life balance, or stronger company culture.)17 

Surprisingly, many Millennials seeking just a job (as opposed to a full-blown career) are choosing hourly sales jobs that require no higher education, no training, and no certifications. In 2015, double-digit percentages of employed 16- to 19-year-olds (25.4%), 20- to 24-year-olds (21.1%), and 25- to 34-year-olds (13.9%) held a job in the wholesale and retail trade sector.18  

This generation’s preference for sales jobs further underscores the stigma that Millennials feel toward blue-collar work. The median pay for a retail sales worker in 2015 was just $10.60 an hour.19  Yet certain blue-collar careers offer far more lucrative hourly wages with roughly the same prerequisite training. A typical rotary drill operator for the oil and gas industry earns $28.15 an hour.20  Either Millennials are extremely averse to blue-collar work or they don’t know that opportunities like these exist; both scenarios are equally troubling to blue-collar managers.

Next Part in the Series: Pink-Collar Headwinds: High Growth is a Double-Edged Sword


11.  Occupation and industry, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017,
12.  Ibid.
13.  Anthony P. Carnevale, et al., Failure to Launch (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education 12. and the Workforce, 2013).
14. The State of American Jobs (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 2016).
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Evaluate a Job Offer Study (Boston: Fidelity Investments, 2016).
18. Occupation and industry, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017,
19. Retail Sales Workers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017,
20. Jacquelyn Smith, “America’s Best-Paying Blue-Collar Jobs,” Forbes (June 5, 2012).


Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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