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Blue-Collar Headwinds: Millennials Misconceptions

Saturday, June 10, 2017
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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, https://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#occind.
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, https://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#occind.
19. Retail Sales Workers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/retail-sales-workers.htm.
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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