Blue Collar Jobs Can’t be Moved Offshore

By Kevin M

In Jobs and Careers That Aren’t Coming Back we listed and discussed 13 career fields that are in a state of decline and unlikely to recover. Today we’ll cover the very opposite: job fields that are here to stay and likely to expand.

Global off-shoring of jobs and advances in technology are squeezing many jobs and careers into gradual extinction, as computers and cheap overseas labor eat away at once common fields of employment. But not all career fields are affected.

People who can produce or fix things often have the greatest job security. The world is full of machines, all in need of service or repair sooner or later. Being one of the people who can keep them going is a chance to start to a side business or to full scale self-employment. Equally important, though we tend to think of most innovation occurring in laboratories, many technological discoveries happen somewhere out in the field, produced by people who can work with their hands.

Fields that are actually expanding job opportunities

In Blue-Collar Jobs in Demand for 2010 Michelle Goodman lists the following job categories, all having positive future prospects:

  • Plumber, pipe fitter, or steamfitter
  • Elevator installer/repairer
  • Carpenter
  • Electrician
  • Automobile mechanic
  • Heating, air conditioning, or refrigeration mechanic/installer
  • Roofer

I’ll add another to that list: Home remodeling and repair. Given the weak economy and the even weaker housing market, a lot of homeowners are opting to renovate rather than move. I know a few people in home remodeling and they’re busier than ever.

(An even broader list appears in The Skilled Trades Are Well Worth Investigating.)

Irresistible advantages

There are more than a few advantages to blue collar work, even in this golden age of college education.

No outsourcing. These jobs can’t be outsourced to Bangalore or any other location anywhere in the world. The work involved in blue collar jobs is done on site with human hands and as marvelous as the accomplishments of technology have been, the ability to replace that involvement probably won’t come in our lifetimes, or even many lifetimes to come.

No transfers. It’s highly unlikely that you’re job will be transferred to a location somewhere across the country. In Buying vs. Renting a Home – Its Not All About Money, one of the factors that needs to be considered in the buy vs. rent decision is local job stability. Given that house values are no longer rising to support the five-years-and-flip game, having a career that enables you to stay in your home and community long term is more important than ever.

No student debt. You won’t come out of the gate carrying five- or six figures in student loan debt. Blue collar jobs are typically entered through apprenticeships supplemented by classroom training. It’s more of an “earn and learn” in the old world tradition.

No meetings or business travel. Maybe this is my personal opinion taking hold, but I find that meetings and business travel often waste a lot of time and energy.

Second income potential. How many desk jobs are readily convertible into second incomes or side businesses? By contrast, the trades lend themselves well to engaging in a side business especially.

Barter potential. If you can build or fix something, you have something to trade on the open market. Since blue collar jobs essentially involve building and fixing, you have a barter skill built into your regular career. You can develop an informal barter arrangement with other trades people, or to trade for other services you need.

Job mobility. One of the advantages of blue collar work, at least the skilled trades, is that there’s demand for workers in nearly every city, state and region in the country, and even in the world. Many career fields are regionally concentrated, but electricians, plumbers and carpenters are needed everywhere.

The blue collar worlds Achilles heal

Every career field comes with one or more weak spots, and the blue collar world is no exception. With the obvious exception of auto mechanics and home remodeling, a significant slice of blue collar workers are concentrated either primarily or entirely in new construction.

The boom/bust cycle of real estate development, whether residential, commercial or industrial, puts many blue collar jobs—the ones dependent on new construction—at even greater risk than other career fields. The recent experience in the home building industry testifies to this.

The security of blue collar work then is in those jobs centering on service and repair of existing systems. Not only is repair work the most secure, but it also offers the greatest potential for self-employment.

Blue collar work isn’t for everyone, but…

Who might consider entering a blue collar field?

  • Young people facing the decision to enter a college degree program they really can’t afford and the student loan debt burden which will inevitably follow,
  • 20-somethings who may have a college degree, but are finding few employment prospects, or
  • People over 30 who have lost their jobs and see little chance of re-employment in the same field.

I have a nephew who left college to train to be a diesel mechanic and he absolutely did the right thing. Not only is he making an above average income, but he has far greater employment security than most other careers in the past few years. Though I have a college education myself, my wife and I are advising our teenage son to follow the same course as his cousin.

Taking a plunge into a blue collar profession fits the true definition of “retooling”. But sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward.

 
If you could do it all over again, would you consider a blue collar field? Are parents maybe doing their kids a disservice prompting and prepping them for college without considering alternatives? Is there more employment security in college norm occupations or in the blue collar trades? Do you know any people who chose the blue collar route and have thrived, even in this economy?

( Photo courtesy of aflcio2008 )

16 Responses to Blue Collar Jobs Can’t be Moved Offshore

  1. We agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. Having a skill set that can be used for trading or barter may become immensely valuable over the next decade or so. College is way over rated, in our view, and the debt many are faced with, at graduation, is insane when compared to the low salaries many college grads are earning. Eventually, college will become more affordable but in the mean time there are ways to reduce college education costs by gaining credits through examination. MIT offers their entire curriculum on-line for anyone to use at no cost. Of course, if you want the credit and/or the graduation certificate, you must enroll and pay the fees.

    It is imperative people understand the boom/cycle before finalizing their career choice. Ideally, if one could take advantage of and leverage the boom times (construction trades) and have a related fall-back plan (repair and remodeling) during the following bust, it would provide the best of both worlds. The ideal educational pursuit to assist with this blue-collar strategy would be the study of Austrian Economics.

  2. Steven and Debra – I think you’re looking at employment from a strategic angle, and though I didn’t want to go there specifically, it is a major reason anyone would want to pursue the trades. Hands on skills will be invaluable in the event that the economy doesn’t make the expected rebound, or fails to hold it.

    No one knows what the future holds, but in the event darker events do play out, anyone with a background in the skilled trades will have a built in advantage at earning a paycheck, securing barter arrangements or just getting by in life.

    What ever happens, it does seem that we have an oversupply of college norm, service workers and a real shortage of people with hands on skills ready to get those hands dirty. Supply and demand alone should provide a clear sight on the value of the trades.

  3. Great list to consider if you are looking at a future career change. One I might challenge is the Auto mechanic… if we continue to move towards electric transportation the need for auto mechanics should fall dramatically!

    What does an electric car really need? Tires on occasion and some body work when wrecked.

  4. LeanLifeCoach – That’s an excellent point. Technology is always evolving and adjustments need to be made.

    Based on what I’ve read about the technology, massive fleets of all electric cars may never happen. Right now, we have a growing number of hybrids which still run on traditional internal combustion engines with electric assist capabilities for short hauls. So the hybrids at least still need the same basic maintenance, plus whatever may be needed to service the electric portion.

    Even with an all electric car, there still are brakes, shocks, steering, tires, air conditioners, fans, electrical circuits, moving parts and drive trains to service and replace. Auto mechanics may change, but it’s unlikely they’ll disappear, not as long as there are cars on the road.

  5. Even though blue collar jobs can’t be outsourced, massive immigration (legal and illegal) has seriously affected the picture. Low paid immigrants have certainly had a major impact on blue collar industries like home construction, meat packing and automotive service work. When immigrants take these jobs for a fraction of the normal blue collar salary, American workers are displaced the same as with outsourcing.

  6. circlebill – I see what you’re saying, but from where I sit it doesn’t seem as if the domestics are even flocking into those jobs. Our national obsession with college norm/white collar jobs has left a vaccuum in the jobs that keep the economy physically moving.

    The people I do know in blue collar fields (skilled) report little traffic on entry. IMHO, the oft repeated claim that immigrants are taking “American jobs” is seriously over worked. We’re losing far more jobs to foreign outsourcing, new technology and the offshoring of productive capacity than from immigrants.

    It’s a sad commentary on the human condition when nearly every problem is acribed as some form of us-vs-them.

  7. Many jobs that require a person to physically be at a location to do the job can’t be shipped overseas. Anything that requires an office, the internet, etc… these types of white collar jobs are the ones in danger of being lost to persons in other countries willing to work for less money than Americans.

    Use to be Americans were competing with other Americans for jobs… not anymore. We are competing with people around the globe for many jobs.

  8. That’s a good lesson for white collar workers to learn. It isn’t just assembly line jobs disappearing. Increasingly, it’s office functions that can be performed just as well by English speaking residents of another country. Technology is proving to be a great equalizer.

  9. Offshoring is the transfer of service operations to foreign countries in order to take advantage of a supply of skilled but relatively cheap labor. Services may be outsourced to a foreign company or a wholly owned foreign subsidiary company may be established. The main benefit of offshoring is the reduction of costs but concerns about redundancies and job losses in the home countries have been raised.

  10. Almost any business man can see the benefits of outsourcing. Saving money is their goal so that’s why a lot of jobs career fields are affected. Wether you are a fan of outsourcing or globalization it is something that we all must get used to as the world is getting smaller.

  11. Sarah (SEO OS) – I completely agree, which is part of the reason for the post. We can’t wish it away, and even political solutions are likely to be weak and temporary. This is one of those global paradigm shifts we need to learn to live with otherwise it will roll right over us.

  12. And since every government job that is created destroys 1.29 real jobs, we would be better off if the people who lost their government jobs because of budget cuts did not have their jobs reinstated by this type of bailout, because for every government job that they lost, 1.29 real jobs will eventually materialize in the real world economy.

  13. Hi Alonso, I haven’t seen that statistic anywhere, but if it’s true you may be on to something! Right now government jobs are about the only ones that aren’t disappearing. I’m even reading that long time favorites like lawyers are no longer as solid as they once were.

  14. The Stimulus Package introduced by President Obama tries to open up new job opportunities. 5 million new green collar jobs are what the people are looking up to. A green collar job is something that connects you to your environment. It refers to any job that at the end of the day contributes to the environment in some way or the other at its own level.

  15. Hi Joe–Green jobs will only work out if the work involved produces some sort of income stream for the employer. If they’re just make-work jobs, they’ll disappear fast. Any job that isn’t economically beneficial won’t last.

  16. G’Day! Outofyourrut,
    I just stumbled across this and, If you have not heard the expression green work uttered hundreds of days of late from politicians, marketplace leaders, union leaders and environmentalists then you must have been hiding beneath a rock for the past yr. No other time period apart from global credit history crunch would seem to have had as considerably media protection but what is all the fuss about?
    BTW great blogpost

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