What is a blue-collar worker? Definition and examples

A Blue-Collar worker is an employee whose work requires physical skill or strength rather than office skills. A blue-collar worker is a manual worker. Factory workers and workshop employees, for example, are blue-collar workers. People who work in ‘trades’ are also in this category.

If we refer to a piece of work as ‘blue-collar,’ it must be directly related to the output that the company generates. Also, the end result is a tangible item.

Historically, in Western countries, manual workers wore blue shirts with blue collars. Office workers, on the other hand, wore white shirts with white collars.

Blue-collar workers
Blue-collar workers, unlike their white-collar counterparts, do manual work.

White-collar, pink-collar, and blue-collar

  • White-collar

White-collar workers are employees who do clerical, non-manual, mental work. In other words, they use mental rather than physical skills. Most white-collar jobs are in offices.

White-collars workers typically perform job their duties at a desk with computers, telephones, and other electronic devices.

We use the term white-collar for a wide spectrum of office-type jobs. A junior clerk does white-collar work, and so does a highly-skilled professional. Architects, lawyers, and accountants, for example, do white-collar work.

  • Pink-collar

The term pink-collar is more common in North America than in the UK and other English-speaking nations. In fact, the vast majority of British and Irish citizens have never heard the term and do not know what it means.

Pink-collar workers work in care-oriented jobs, which traditionally were considered to be a “woman’s job.”

Pink-collar jobs include, for example, nursing, teaching, secretarial, and childcare positions. Waiting at tables is also a pink-collar work.

Even though men also work in these jobs, they are typically and historically dominated by female workers.

Louise Kapp Howe, an American writer and social critic, popularized the term in the late 1970s.

  • Blue-collar

As mentioned above, blue-collar work is manual work. Historically, blue-collar workers’ wages were calculated by the hour. Today, most workers, regardless of their type of work, are paid either fortnightly or once a month.

An Alden, Iowa newspaper first used the term while referring to trades jobs in 1924. At the time, most manual workers, especially in industry, wore blue denim or chambray shirts. Blue or navy blue is better at concealing dirt or grease. Manual workers are more likely to get dirty than office employees.

In the past, white-collar workers tended to earn more than their blue-collar counterparts. Today, that is not necessarily the case.

A plumber, for example, is a blue-collar worker. However, plumbers can earn considerably more than office workers. Stephen Fry, 34, a successful London plumber, earns £210,000 ($274,000, €239,000) a year, which is more than many business executives. Housing Authority plumber Vincenzo Guirbino earns over $315,000 a year in New York city.

This shift reflects changes in the global economy, where skilled manual labor in areas like construction, plumbing, and electrical work can command high wages due to demand and specialized expertise.

With or without a hyphen

  • Nouns

When it is a noun, we do not place a hyphen, as in:

“What does blue collar mean?”

  • Adjectives

However, when it is an adjective, we place a hyphen. An adjective describes a noun.

Look at the two examples below:

“He is a blue-collar worker,” or “There are many vacant white-collar jobs.”

The nouns in these two examples are ‘worker’ and ‘job’.

Video – What is a Blue-Collar Worker?

This interesting video, from our sister channel in YouTube – Marketing Business Network, explains what a ‘Blue-Collar Worker’ is using simple and easy-to-understand language and examples.