the age of intelligent blue collar work

The Age of Intelligent Blue Collar Work

Have you ever been engaged in a discussion with someone about what you wanted to be when you grew up and they said, “you should strongly consider a career as a mechanic!” It’s highly doubtful that this suggestion ever became much of a topic of consideration as an actual (more concise language) possibility due to the stigma of blue collar work. Blue collar jobs haven’t typically been viewed as a type of work that one would aspire to.

Blue collar jobs such as electricians, plumbers, construction workers, and mechanics are jobs that pay well and will always be in demand, they are perceived as less desired jobs that don’t generally require a great deal of intellect. There exist two articles, “Blue Collar Brilliance” by Mike Rose and “Shop Class for Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford that make a triumphant attempt by using storytelling and empirical evidence to shed new light on the importance of blue collar work, and that those who labor in these types of careers, are in fact extremely intellectual, (more concise?) and the work takes far more brain power and skill than many people believe.

In the article “Blue Collar Brilliance,” Rose tells us that he feels intelligence is not a result formal education. He uses storytelling, description, and imagery as his strategy to give us examples from his childhood where he watched his mother as she worked as a waitress in a local diner, efficiently making her rounds to tables, taking customers’ orders, and working in such a manner that one may not ever know she only had a 7th grade education .

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His uncle Joe, a 9th grade dropout, started working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then served in the navy, back to the railroad, and eventually made a move to General Motors where he worked his way through the ranks into management. Rose conducted additional studies observing and learning as much as he could about other types blue collar work. Rose gives us other examples of how blue collar work requires cognitive skills, planning, and problem solving. He states that the skills these workers have developed haven’t been acknowledged the way they should, by saying, “if we think that whole categories of people- identified by class or occupation- are not bright, then we reinforce social separations and cripple our ability to talk across cultures divides.” Rose encourages society as a whole to take a more objective approach, change our perceptions regarding the true skill and intelligence blue collar work requires, and to dispel any assumptions made that not having a formal education results in lower quality work, less intellect, and reduced ability to acquire the skills that are necessary to work in a successful career.

Having practical trade skills, and the value and merit of these necessary skills are discussed in the article “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Crawford examines his theory by using empirical evidence that the knowledge of being able to fix things and make them with our hands is becoming less and less common, that manual competence has been declining at an exponential rate in the last century, even though these types of trades will forever be needed and necessary for society to thrive. Crawford shares his experience in a career as an electrician and how working with his hands to create something that gives an immediate reward gave him a great sense of pride in his work, self-satisfaction, and caused him to feel successful in his endeavors. Crawford felt a deeper appreciation as a blue collar worker being an electrician, and pride that he was part of something important, something bigger than himself. He shares many examples of different kinds of skilled labor that demands cognitive abilities and specific skills that white collar work can’t provide. As a motorcycle mechanic, he experienced first hand the amount of brain work troubleshooting and fixing motorcycles was. He argues that both sides have important roles in today’s workplace and age and that students should feel encouraged to develop a trade skill as well as technological skills.

Rose uses his strengths as a storyteller as a way of putting his readers into his perspective of the people he writes about. By using phrases such as “weaving in and out,” “urgent voices,” “walked full tilt through the room with plates stretched up her left arm and two cups of coffee somehow cradled in her right hand,” give us as a visual of how fast and hard his mother worked, and the kind of strength both mentally and physically she would have needed. The story of his uncle Joe working in the factory also gives a description of the conditions he worked in and all the many things he had to learn to do to be productive. “The floor was loud- in some places deafening- and when I turned a corner or opened a door, the smell of chemicals knocked my head back.” Rose creates a vivid description of what it’s like on the production floor of General Motors so that we can see it as if we were there. Although Crawford uses a few stories in his essay, they are short and not as descriptive as Rose’s. He tells us about opening his own motorcycle repair shop and coming home to his wife at night and about how she could smell him and say “carbs or brakes?” which gives us a visual about the experiences of his work. However, there isn’t much additional detail in his storytelling.

Crawford excels in is his use of using claims of value or fact. He states “What ordinary people once made, they buy; and what they once fixed for themselves, they replace entirely or hire an expert to repair, whose expert fix often involves installing pre-made replacement part. So perhaps the time is ripe for reconsideration of an ideal that has fallen out of favor: manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world.” He gives us detailed explanations about why blue collar workers are so important and why the roles they fill are so necessary, and concept that blue collar workers are intelligent and require many skills. He also discusses prejudice between blue and white collar workers and that schools do not give blue collar workers the credit they deserve. He says “The dichotomy of “white collar” versus “blue collar” corresponding to mental versus manual… it assumes that all blue collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and that white collar in character.” Rose on the other hand uses less claim of value or fact. “Generalizations about intelligence, work, and social class deeply affect our assumptions about ourselves and each other, guiding the ways we use our minds to learn, build knowledge, solve problems, and make our way through the world.”

Both Crawford and Rose have compelling opinions surrounding the value and intelligence of blue collar workers. Although their styles are quite different, they are both successful at persuading both students and workers to reconsider our preconceived notions about the brain power and skill involved with jobs that have previously been referred to as less important.

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the age of intelligent blue collar work. (2019, Nov 26). Retrieved from

the age of intelligent blue collar work
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