ask the readers: how to move from white-collar work to blue-collar work

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Here’s a question that I don’t know the answer to, but which I’m hoping readers might have good advice on. A reader writes:

I was recently laid off from working as a bookkeeper. While looking for another job, I’ve started to think that while I am good at it, office work isn’t really what I want to do. While I was putting myself through school (and after), I had a variety of jobs and the ones that I liked best were hands-on and active. So I have started looking at so-called blue collar jobs.

While I can find a lot of advice for transitioning from blue collar to white collar, I can’t find anything for the other way around. I’m looking at jobs that don’t really require any experience, so I am unsure what to include on my resume and how to tie in what I have done. I understand that I may be starting at the bottom and I want to communicate that I am serious, but am not sure of the best way to do so.

Readers, what do you say?

{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. TotesMaGoats

    This might be one of those areas where a well placed word from someone in your network will get you in the door faster than a resume. Not to imply that “blue collar” jobs don’t require the same effort with a resume/cover letter. Or have stringent hiring procedures.

    Reply
    1. Juli G.

      I second word of mouth. My husband is a carpenter. 3 weeks before our wedding, his boss skipped town with a month of my husband’s wages. Husband called to tell me and I was freaking out. He assured me it would be fine and he would make some calls. One hour later, he calls back and said, “New job. Start on Monday.”

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Wow and wow. Your husband must be very good at what he does. But the ex-boss, what a loser- taking a person’s pay AND knowing they planning on getting married. (Shaking my head.) Did your husband ever get paid for that month?

        Reply
        1. Juli G.

          Yes he did! We didn’t have the money to get a lawyer but my husband was able to put a lien on a project they were building (he was technically an independent contractor) Those people were rich and able to pursue the guy. He settled up his debts for the most part – we got about 75% of what was owed from him and Husband dropped the lien.

          He is pretty good but he’s very, very social. He may actually know more people at MY WORKPLACE than I do!

          Reply
      2. Kate

        Yeah, my dad, who was a mechanic before retiring, quit his job unexpectedly when I was in college. I immediately started freaking out, thinking about how I’d have to apply for more financial aid, take a semester off, get a (real) job, etc.

        He had a new job in two days. Apparently the interview process was as follows: He walked into a car dealership. The manager said “Hey, John–what’s up?” Dad said, “I’m looking for a job.” The manager said, “Cool. Want to start on Monday?”

        And then a bunch of his customers left his old dealership and started taking their cars to the new one…even though the new dealership was for a different kind of car.

        Reply
  2. iseeshiny

    What kind of blue collar job are you looking for? Skilled or unskilled labor? Because if it’s unskilled, you’re probably not going to be writing a resume but rather filling out an application, and your best bet is still going to be networking. If it’s skilled, you’re probably going to either need a background in it (ie you want to be a carpenter and have been a hobby woodworker for years, or you want to do construction and redid your own kitchen) or you’re going to have to go back to school.

    Reply
    1. sam

      seconded – I don’t know too much about this area, but my best friend is married to someone in a blue-collar-ish job (he’s more of a manager, but it’s construction related, and when they’re on deadline everyone is hands-on), and it’s a lot of word of mouth and knowing people. Before he had this job, he actually had a general contractor’s license as well, which he let lapse because he doesn’t need it for this job.

      If what you’re looking to do needs some sort of licensing (master carpentry, electrical, plumbing, contractor, etc.), you may want to look at trade schools. The more decent schools will probably have some sort of job placement programs/apprenticeships as well.

      Reply
        1. Melly

          This is a great suggestion. My husband looked into an apprenticeship with the local pipefitters union. This was awhile ago but I recall there was a paper-based test. Once you passed that there was some additional selection process. But once getting through the pay was quite nice.

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          1. the gold digger

            I talked to a guy on a plane several years ago. They were having a hard time finding apprentices – I think this was for electricians. You only had to have a high school diploma but they paid like $20K a year just to go through the training. Not to bad for someone who could maybe stay living at home for a year or two and pay nominal rent while advancing in a career.

            Reply
      1. Cucumber

        Or a community college. The one I used to work at has a beauty school, auto collision repair, drafting tech, pipefitting, construction management, welding and HVAC, including a fast-track 14 week course; even if you’re out of the “service area”, it only costs about $1200 in tuition a semester, assuming you’re taking four classes.

        Reply
      2. Natalie

        Also, consider your state’s licensing requirements. It takes at least 7 years of school/apprenticeship/journeyman in my state to get a plumbing or electrical license, but HVAC is much shorter for some reason.

        Reply
    2. OhNo

      You’re going to need a lot more than hobby experience to get work in skilled labor. Every member of my family (except me) works in skilled blue collar jobs, and not a single one of them would hire a hobbyist to do real work. This is true in a variety of fields – my father is a contractor & carpenter, my brother is a carpenter, one of my uncles is a mechanic and the other is a machinist.

      OP, your best bet by far is networking. Do you know anyone who either works in a blue collar profession or knows someone who does? Ask if they would be willing to hire you for a single job or for a very short period. Be very clear about the fact that you have little to no experience but are willing to learn, because that makes a big difference.

      Also, consider getting yourself incorporated (I think you would be an LLC?). At least in construction/contracting/carpentry work, it is a lot easier to pay you and deal with insurance if you are set up that way. I’m not sure why, but look into your local regs and read up on the requirements for insurance and the like – they are a pain in the butt to slog through, but it’s hugely important if you are looking for construction work.

      Reply
      1. Diet Coke Addict

        This, exactly. For skilled trades, there is no way you will be able to get into it professionally without the proper licensing, or by knowing someone who’s going to give you a hell of a chance.

        Unskilled labour is a different animal, but skilled trades can be highly competitive.

        Reply
      2. iseeshiny

        I’ll agree with you to a point, but I know a guy who runs his own business doing handyman work with no formal training, just a lot of youtube videos to teach himself how to do things and tools he got as handmedowns from his brother in law. He has relationships with a couple of real estate agents and gets clients that way and through word of mouth. I agree he’d need more than that to get hired by a company, but he does all right from what I can tell.

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        1. Anonsie

          I wouldn’t filled handymen under skilled labor like you would for an electrician or carpenter, though. Isn’t that the explicit distinction? Handymen have some general knowledge and experience that the property owner might not, but you hire them for things that are closer to DIY-level difficulty when it’s not worth the cost to hire an actual plumber or etc. Or just because you need extra hands or don’t have time to do it yourself.

          Reply
        2. OhNo

          Yeah, as Anonsie says, handymen aren’t skilled labor. Skilled labor usually requires some kind of formal education process, whether it’s tech school, on-the-job training, apprenticeship, or something else. Not all skilled labor jobs, of course, but most.

          Also, a hobby background is unlikely to give you the right kind of network. In my experience, people who do skilled labor jobs for work don’t want to come home and do them for “fun” as well. Hobby work might put you in touch with materials suppliers, but that’s it.

          Reply
  3. JT

    I would recommend staffing agencies. I recently had my hand forced when I was unable to find any work that’s a good fit for my skills (software development, mainly in an academic environment). Since the bills won’t take a break while I wait to find such work, after a couple of fruitless months I decided to start signing up with local staffing agencies, and within a few weeks one of them got me a job at an auto parts plant. The pay isn’t great, but it’s much better than being unemployed, and it will pay the bills while I continue to search for more suitable work – in fact, I’ve been continuing to do job interviews at a rate of one or two a week since I started this job. Best of luck!

    Reply
    1. JT

      I should add that I’ve been enjoying the work much more than I would have thought possible. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and I’m working with really good people who are all more than willing to help me out when I have questions about anything. I consider myself very fortunate to have found such work during what has been a very difficult time for me.

      Reply
  4. Muriel Heslop

    An acquaintance of mine just transitioned from engineering to electrician. Getting connected with someone from the local electrician’s union was the critical step that helped him get in the door.

    Reply
  5. Elle

    Do you work in a state with unions? If you do go to the hall of the field you want to work in first and they can point you in the right direction.

    Reply
  6. MT

    As someone who did blue collar jobs all through high school and college. And now that I manage a large group of blue collar workers. The first thing is find what time of blue collar job you want. Do you want to do some sort of warehousing, or machine shop or store front. There are a lot of people who enjoy not having much responsibility at work, other than to show up and do your job. Realize that the bulk of entry position on the blue collar level are going to be super grunt work. If you are looking to do warehousing, and enjoy driving a fork lift, find a company that is willing to train. Hours may not be great, but the pay makes up for it.

    The best interview advice is to state up front why you want a blue collar job. You will not be penalized in any way, if you say, I want a job a can show up to, do my job and leave. Someone gives me that answer, and they would be filling out paper work that day.

    Reply
    1. aebhel

      This. IME, blue-collar managers, especially for real grunt work, are not generally under any illusion that their employees think they’re going to be changing the world with a night shift at the warehouse–and that’s fine. I’ve gotten a number of blue-collar jobs where I flat-out told the interviewer that I wanted a job where I could show up, do my work, and leave without having to really talk to anyone.

      Reply
      1. WorkingMom

        Yes. In the corporate world we are all so used to explaining why we want said role, how we will contribute, how we hope to grow in the role, etc. I have recently had some experience hiring janitorial staff – and it’s definitely more about “do you have experience? Are you a hard worker and reliable? When are you available?”

        In your applications be clear that you want to transition from your current role to XYZ work. Often I get applicants that look like that on paper, say a paralegal applying to be a janitor – and I think “I wonder if she is looking for a night job or if she wants to get out that role” then often I speak with her and she didn’t read the job description before she applied. (That’s a whole different issue, haha.) What I’m getting at though – is to say up front that you ARE looking to do what they are hiring for, period. That way no one passes over your application assuming that you didn’t intend to apply for this job, and so on.

        Good luck!

        Reply
  7. Andrea

    You may also see what demand is and where your interests may lie. You might be a good match to take an elevator repair course or do a plumbing apprenticeship. Finding the program will help you find people to speak with.

    Reply
  8. De Minimis

    I’d say almost exactly what you say in your letter, that you want more hands-on, active work. I think the big thing would be to reassure employers you weren’t just going to leave as soon as you found office work.

    Reply
      1. GrumpyBoss

        To that front: I don’t know if this is a universal perception, but a good friend of mine who is a mechanic told me that the label “blue collar” is considered very offensive to some and is interpreted as classist and elitist. Just a perspective to keep in mind, as it can sound incredibly condescending to some if they are harboring class issues.

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    1. Chinook

      Can I also add that you want to emphasize that you have a good work ethic and are reliable when you are networking through words and deeds. Around here, the best way to get a blue collar job is to find someone in the industry and show them your willingness to do the grunt work and be reliable.

      As well, you may want to get some safety and work related courses under your belt while your job searching (which would have the side benefit of interacting with people in your industry). In Alberta, every job seems to need WHMIS and that any First Aid training is seen as an asset. Often there are courses for H2S, confined spaces or backhoe use, etc. These can be be a a couple of hundred dollars up front but, if you have them, you are eligible to start right away and you may even be able to get them to give you a signing bonus if they don’t have to train you.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        Being willing to do grunt work is key, especially if you are transitioning into this area. There will be a few years where you will be expected to do scut work that no one else wants to do, so if you’re not willing to spend several years paying your dues, seriously reconsider moving to blue collar work.

        (My family refers to this as “paying your dues” as far as work goes – my brother is still in the middle of this period, so I know that it can be rough and unpleasant.)

        Reply
  9. Cheeky

    Knowing people who have gone this route, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend going from a skilled white collar job to an unskilled blue collar job. Those jobs often do not pay well, have high turnover rates, and offer little to no room for growth or skill development. The best blue collar jobs are in the skilled trades- electrical, manufacturing, mechanical repair, etc., which typically require training and certifications as a condition for hire. I hate to sound pessimistic, but the reality is that lack of experience may make it difficult to find a desirable job. My college-educated boyfriend runs fabrication shop facilities at the university we went to, and while he’s very good at his job, it’s also back-breaking work. He repairs everything from ancient sanders and mills to brand-new laser cutters, repairs leaky plumbing and HVAC systems.

    Having said that, some good places to look for these kinds of jobs are with cities, other local municipalities, public agencies, public schools (K-12 and colleges). The pay and benefits tend to be better (or more stable) at public jobs, plus they may offer more opportunities for inexperienced workers to learn skills and move up into better jobs. They may also have more union jobs.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth West

      This. There’s a reason plumbers get paid so well compared to assembly line workers. It’s hard, physical, hands-on work, but it’s very specific work that requires specific training.

      Reply
      1. MT

        I have fork lift driver at my facility, with 5 years experience making 55K a year without touching overtime. Truck drivers and fork lift drivers are in super huge demand right now.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          In my area, a local tech/trade school offers fork lift training. It’s one course and it does not cost a bundle to sign up. They will give you a completion certificate.
          This might be a way to get leverage for a job that you are interested in. Some employers might take you over someone else simply because they don’t have to train you on the fork lift.

          Reply
      2. the gold digger

        And because plumbers literally deal with sh*t. They deserve every penny they earn. We can do without iPods and fancy clothes – but I am not willing to return to a world without indoor plumbing.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          Plumbers get it all- rat infested cellars, emergencies at 1 am. Everything. But eventually you could have your own business and have contracts with municipalities, etc. You will never be without work if you are decent at what you do.

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    2. Livin' in a Box

      In addition to all of the negatives you listed, you’re also way more likely to get seriously hurt in a blue collar job. It’s kind of hard to get run over with a fork lift or sucked into a combine as a bookkeeper. My dad works a blue-collar job and he is at the funeral parlor all the time because one of his friends died. :(

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        This is really tough. We have had accidents here that are just so, so tragic.

        But, OP, you can pick and chose where you want to be. People who are climbing poles for a living have some willingness to do that work. If you don’t want to climb poles and fix wires then don’t go there. Look at other things.
        Some factories are heavy industrial- I know that is not for me. But some people don’t mind that much. You could chose light or medium industrial work and have a different experience. (Think stone quarry vs clothing manufacturing.)

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      2. mdc

        This. These jobs tend to be very physically demanding and injuries, sometimes serious, can be viewed as par for the course. This means you can’t necessarily keep working, or maybe you can’t expect to work in these jobs right up until retirement because you just can’t physically do the work anymore. I would be looking at insurance for total incapacitation just in case.

        Reply
    3. Anonsie

      Oh yeah. These jobs are not flexible, either, so if you fancy yourself as someone who likes to be able to take a sick day when you need it, you may reconsider. Aside from that are the repetitive stress injuries and general junk like that– and you better believe these jobs are not flexible enough to let you try to rest whatever’s hurt.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Some employers do rotate their employees through various tasks. It pays to ask that question on the interview or better yet ask someone who works there, if you know anyone.

        A well-known retailer has a warehouse near me. The pay is great. But you are doing the same thing all. the. time. Not only that but every second of your day is micromanaged.

        Reply
  10. aebhel

    Look into licensing requirements for the job you want. Unless you want to do seriously unskilled labor (which doesn’t pay very well at all), most blue-collar jobs are going to require a certification or license of some sort–at least, if you want to work for a reputable place. Check out the local community college and unions, if they exist in your area. Some jobs will train you and pay for your cert., but if you already have it that’ll give you a leg up.

    Reply
  11. LillianMcGee

    Networking and meeting people in the industry you want to work in. My worst nightmare, so I’m happy to stay white collar for now…
    My husband, on the other hand, was a desk jockey at a local municipality and decided he wanted to be a firefighter. He got all the qualifications he could without going too overboard (physical test and EMT) and applied everywhere he was eligible. What got him his first job though was going to the fire house and talking to the lieutenants and battalion chiefs. They hired him PT and sponsored him for the fire academy and that helped him a lot when he was in the running for a FT fire job in another town a year later (which he got!).
    His connections with people wherever he went also made a huge impact because firefighters are typically hired for their fit rather than their abilities, so character references are huge. I imagine it’s similar in a lot of blue collar fields. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. LillianMcGee

      Also, and this may not be helpful, but when my husband was looking for options to replace sitting-at-a-desk-all-day work he found a position as a trash collector in a very affluent suburb with a ridiculously high starting salary! If you are unsure what kind of work you want, try looking at public works stuff. The pay rates vary wildly from town to town and you could end up being paid quite well for an unskilled labor job.

      Reply
      1. E.T.

        Agreed! One time when I visited my parents, I noticed their city website had an opening for a trash collector (the job title was waste-something-something, I don’t remember, but the job description was basically trash collection). The job paid $80,000 for 4 days a week! Plus benefits and pension! Plus, with the union, they have some job security! I remember the work hours advertised were 3:00am to noon, which meant many of these workers are home for lunch and for their children after school. I very seriously considered applying for the job (which horrified my parents who couldn’t get over the trash collector job description), but I didn’t do anything because getting the job would have meant uprooting my family (we live in another state). But if we lived near my parents, I definitely would have submitted a resume!

        Reply
        1. AVP

          My friend’s husband does this and loves it. She works all day, so he can pick up their kid from the babysitter when he’s done with his shift and they have the whole afternoon to hang out.

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        2. Headachey

          My brother the Marine, with loads of experience in haying, carpentry, logging, and long-haul trucking, tried trash collection. I think he lasted two weeks, certainly not more than three. He said it was the hardest work he’d ever done, and he’d never been so sore in his life.

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          1. E.T.

            I think how rough the work is will also depend on where you work. In urban cities like San Francisco, the streets are very small and narrow, so the trash collectors have to physically climb up and down the stairs and walk through alleys with heavy trash bags. In the suburb where I live, however, the streets are very wide and homeowners move their trash cans to designated spots in the street on trash day while buildings have a central trash area next to the building. So, it seems to me that the trash collectors in my area don’t even get off the truck, because the trucks can do most of the work. But, once the trash is brought back to the processing plant (is that what it is called?), I’m sure physical fitness to process the trash (especially heavy things like furniture) is required.

            I have no experience, though I am fascinated because it is so different from my desk job, so I would love to hear more from someone has this job.

            Reply
        3. Stephanie

          The “Cal Ripken of District garbage collectors”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/triumph-of-the-trashmen-landing-a-gig-on-dc-truck-is-nearly-impossible/2012/02/06/gIQAQt7EvQ_story.html

          It pays well because it’s pretty physical labor (think about all the heavy stuff you’ve thrown in the trash), involves weird hours (our garbage truck comes at 5:30 am in the summer to avoid the heat), and you’re dealing with waste (and vermin by extension). If that stuff isn’t bothersome (which it would be for most), I could see it being a fun job.

          Reply
  12. Jules

    If you are looking for warehouse jobs, you can try dropping by and asking the office. We got our blue collar job through word of mouth. The job wasn’t advertise and it was a contract position to get by until I had a stable job. Try going to a local breakfast/brunch bar near warehouses or factory and ask your server, they might know who you could talk to to get an in.

    My 2 cents and not certified knowledge at all :)

    Reply
  13. Tracy

    Congratulations for deciding to do work that you enjoy.

    I work in a small business that is a mix of white collar folks and blue collar value added assembly people. We get people that do our most basic inventory work from temp agencies.

    However, given what I read about the lack of candidates for highly skilled manufacturing jobs, your previous education and experience may benefit you more than you think. I suggest you do some research, figure out more specifically what you want to do, and steer towards that. There is big range of hands on and active work, such as carpentry, operating heavy machinery, or assembling high tech equipment.

    I suggest taking the Strong Interest Inventory test (https://www.cpp.com/products/strong/index.aspx), getting your occupational themes and scores, then look at O’Net online to see matching options: http://www.onetonline.org/ You can search by criteria like knowledge, occupational themes, and also see the jobs where growth is predicted, such as the green sector. Apparently, there is high growth in roles for wind turbine service technicians.

    Good luck with your career transition.

    Reply
  14. Angela

    This may vary by company, but here a resume will automatically through you into the “overqualified” pile for the types of jobs that I’m thinking you are wanting to do. Also, most employers are starting to have all entry level go through temp agencies. A temp agency would also let you take a few skills tests and sit down with someone face to face and explain that you are looking for a career change, which I think is helpful when applying for work that is much different than what you’ve done in the past.

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    1. MT

      I would disagree about the resume. I am always looking for new hires, I do both temp to hire and well as direct hire. On the direct hires, I read every resume. I don’t care about resumes though in the slightest. If someone has the best resume in the world or one that doesn’t have a single correct punctuation or spelling. If someone has either experience or the drive to work, is all I care about, in my hourly positions.

      Reply
      1. Angela

        I suspected that it might not work that way everywhere, but I did want to offer it as a possibility since I know several employers in my area that do follow that practice.

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  15. Lora

    Another vote for “what kind of work do you want to do?”

    Also think about the actual work conditions, not just what you’d have fun doing: Construction folks tend to have cycles of layoffs, and are dependent on the housing economy which crashed for many years and is only just now picking up. Landscaping also frequently seasonal, depending on region. Certain jobs can be VERY prejudiced against women, if that is a factor for you–you have to grow a really thick skin for something like machining or heavy equipment operations.

    Another thing to consider is how physically fit you are. Many many blue collar jobs are physically demanding, and there will not be anything vaguely resembling OSHA compliance there. Yes yes, I know, that actually IS illegal, but that is how the vast majority of blue collar work is done, and whistleblowers are given no quarter. Many blue collar jobs will leave you at least partially disabled by the time you’re 50 (e.g. bricklaying).

    Also think about what kind of management style you prefer–there’s lots more blue collar jobs that will time your bathroom breaks and things like that. But there are also some like truck driving, where you’re more or less on your own for long stretches.

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    1. Stephanie

      +1 to the physical fitness. I lost 3 lbs the one week I worked at Amazon, just because of how physical it was. Powerwalking and moving around 50-lb bags of pet food is exhausting. Granted, I’m in solid shape, but I really underestimated the degree of physicality.

      Another +1 to the culture shift. Be prepared to have bathroom and lunch breaks scheduled and timed.

      Reply
      1. CA Anon

        I lost so much weight during the year I worked for a pet food retailer. I was always eating junk food, but stocking 40 lb. bags of food and litter plus being on your feet all day slimmed me right down. I have to run 3 days a week and go to a weight lifting class 2 days a week to approach that same level of physical activity.

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    2. Not So NewReader

      Adjacent to the landscaping idea is working in a nursery. It’s not quite as bad as what the road crews go through. It is mostly seasonal work. However, if you make yourself into a person who can handle a wide range of things you will probably work later in the season than other people. Look for nurseries that stay open all year, they probably sell winter equipment (visual clue).
      You might find yourself wanting to get the education/background so that you could work as a greenhouse manager. It’s a job where you use your brain and muscles to the max almost every day.

      The biggest draw back I found was the chemicals. I had to get out. But it was my favorite job by far.

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    3. Jen

      Along with the fitness thing, think about how you’ll handle the twilight of your career.

      I worked in some unskilled jobs in university, and was working with colleagues in their 50′s who were really struggling with the physicality of the work, but couldn’t stop, because they needed the income – and they had no security or upcoming pensions to speak of.

      I imagine the picture is a bit rosier for those in more skilled labour positions, and with union representation, but it’s probably worth considering the full opportunity cost, and having a plan on how you’ll transition back to less physical labour later if you need to, or save up enough that you can afford to stop working if/when your body gives out.

      Reply
  16. Cleetus

    When we’re setting up a new project, we get a lot of our “hands-on” guys through temporary staffing agencies. It usually takes a couple of tries, but once we find good, conscientious, and responsible people, the temp assignment usually becomes long-term and sometimes we end up hiring them outright. I’m referring to companies like Labor Ready, Labor Finders, TrueBlue, MDT, etc. Right now I have about 25 of these guys on my project doing everything from electrical to carpentry to general labor/helper.

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  17. Dan

    I’ll cast a vote for “unskilled blue collar doesn’t pay much.” I spent several years working on various airport ramps, servicing airline flights and private jets, depending on the job. The most I ever made was $15/hr, and that was living in Los Angeles.

    While I really enjoyed the work I did (it was super cool) I didn’t enjoy my paycheck at all.

    Reply
    1. AVP

      I think this can really depend on the part of the country that you live in. I can count 3 friends who live in the NYC suburbs and work DPW/Operations type jobs for public entities, and they’re some of my highest-paid friends. Opportunity for overtime definitely helps.

      Reply
  18. Malissa

    My advice is to look for a merchandising/inventory job. This will be way more hands on than bookkeeping, but a surprising number of skills will translate. Knowing the importance of accurate inventory goes a long way in this line of work.

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    1. littlemoose

      That’s a good suggestion. Perhaps the OP would be interested in retail management? It would be a lot of hands-on work, but also requires making schedules, managing inventory, etc. that might be somewhat transferable skills from what she does now.
      It is hard to give suggestions without knowing what type of job you’re considering. If you’re willing to go back to school, jobs that are hands-on but skilled (and thus better paying) can include a lot of health care field jobs (e.g., CNA, OT assistant, PT assistant), or perhaps social work/case management-type positions, which often involve being out in the community. Some non-profit work may also involve a combination of hands-on work and bookkeeping. Just trying to think of some alternatives to heavy trades that still don’t involve sitting at a desk all day.

      Reply
    2. Mints

      Good suggestion. Also jobs in warehouses sometimes have sort of middle jobs with some logistics work, but also hands on shipping and receiving

      Because really, “blue collar” is hugely broad

      Reply
  19. Jeff

    Most prisons have some degree of job training available for inmates. Think of it as an institutional gateway to blue-collar work in the same way that college is an institutional gateway to white-collar work. To take advantage of this route you’ll want to pick a felony that carries enough of a sentence to provide meaningful training in your chosen field without putting yourself behind bars for the rest of your life. This will vary from state to state but could be as simple as stealing a car. You need about 10000 hours of experience to truly master a subject so a five-year sentence should cover it easily. Of course, not all prisons have the same educational programs and many are cutting back in that regard so double-check before committing a crime. It may also be worth your while to travel across state lines to take advantage of federal sentencing guidelines. IANYL.

    Reply
    1. Persephone Mulberry

      Alternatively, you can just hide the Office Crackpot’s favorite stapler, wait for him/her to snap and burn down your building, and then sign on with the cleanup crew.

      Reply
    2. Not your lawyer!

      Or you could commit some white collar crime! You might not even have to leave your current job to do it. Depending on your state, you can probably get a nice little 5-year sentence from some good ol’ embezzlement or even health care fraud, if you do it right. Oh, and don’t forget to check your local prisons’ good time laws — around here, you’d need a 10-year sentence to serve five if you’re a model prisoner (which I suspect you have to be to participate in the educational programs).

      No but seriously, good luck with the job hunt. I’ve definitely considered making the switch myself, but the possibility of physical injury is scary. Plus I spent a lot of money to get my white-collar job.

      Reply
  20. Jake

    Depending on your skillset construction could be a great fit. I work on the “white collar” side, but if you are handy and a hard worker it shouldn’t be too tough to find a small company locally that does commercial drywall or concrete or whatever trade fits your skill set.

    There are two ways to get your foot in the door. If you live in an area that is highly unionized, you can go to the union hall and ask about their apprenticeships. If you live in a non union area, you just need to find a connection in your network that is familiar with the local subcontractors.

    Reply
  21. MJ

    I would recommend reading Po Bronson’s What Should I Do with My Life? It contains 50 stories of people who changed directions mid-life, including, for example, a corporate lawyer who became a truck driver. He interviewed 900 people and chose the 50 that represented common themes from his research. The writing isn’t brilliant, but the stories may help you sort through your thought processes regarding what you are hoping to gain from this change as well as opening your eyes to some of the ups and downs of such a dramatic shift.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  22. Accountant

    My husband sort of did this. He went from working in IT at a university to working as a sort of IT-maintenance worker in an industrial setting. He did want to do something more active and hands on. He got into it by getting an associates degree in electrical engineering technology, even though he already had a bachelor’s degree. He was in school for about 18 months, and the community college he went to was very integrated with a lot of workplaces in town. They actually are a direct feeder into several of the largest manufacturers, and pretty much all of the guys in his program had jobs lined up before they graduated.

    He likes his job in general, has done very well and been promoted quickly, and is paid much more than he was at his “white collar” job. One note of caution though, to second what some other posters have mentioned, is not to underestimate the difference in culture between a white collar and blue collar workplace, and think about whether you’re okay with that. My husband is fairly intellectual and ambitious, and I think he has struggled to relate to many of his coworkers, who in general have very different values and priorities.

    Reply
    1. CA Anon

      The same cultural issues are often present in retail too. I worked at a pet food store after college for a while and I had a lot of issues fitting in. I was the only manager at my store with a degree from a 4 year university and a lot of the associates were lifers who were much older than I was. I got into a lot of trouble for being “condescending” when I was just intellectually curious and interested in discussing concepts with coworkers. It was “favoritism” if I talked to one of the college students about school when one of the lifers was around to hear me. If I showed compassion for an associate with mental health issues I was “interfering” with a disciplinary process. One associate couldn’t keep her hands to herself and off the dogs who came in the store, so we had to draw stricter and stricter boundaries–if I enforced them, then I was “targeting” her. And so on.

      In the end, it didn’t matter how much I loved the industry (pet products), I couldn’t continue because the culture was just too toxic. I really liked about half my coworkers, but the other managers (one retail lifer, one airline reject, and one who came up in the hotel & restaurant industry) were so obsessed with status, hierarchy, and process that they ruined it for me.

      Reply
  23. Cath in Canada

    I once asked my husband how he got started in his job (he’s a carpenter in the movie industry). Answer? “Nepotism”. Almost everyone in his union got in via a relative or close friend who was already in. Once in, Hubby started off as a labourer sweeping floors and carrying materials, then apprenticed as a carpenter’s helper.

    More helpfully… his brother’s a roofer, who now has his own company – he got started by driving around looking for active roof work going on in his neighbourhood, and asking the guys on the roof if they needed any help. Our oldest nephew’s training to be an electrician – he’s doing a mix of hands-on apprenticeship and technical college courses.

    Reply
  24. Student

    There are lots of good jobs for someone who is good with numbers but wants hands-on work. Some other suggestions that might make better use of your skills:

    Lab technician or field science technician. Very hands-on work. Jobs range from “no prior experience needed” to “needs a graduate degree”.

    Health physicist. There’s an implicit “radiation” before that. Radiation protection technician is a similar job. Lots of these jobs just require a bachelor’s and a general interest in science. Some jobs will require a certification, but it’s not too hard to get. Many of these jobs revolve around field sampling to ensure companies and facilities are in compliance with environmental regulations, or field sampling to ensure an area isn’t contaminated with radiation prior to new construction. Some are more lab-oriented, where you’re basically the person who makes sure a bunch of scientists stay in compliance with radiation rules and make sure they’re working with radiation safely.

    Similar to above, but more general: environmental sampling. There’s lots of chemicals that need to be monitored for release into the environment. Sometimes you need to make sure a site is safe for new construction.

    Engineering. Requires lots of schooling. Many engineering jobs are desk jobs. Some are hands-on.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie

      Boston University has a program designed for career changers who are trying to enter engineering. That being said, a lot of engineering jobs are desk jobs. In oil and gas, if you work downstream (ie, dealing with processing crude or raw natural gas) working at a refinery or field is an option. OP, check into companies like Schlumberger or Baker Hughes. Downstream jobs in the field will usually require going to rural areas or abroad to Africa or Central Asia.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        (Fellow engineer)

        You know what I would do if I didn’t do all this white collar consulting stuff–I’ve been thinking about learning to do diesel and heavy equipment repair, then take all the Maersk shipping classes. I like fixing old cars, building things, fancy computerized mega-systems to play with, plus I could take the week long course where you learn to fight off pirates and then I would be, like, a professional badass.

        I could retire to run a smuggling ring.

        Actually it’s the building and fixing and running big heavy equipment and being more or less left to my own devices that I like. I don’t watch teevee, I prefer to read, and I like geeky pastimes like stargazing and knitting which lend themselves well to being on a boat for months on end.

        Reply
  25. Stephanie

    If there’s an Amazon Fulfillment Center in your area, they’re always hiring. All they really seem to care about is that you can pass a drug test, won’t steal inventory, don’t have a record, and won’t file workers’ comp claims. That being said, it’s hard, injury-prone work. I took it as a desperation job and then screwed up my knee. I realized it wasn’t worth screwing up my knees. (Of course, that being said, I’m aware I had the option to quit.) But if you don’t mind the pace or the repetitiveness, that could be an option. Most people get hired on as contractors and then apply for Amazon roles.

    On a related note, Amazon had white-collar people on site. If you just don’t want to be a desk jockey, but are ok with the work, I’d look into jobs in manufacturing environments. Or maybe you could look into more skilled areas like lab technicians or nursing (but that will probably require schooling). Community colleges sometimes have special vocational programs. I know a college classmate who went to the local community college to do an audio engineering certificate.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t head to blue collar work. I definitely can commiserate with the soul-crushing nature of being a desk jockey in a dull job, but the risk of injury and lack of advancement seem like too big of a trade off.

    Reply
  26. Ms. Anonymity

    Temp agencies would be a great place to start. A lot offer temp to perm work and an easy way to get your foot in the door. I work for a manufacturing company and that’s how we find our hourly production workers.

    Reply
  27. Pennalynn Lott

    My boyfriend and I own a residential and store front window cleaning business. It brings in $200K, and all you need to get started are a few hundred bucks worth of tools (ladders, squeegees, bucket, rags, razor blade scraper), a polite and professional demeanor, and attention to detail. There’s a LinkedIn group for professional residential window cleaners (which is a completely different business than the guys who hang over the edges of skyscrapers).

    In the beginning, we got our customers by delivering fliers door-to-door. Now we get them from Angie’s List and word of mouth referrals.

    Reply
    1. Gobrightbrand

      We never talk to Pennalynn Lott! (I’m assuming this is a Gilmore Girls reference) Love it! Very cool about your window cleaning business. Makes me think I need to start one up.

      Reply
  28. LD

    I haven’t read all the comments, but in case it hasn’t been mentioned, search for MikeRoweWorks online. Mike Rowe is/was the host of “Dirty Jobs” and he’s created a couple of sites to promote employment in and reputation of skilled labor and “dirty” jobs. Maybe these sites would have some good ideas for you about getting training or finding work or even more about some of the different professions. Good luck!

    Reply
  29. SerfinUSA

    I worked blue collar after high school, then moved into higher end corporate (law firms, capital management, venture capital. etc.) in my 20′s. It was interesting, but I wanted a break from the buttoned-up atmosphere.
    My detail management skills got me some enjoyable jobs as warehouse/production/shipping manager in companies with products that had some crossover with businesses I owned on the side. A couple had nice employee discounts on products (think textiles & decor from France & Italy), and many had great benefits packages, decent hours with no overtime, and not terrible wages.

    I would recommend looking over your resume for skills and experience that can transfer to blue collar settings, and emphasize those when applying. I found hiring managers very sympathetic to my desire to get out of the “stuffed shirt” environment.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Jobs in shipping or logistics might work out well for you, OP. It seems to me that these jobs would require some of the same skill sets you need to do bookkeeping but you would be moving around more.

      Reply
  30. Hillary

    It’s old fashioned, but some manufacturers still have employment offices (my employer has one at the main plant, plus applications are available at all the smaller ones). It might be worth visiting companies in your area with good reputations and just asking about the kind of work they have. We use a mix of temp agencies and direct hire seasonal programs on top of permanent hire.

    The first job in the plant tends to be one of the more difficult ones (i.e. lots of lifting, overnights or one of the higher temp areas), but it pays decently for the region and offers training for better roles if you put in your dues. One coworker’s husband put in five years on the line waiting for a mechanic apprenticeship, most of the forklift drivers used to be on the line.

    Reply
    1. Hillary

      also, I second Malissa’s comment about inventory jobs. An inventory clerk who’s good with numbers and wants to be active as a huge asset to a plant or 3pl environment.

      Reply
  31. Anonymous

    I can’t directly answer the question but as a uni grad who went on to work for a number of years in full time catering/retail work, I’d advise to be prepared for a lot of people questioning the job you['ll be] in.

    I have had a lot of people say to me things like “why are you doing this job?!” “why don’t you get a job as a [...]” etc. I just say that that’s not for me and I like doing this.

    (I also found it helpful to leave my degree off my CV. This is more possible for me as I worked part time through uni, so I had a work history to show and therefore no gaps even when leaving higher education off).

    Ohyeah also, some things that aren’t appropriate when looking for white collar jobs are totally fine in blue collar jobs. For example, you wouldn’t walk into an office unannounced and ask for a job. However, if you walk into my store and ask to see the hiring manager, you’ve got a pretty decent chance at getting an interview (if we’re currently hiring).

    Reply
  32. Angie C.

    In many blue collar fields, the reality (depending on the region one lives) may also be that certain jobs are dominated by a particular ethnic group. That’s the case in my family, with my father, brothers and uncles mostly working in the same field and very successful. They will just tend to hire and pass along jobs first to people from our ethnic community. (I am in a white collar profession, so it doesn’t provide me with any personal advantages, alas.

    I am uncertain about how this may or may not relate to protected categories discrimination in the legal sense. If you are “White” of a different European ethnic group, you’ll have trouble breaking through. If you are “Black” or “Indian” or whatever, but ARE yet and still of this ethnic group also—such as one parent is and/or perhaps your surname makes this clear—than you’d have your in that way.

    Those who do break into this like of work and are not of the in-group don’t seem to be further disadvantages, once on the inside, in any case. For the OP, right or wrong as this may “feel,” if may be worth looking into what blue collar jobs your own ethnic group(s) may predominate in your area. Just a fact of life.

    Reply
  33. FatBigot

    Has the OP considered Lion Taming? Monty Python did a good guide. Google “monty python lion tamer” to find it.

    Not linking to YouTube because I do not want this post held up in moderation.

    Reply
  34. Anon for this in PA

    In Pennsylvania, many modestly priced adult education classes for the trades are available at regional career and technical high schools, which offer evening classes for some areas and at training facilities run by manufacturing or construction associations. In south-central PA, there is demand for welders and brazers now in addition to other manufacturing jobs. One local career and tech center trains people in mechatronics. The area community college also does a lot of training for hands-on careers in the building trades, automotive and small engine repair, manufacturing trades, and logistics and warehouse skills. Often people can go for a certificate or also do other academic work to earn an associate degree.

    There are also a lot of factory tours, so you could go on a tour to get some idea of what people there do. But many of the bigger factories are mostly assembling stuff, so some of the more interesting jobs are in the supply chain businesses — machine shops and parts casting and stuff like that — those are smaller businesses and mostly aren’t giving tours.

    There’s a national shortage of truck drivers.

    South-central PA has a pretty reasonable cost of living, so bear that in mind if you look at wages here. And there are a lot — really a lot — of warehousing jobs, including supervisory and other upper-level jobs.

    Reply

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