Thursday, March 26, 2015

On Being Raised Blue-Collar

Both my parents were high-school dropouts, although they later got their GEDs. My father was a general contractor and my mother the night admitting clerk at the local ER. I was raised working-class blue collar.

I knew nothing about white-collar until I graduated college, and when I found out about it I was not impressed. Jobs weren't really about what you know, but who you knew. Connections. The Old Boy's Network really does exist.

I couldn't stand the politics and backstabbing. A lot of these people were not adults but children.

You didn't even get promotions based on competence. It was on who liked you. It was astonishing.

I found first-rate people hire first-raters. Most of the bosses I worked for were second-raters, who hired third-raters, who hired fourth-raters. I have seen catastrophes because of this.

I would never hire an MBA. My experience has been many aren't even worthless. They're dangerous.

Bill Gates dropped out of college, as did Stephen Jobs. Henry Ford was an auto mechanic. Andrew Carnegie didn't go to college, either.

To this day I still get along better with blue-collar men. And don't think they're stupid. They're not, not even close.

Many college degrees are worthless. Education degrees? Ugh.

If I had my way, people would start at the bottom and work their way up, like Jimmy Olson, cub reporter (my father started out as a cub carpenter).

I cannot recommend college anymore, unless it's a real degree like engineering. You're better off getting a six-month certification in computers or being an auto mechanic or a plumber. The days of getting a degree and a good job and working your way up? They've been gone for a long time.

I've said this before; wages stopped going up in January, 1974. This means you're on your own. And believe me, that's not such a bad thing, because it means you're free to do as you please. For good or bad.


Anonymous said...

I'm a man with a blue-collar soul working in a white-collar world. Fortunately, I as well dropped out of college when I was young and taught myself technology. Thus, none of the "I'm an expert" (when clearly, they are not) baggage was mine to haul around. Very freeing in and of itself.

White collar jobs are mostly make-work now, unless you actually work hard. In which case, it amazes me how quickly the hard workers get shoved in the corner. It's like the rest of society: we don't engage in office politics because we simply do not have time. We're too busy getting the work done for sociopaths we call management.

I've come to understand the value of my blue collar soul. And there ain't nothing I'd trade it for, no matter how many zeroes end my paycheck.

Stewart said...

Trades are mostly the same in their hiring practices of family and friends only. There is no apprenticeship or OJT programs anymore if they existed before.

Black Poison Soul said...

Definitely blue-collar attitude here. Started out self-taught with computers. With most of management bullshit, my attitude is: "Make the decision, don't change it, and I'll put the shit together for you."

Politics, pfeh, leave me on the sidelines for that'n please.

Anonymous said...

I personally think that colleges are offering bs/ba degrees in way, way too many fields, fields that don't warrant serious academic attentions (like "golf course management", seriously?).

I like the German apprenticeship model, which seems to be dong well for them, although I'm not too familiar with it.

I believe one does not even have to have a bs/ba degree to go to law school or medical school in some industrialized western countries, like in the States.

Anonymous said...

Good point about the uselessness of college degrees now. I learned that the hard way. Now I'm saddles with a horrible student loan and no prospects for advancement. I'm sorry I ever went.

Glen Filthie said...

I don't think our esteemed host - or even guys like Captain Capitalism who wrote the book on useless degrees - properly frame the issue. Many of these degrees aren't merely 'useless' - they are red danger flags for employers.

When I see a resume from some humanities and arts flunky - it goes straight into the trash. If I see a degree in 'womens/black/native/gender studies' (I call them the social justice sciences) - I take the staple out of the resume and I shred it to make SURE nobody else sees it. Arts and humanities students are usually useless people being educated beyond their intellects. Social justice wanks are skilled in manufacturing grievances and sewing seeds of dissent and distrust in the workplace.

kurt9 said...

I found first-rate people hire first-raters. Most of the bosses I worked for were second-raters, who hired third-raters, who hired fourth-raters. I have seen catastrophes because of this.

Yep. The Entrepreneurs Manual (Richard White) says precisely this as well.

First-rate people hire first-rate people. Second-rate people hire third-rate people. This is because the second-rate people do not want to hire anyone who may threaten their position in the company.

The "white collar" scene has seriously declined since the early 90's. I believe this is perverse effect of the Greenspan bubble coupled with the "touchy-feely" PC crap promulgated by the universities since, I don't know, maybe the late 70's.

I am a control system engineer since my return to engineering 5 years ago. I do industrial and factory automation (PLC's, SCADA/HMI, etc.) I make a white collar salary but work around mostly blue collar people. I am much happier today than when I was in the "white collar" world 10 years ago. The "white collar" milieu sucks today.

Unknown said...

I get along better with cops and factory workers than college graduates.

Anonymous said...

Indeed kurt9. Lots and lots of free money has left us with a class of white collar "management" that knows little about actually making or creating anything. The next couple of decades are going to be hard on those people.

Ingemar said...


Apprentice programs DO still exist. I applied for a non-union one when I lost my job but it took them a year to call me back. By that time I was already working, but I humored them and completed the selection process.

Despite looking very un-Blue collar and a shaky interview, I was given a letter of indenture. I would have officially become an apprentice but my job gave me a higher wage than a starting apprentice wage. (I still wonder if I made the right decision by turning them down).

That said, for a male HS grad who isn't really into books or learning, you could do a hell of a lot worse than apprenticeship. Even at $13/hour you're miles away from the burger joint crowd both in terms of pay AND useful skills.

kurt9 said...

Case in point is interviewing for a new job.

If I interview for a "managerial" job or even a sales/marketing position in the white collar milieu, I get asked questions by some HR ditz like "Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?, or "Tell me about yourself", or similar such BS.

When I interviewed for engineering jobs, the questions were technical: "What PLC's and VFD's have you used?", "What would you do in such and such a case?", all technical. These interviews are much more enjoyable. Sometimes the interview is like a consulting gig. You try to solve the problem the company is having. Its just like the 80's or early 90's before all of the "bubble" HR twits and other management dweebs got in charge.

DeNihilist said...

Hey G. Filthie, just a quick tip, buy the shredder that can shred the staple also. Way quicker!

Rusty Shackleford said...

I worked as a mechanic, so I can speak to that trade. When I say mechanic here I'm talking about someone who can diagnose and repair any system in a modern car, not an oil change or a tire guy. It's a dangerous job and mistakes tend to be expensive both monetarily and physically. The incompetent usually get weeded out pretty quickly and sometimes brutally. I wonder if that isn't the biggest difference between the trades and white collar work.

The big change in education between now and 50 years ago is of course accessibility to college. Being a mechanic requires a fair amount of intelligence (and a fair amount more for transmission/engine rebuilders and diagnosticians), a lot of physical stamina and a high tolerance for working in carcinogenic filth. There's a stigma to going into the trades these days (especially from women) and people capable of working the trade have easier roads in front of them. The pushback that I felt personally coming from a middle class background was enormous when I decided to become a mechanic. From my experience there's a minority but a good chunk of mechanics who have borderline anti-social tendencies that would make it hard for them to work in a retail/office environment. Whether it's always been this way or this is a development, I'm not sure.

As for the financial side of it, I've known regular mechanics who made 6 figures and a mechanic who worked slower than he could and declined jobs to avoid being bumped into a higher tax bracket. I'm back in college now working on an engineering degree (slipped a back disc) Starting pay for an engineer will be a big pay cut from what I made my last year as a mechanic. I pay my tuition and living expenses by doing gypsy auto repairs and fixing up and selling old cars on craigslist, so that I will graduate debt free at least. I have an old resume on one of the job sites and still get job offers regularly. The demand for skilled mechanics who can actually do the job is enormous. I hope it will be so easy to find work as an engineer.

Rusty Shackleford said...

The big reason people won't hire and train someone from scratch is because they want some proof that their new employee is mentally and physically competent enough not to accidentally drop a car on their heads. A couple years of work at a quick lube or tire place along with passing some of the ASE certification tests is sometimes enough but probably the more direct way is just to complete a degree from a trade school or community college.

In the program that I was in, we had a cardiovascular surgeon who attended the evening courses while I was there. He told me that what he'd always really wanted to be was a mechanic. He was a nice guy, but he wasn't very good with his hands. He'd drop a wrench while he was just standing there talking to you.

Unknown said...

Many of the mechanics I know are pretty anti-social. Lot of programmers, too.