For centuries, it has been common practice to classify different types of workers by the colour of their shirts, or “collar” colour. These designations mainly include blue or white collar, but you may have also heard of pink, green, or gold collar workers. Our minds conjure up different, distinct images when we think of these different types of classifications, as we use these to classify the different types of employment and the nature of work.
Blue collar jobs are typically associated with manual labour out in the field. Whereas white collar employees are usually seen in the office setting. These terminologies are derived from the attire worn by these workers in history. Blue uniforms were common among manual laborers, and white dress shirts were common among office workers.
The distinction between the various collar colours nowadays is mostly symbolic rather than a description of present attire. Although seldom used formally, they come up in ordinary conversations and political debates, so it's crucial to understand the differences. Understanding how they compare with each other also helps job seekers to tailor their job searches to better suit their particular set of skills and profession.
The term "blue-collar" originated from the beginning of the twentieth century, referring to the blue chambray, overalls, and denim garments that were typically worn by manual laborers at the time.
Rather than sitting at a desk, these personnel get work done by utilising their physical abilities. Due to the nature of their work, which generally results in soiled uniforms at the end of the day, dark-coloured shirts were a practical option for these personnel. The dark colour was shown to effectively conceal stains, grime, and other things that may soil work attire. As a result, companies began making more blue uniforms, and blue uniforms have remained a standard until this day.
When we talk about blue-collar employees, we’re typically referring to a segment of the workforce that relies on physical labour or industrial jobs to make a living. They’re also sometimes referred to as the “working class”. As a result, blue-collar work usually does not necessitate a college diploma, but may require a high school certification. Hourly pay is common among blue-collar jobs, but more advanced roles do offer fixed income positions.
Blue-collar labour can be further broken down to “skilled” and “unskilled” workers, where “unskilled” here simply means that the job can be done without prior experience or specialised education and training. Blue-collar employment can be found in a variety of settings, including workshops, factories, offices, houses, public areas, and outdoor locations. Some examples are:
White-collar personnel describe suit-and-tie workers who work at a desk or other office-based, administrative, clerical, and managerial roles.
Technology, accountancy, sales and marketing, and consulting are some examples of industries with a large number of white-collar positions. Nowadays, some of these roles can even be carried out from home.
Stereotypically, white-collar workers eschew physical labour as they rely more on mental rather than physical exertion to perform their duties. These employees usually work regular 40-hour weeks and have a set income and benefits package. Although white-collar roles are often thought to pay more than blue-collar jobs, this isn’t necessarily always the case.
Whether it's a professional, managerial, or administrative role, white-collar workers are almost always required to have some level of experience to qualify for the job. This can either be a college degree (usually a bachelor’s degree or higher), or professional experience from a previous position. White-collar jobs may be diverse, yet the majority of working environments are similar. Examples include:
"Pink-collar" refers to any field that has historically been dominated by women. These jobs were once deemed "women's work" in the sexist society of the (not so long ago) past. This classification is fraught with controversy, from disagreements about when the name was coined to its discriminatory connotation.
Today, the modern definition of pink-collar is used to categorise both men and women in the service industry or any roles primarily dealing with people. Although many of these jobs are still held by women and can often be lower paying than white- or blue-collar jobs, things are changing.
Pink-collar jobs include hair stylists, dental hygienists, flight attendants, restaurant servers/waiters, retail assistants.
A new trend is emerging in today’s employment landscape, due to growing concerns surrounding environmental issues and sustainability. People are ditching conventional jobs for green-collar jobs that safeguard the future of our planet by boosting sustainability efforts, reducing energy use, waste and pollution.
Green-collar sectors comprise of alternative fuels, energy efficiency, public transportation, and recycling, to name a few. They can range from small businesses to larger corporations or even non-profit organisations. Nevertheless, these roles are difficult to define as they range from manual to managerial. Green-collar positions are known to offer better opportunities, in terms of career mobility and higher wages.
With the rise in importance placed on a candidate's practical skills (especially those gained in previous employment) rather than their four-year degree, the term "new collar" was coined to reflect this shift in hiring managers' priorities. In other words, new collar jobs are newer, mostly technical jobs requiring a special set of skills, and do not necessarily require a college degree.
Besides tech roles, new collar workers can also be found in healthcare and mortgage sectors. New collar jobs include information security analyst, software developer, pharmacy technician, project manager, etc.
Traditionally, gold-collar workers are in the same classification as white-collar workers, but have grown so important to business operations that they warrant their own categorisation. These roles are highly skilled and in high demand. For instance, lawyers, pilots, surgeons, engineers, and anaesthesiologists are examples of gold-collar positions.
Red-collar workers are the easiest to define, as they refer to all the types of government employees.
Information technology (IT) professionals, for example, are skilled workers who fall in both the white- and blue-collar classifications, and therefore are known as purple-collar workers. These are primarily white-collar workers who occasionally perform blue-collar responsibilities, such as technicians and engineers.
Society has been known to judge people based on their vocation or career path. We commonly make judgments about an individual’s intelligence, personality, aptitude, and value based on the type of job they do, and the collar system puts people into categories from which we can further cast judgment.
However, as job categories merge and now require a combination of skills and strategies, society will benefit from combining all the colours of collars, and simply evaluating people based on who they are and the benefit they bring to others, rather than the type of job they do.
It doesn't matter who earns more or who has the better job, all the different kinds of collars are equally as important and deserve the same respect! After all, not everyone shares the perspectives of what constitutes “better” or “worse”. At the end of the day, we all depend on each other to keep the wheels turning. A healthy society acknowledges that one end depends on the other, and vice versa.