"Blue Collar" Workers

Making the Most of People's Hard Work and Skills

Make the most of their skills.

© iStockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

Managing people is difficult – especially when the roles of those people are fundamentally different from yours. This is typically the case for managers of blue-collar workers.

While most Western economies are now highly knowledge-based, and the manufacturing base is much smaller than it once was, hard-working manual workers are still fundamentally important.

The term "blue collar" is old-fashioned. It comes from the days when managers wore only white shirts with their suits, while workers on factory floors tended to wear more casual clothing, that perhaps didn't show the dust and dirt that comes with physical labor.

Now, of course, distinctions based on clothing color are ridiculous. But the term is still with us – which is why we use it here to identify people who perform manual labor and usually earn an hourly wage. Their work is hands-on, and often physically tiring, and it's either skilled or unskilled. It's in fields like manufacturing, construction, and maintenance – and it ranges from assembly line work and logistics, to the mechanics who get your car running again at the roadside. It requires dexterity and agility, and it generally attracts people who have skills and interests that are different from those who work in offices or call centers.

Managers in the office and service sectors have often earned their positions by working directly in the areas that they manage. Thus, they usually have a strong understanding of the challenges and perceptions of people within their teams. However, in manual labor operations, managers have often never done the actual work that their staff performs – for example, a construction project manager wouldn't be expected to do a good job of building a wall.

This distinction between management and manual work often creates a barrier of understanding. So, how can you get past this barrier to successfully manage people in the blue collar sector? And how can you improve understanding between yourself and the blue collar workers you manage? Here are some ideas that you can use.

Management Philosophy and Practice

Use some of these guidelines to better manage blue-collar workers:

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