Blue-collar and white-collar are common casual-language classifications to describe various professions. Because these two terms are often used to describe different varieties of professional work, it's helpful to understand the definition of each and the differences between them. The job market contains positions at a variety of employment levels, and white-collar and blue-collar jobs have different requirements, qualifications, salaries and expectations. In this article, we discuss the key differences between white-collar vs. blue-collar jobs and provide some examples of professions in each category.
What are the differences between white-collar vs. blue-collar jobs?
There are a few key differences between white-collar and blue-collar jobs. A white-collar job typically takes place in an office setting and includes managerial, administrative, or clerical work. Some examples of industries that include white-collar jobs are technology, science, banking or business. The term "white-collar" represents the white shirts that these professionals traditionally wear. Blue-collar jobs refer to manual or trade-related labour. Industries might include manufacturing, farming, or welding. The term was originally coined in the 1920s when these types of employees wore durable fabrics like blue denim or chambray.
As far as attire is concerned, these descriptors may no longer apply to today's work environments, but white-collar and blue-collar employees continue to operate in distinctly different environments and perform different types of jobs. It's important to know which professions fall into each category when planning a career path. Here are the fundamental distinctions between blue-collar vs. white-collar:
White-collar jobs typically require some combination of higher education. Some professions ask for a high school diploma and an undergraduate degree, with others requiring further education. There is usually a higher earning potential based on the amount of education you have received. For example, a professor must complete a bachelor's degree along with a Ph.D. in order to teach at a university.
Blue-collar jobs normally offer on-the-job training through either apprenticeship, vocational school, or both. Certain higher-paid or specialized blue-collar roles might require further certification, technical skills, or training. For example, a hairstylist must complete trade school to earn a license to cut, colour, and style hair professionally.
White-collar employees traditionally go to work in an office setting and work from a computer. These roles occasionally offer the option to work remotely or from home. Similar to the namesake, these work settings have a professional or business casual dress code.
Blue-collar employees may work in an office, construction site, outdoor area, home, workshop, and more. The specific industry determines the work setting. These professions may require protective gear, durable clothing, and shoes that withstand manual labour.
White-collar employees are typically responsible for clerical or administrative duties regarding the creation and implementation of ideas, business plans, policies, and more. These roles have a variety of seniority levels. For example, an associate financial analyst may have different responsibilities than a senior financial analyst at the same company.
Blue-collar employees typically handle specialized manual or trade labour that requires honed technical skills and expertise. These roles also have a variety of seniority levels, depending on qualifications or experience. For example, an apprentice has drastically different responsibilities than the person teaching them.
White-collar employees are traditionally compensated through an annual salary based on a 40-hour workweek. The education, qualifications, and amount of work experience all contribute to the amount of an employee's annual salary.
Blue-collar employees receive an hourly wage based on scheduled shifts or a certain number of hours per week. However, both professional categories provide room for upward mobility and higher wages based on performance, skills, and qualifications.
Here is a list of common white-collar jobs that typically require an undergraduate or bachelor's degree:
National average salary: $55,819 per year
Primary duties: an accountant is responsible for managing the finances of a company or organization. They maintain budgets, reconcile accounts payable and receivable, and process tax payments and returns. Many accountants pursue a certified public accountant qualification to boost their earning potential and progress their accounting careers.
National average salary: $72,765 per year
Primary duties: civil engineers are responsible for infrastructure projects from conception to implementation stages. These projects exist in both the public and private sectors and are foundational to the functioning of society.
National average salary: $74,832 per year
Primary duties: the executive director of an organization is responsible for overseeing the administrative and operational aspects of the business. They typically report to a CEO or board of directors about the ongoing functions of the company.
National average salary**:** $75,422 per year
Primary duties: a software developer designs user-friendly software programs by creating, changing, and editing computer code for applications. They work in a variety of industries and constantly assist with the development of technology.
National average salary**:** $72,410 per year
Primary duties: a market researcher is responsible for assisting in the success and delivery of marketing campaigns to the public. They complete research about market trends, target audiences, and demand for products. Some market researchers pursue a certified market research analysis certification to expand on their knowledge of the field.
National average salary:$77,422 per year
Primary duties: a management consultant provides tailored advice or guidance about business operations or performance to the company's leadership. They work both internally and externally and occasionally have a distinct specialty such as human resources or marketing.
National average salary: $87,569 per year
Primary duties: an attorney, or lawyer, provides legal counsel and advice to defend clients' rights, communicate with other attorneys and the court, and representation for their client in court. To become an attorney, you must pursue secondary education after taking the law school admissions test. Once you have received a law degree, you must pass the Bar admission course and subsequent exam to become certified as a practising attorney.
National average salary: $253,420 per year
Primary duties: a physician practices medicine in their specialized field. Becoming a medical doctor requires a bachelor's degree, a passing score on the medical college admission test, and an advanced degree from an accredited medical school. Before practising medicine, you must receive further certification by passing medical board exams.
Related: 5 Steps to Become A Doctor
Here is a list of common blue-collar professions that typically require specialized skills:
National average salary: $36,790 per year
Primary duties: a farmer is responsible for the cultivating and harvesting of agriculture, managing land, and operating complex farming machinery. Some farmers care for animals, hire extra hands, or export products worldwide. While farmers do not need any advanced education, there are certifications for certain pieces of field machinery.
National average salary: $39,996 per year
Primary duties: a warehouse associate is responsible for completing operational tasks within a warehouse. This includes packaging shipments, loading and unloading trucks, or taking inventory. Some associates receive certification to operate specific machines within the warehouse.
National average salary: $45,004 per year
Primary duties: a construction worker is responsible for executing and building projects according to instructions and protocols. Construction is both a private and public industry and includes a variety of projects, from highway repairs to home renovations.
National average salary: $44,441 per year
Primary duties: a landscaper manages the cultivation and care of outdoor spaces. This includes plant maintenance, mowing, watering, and other duties that maintain the appearance of the outside of buildings. Landscapers don't need to complete any advanced schooling before beginning work.
National average salary: $53,331 per year
Primary duties: a flooring installer is responsible for preparing a floor for new materials, measuring material, and installing it into homes, offices, or other buildings. Some flooring installers might specialize in a certain type of material, such as wood or carpet.
National average salary: $65,159 per year
Primary duties: a plumber installs, maintains, and repairs pipes in residential and commercial structures to ensure the safety and effectiveness of a building's plumbing infrastructure. Plumbers often require the completion of trade school or an apprenticeship, accompanied by a valid license.
National average salary: $66,942 per year
Primary duties: an auto mechanic handles the repair and maintenance of vehicles, using technical skills and knowledge of automotive issues. To work as an auto mechanic, you must complete trade school and pass the related exams to receive a provincial qualification.
National average salary: $67,932 per year
Primary duties: an electrician is responsible for the installation and repair of electrical systems, control systems, lighting, or power in various buildings or facilities. This is a highly technical job that requires specialized skills. To work as an electrician, you must complete an apprenticeship to receive the proper provincial qualification.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.