April 20, 2022

The Blue-collar Workforce Is Getting Short Shrift

If there’s one aspect of employment that seems to have gotten lost in all the talk of the high quit rates and difficulty in filling jobs right now, it has to be the employment of blue-collar employees. The Adecco Group says that “it’s now harder to find blue-collar workers than white-collar workers, reversing a decades-long trend in the U.S. job market.”

That difficulty hits home … literally. People notice when their package doesn’t arrive because the trucking industry is short tens of thousands of employees, or when they can’t schedule a plumber or electrician.

Much of what we’ve advised about high-volume hiring, such as hiring outside your own industry, also applies to blue-collar hiring. But, there are some aspects to this subset of high-volume hiring worth exploring in more depth. 

A Bad Rap

Blue-collar jobs may need a rebranding. Jason Kent Crowell is the Director of Recruitment for Custom Commodities Transport. He’s been a talent leader in trucking for 10 years, and hired for manufacturing for 13 years.

Says Crowell: “Getting to the high schools and even middle and elementary schools with the message that kids can get their hands dirty, not be tied to a desk, and still earn an exceptional living choosing trades instead of four-year post secondary education, that’s a message that is just not out there enough.”

Crowell believes that “Americans have been haphazardly sending kids to college, often allowing them to select some major that does not produce, in the end, a good-paying job.” 

Not to mention, those kids graduate with a lot of debt. “Trades have less school and cost involved,” he adds, “and often you can serve an apprenticeship and earn while you learn.”

Words Matter

Part of the branding issue is the negative connotation some people have with the phrase “blue collar.” 

Some, like Muriel Clauson, CEO of the company Anthill, have embraced the term “deskless” workers instead. SAP defines deskless workers as “employees who complete tasks away from a desk or a company’s headquarters and have inconsistent access to internal enterprise systems and communication technology. They are not equivalent to remote workers, who work from home but still have consistent access to a desk and their company’s technological systems.” 

Whether nurses, truck drivers, manufacturers, or others, SAP says that this represents 80 percent of the world’s workforce. 

Finding Prospects

Employers have multiple options for improving their hiring of deskless workers. To take one example, companies may be under-investing in technology needed to reach people who aren’t often at a desktop. At work, only 36 percent of deskless workers are satisfied with their technology experience, according to SAP

Blue-collar workers are more likely than other workers to use mobile devices in their job search. Employers would be wise to use text messaging in their hiring process. Response rates are higher, and candidates respond faster

Other tips for sourcing deskless workers include apprenticeship programs; states like Indiana and New York have private-public apprentice partnerships, and many unions have apprentice programs as well. Corporations can also partner with trade schools, which are booming. They can reach out to veterans, and use AI to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce, translating their skills for corporations. And as a corollary to that, as we’ve written before, recruiters can use veteran-friendly language in job postings.

A New Mindset

Steven Hunt is Chief Expert, Technology & Work at SAP, and the author of an upcoming book on the future of work, Talent Tectonics. Hunt says that this is not just a sourcing challenge. Employers need to have a sharply different view of talent. 

“Companies have to get better at making these jobs more desirable,” he says. Now, quitting a deskless job to work at a tech company’s warehouse is three mouse clicks away. The pay, the flexibility, and the health-care benefits will likely be better at a big tech corporation, making quitting an easy decision for many people, Hunt says. 

He tells companies that they need to rethink the work people do. For example, he says, there’s no physically safe way for a home healthcare aide to lift someone out of a bed. If technology can help make that part of the aide’s job easier, it could pay off for a company in the long run. Similarly, Hunt says, there is high structural unemployment for some people and it’s “not because they can’t work; it’s because they can’t work the way everyone else works.” He gives the example of people who get rejected during a hiring process due to their being on the autism spectrum, even though they could have been wildly successful on the job. Or, people who can’t make a commute but could also be successful. 

Hunt says that hiring managers, recruiting managers, and training managers should work together and “rethink how jobs are designed.” Together, they may end up with a job with higher pay than originally envisioned, but the employee may be far more productive, he says. 

A number of Eightfold’s customers are rethinking how to fill each open role they have. They’re using artificial intelligence to learn the adjacent skills of prospects for blue-collar jobs. A given job applicant, for example, may not have the exact experience needed on the job for an open role. But, the AI is able to flag that the candidate, based on their capabilities and experience, has all the potential to quickly learn the necessary skills.

The Contingent Aspect

Many deskless workers work on a contingent basis. This can be a challenge, as SAP finds that “an average of 37 percent of deskless workers in the United States feels their employer views them as a disposable temporary worker.”

Indeed, companies often use a manual worker for a gig, and lose track of them. 

Companies like Pro Unlimited are managing contingent work for companies with the same attention paid to “regular” employees. That way, companies can keep contingent workers in their network, using AI technology to automatically enrich the profiles of these workers as they add new skills and experiences. Not only do companies not lose track of their contingent workers, but they’re always up to date about the skills and potential of every one of them.


Photo by Jason Richard on Unsplash