You’ve heard of blue-collar and white-collar jobs. But how about pink-collar jobs? Or green and grey collars? What do these things mean, and why do we talk about careers in terms of collars?
These terms begin with roots in logic and tradition and refer to types of employment that were typically associated with shirt colours at one time. While this is no longer the case, some old employment classifications are still in use, and others are being invented to encompass jobs that don't fall under the blue or white-collar designation.
Blue-collar jobs are typically performed by manual labourers who are paid by the hour. Sectors where jobs fall into this category, include construction, maintenance, manufacturing, and mining (via Investopedia). Both highly skilled and unskilled labourers can be blue-collar. So, an electrician and a plumber, whose jobs may require rigorous and specific education and training, will fall under blue-collar, as will a general labourer and construction worker who needs no training or education.
According to Investopedia, the term originated in the 1920s when blue-collar workers wore darker coloured clothes – like jeans and blue overalls - to hide the dirt they would get on themselves. Typically, even today, we often see janitors and mechanics wearing blue shirts with collars.
The people who do these jobs are traditionally considered “working class” and may have earned less money than people in other sectors, but these days, employment in the trades is often very well paid and can offer significant benefits. Plus, many blue-collar roles are in high demand and predicted to remain stable over the coming years.
White-collar workers typically perform non-manual labour, sit at desks, work in offices -- or nowadays, from home, are thought of as well paid and hold salaried positions. Jobs that traditionally fall into this category include accountants, lawyers, computer programmers, company managers, and marketing and advertising jobs.
These workers were once primarily men who would wear suits and ties to work. Their shirts could be white because they were not at as much risk of getting dirty as blue-collar workers (also via Investopedia), though white-collar workers could still spill coffee on themselves since they made more money than blue-collar workers and could afford to launder or dry clean their clothes more often.
These days, many women hold white-collar jobs, and fewer people wear suits and ties to work if they go into the office at all. And while white-collar jobs did once pay more than blue-collar jobs, those lines have blurred in recent years. Yes, the average CEO still earns more money than the average plumber, but these days you’ll find more office workers whose earnings are on par with many blue-collar workers, even people in management roles, and blue-collar workers who earn more than their white-collar counterparts.
That said, white-collar jobs still tend to offer more freedom and flexibility than blue-collar jobs because they often don’t require an employee to be onsite or in an office. This is even more true since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when people started working remotely, which many employees and employers have since gotten used to and that most people say will continue even though many are now returning to work. We like the comfort and convenience of working from home and aren’t likely to give it up without a fight. And, since it’s a candidate’s market, many highly skilled and experienced white-collar workers can set these terms. This is not an option available to blue-collar workers who are usually required to be onsite for work.
More collars to consider
White and blue are probably the best-known collar colours for jobs, but they’re not the only ones.
Pink-collar jobs are jobs that were, until fairly recently, considered jobs for women and include jobs in the care sector, like nursing, as well as teaching, child care, secretary jobs, hairdressing and aesthetician jobs, service sector jobs, and retail. These jobs may pay less than blue or white-collar jobs but, these days, don’t necessarily. And they are no longer always filled by women.
Pink-collar jobs are among the most common occupations in North America and are often in high demand.
Green-collar workers work in the interest of sustainability and conservation or do jobs that otherwise benefit the environment by reducing waste and pollution. According to How Stuff Works, these jobs can range from manual to managerial in large corporations, small businesses, or non-profit organizations. Examples include designing or working on "green" building or water conservation projects, manufacturing environmentally friendly products, landscape architecture, and installing solar panels.
According to HRM Online, “grey-collar” used to refer to older employees working past retirement age but now refers to workers with a combination of technical and physical skills or a cross between traditionally white-collar and blue-collar skills. Investopedia defines grey-collar workers as those “who are officially white-collar but perform blue-collar tasks regularly as part of their jobs.”
These jobs are increasingly common and include different types of engineers, airline pilots, lab technicians, and IT professionals. Though at this point, some of these other classifications get a bit muddy, and we start to find overlap. If you Google the category “grey-collar jobs,” you’ll find it includes jobs also classed as white, blue, or pink-collar, like childcare workers and teachers.
New collar jobs
According to an article on US News & World Report, “new collar jobs are newer, mostly technical jobs that require a specialized skill set.” New-collar jobs don't necessarily require a four-year college degree but may require special education or certification. Some may even be self-taught as the tech world moves away from requiring workers to have proof of formal education. “In addition to tech roles, new collar workers can also be found in health care positions such as certain types of nursing and in the mortgage industry.”
New-collar jobs include information security analysts, pharmacy technicians, and project managers. Software developers and registered nurses also fall under this category, and there we have the overlap again, as these also fall under white-collar and pink-collar, respectively.
Classifications don’t hold the same weight
These classifications don’t hold the same weight that they once did. As we stated, blue-collar jobs can now require more education than they once did, and blue-collar workers can earn very good wages. That said, white-collar jobs still offer more flexibility and the option to work from home, while blue-collar jobs still require less formal education.
Examples of different coloured collar jobs and what they pay
Here are some examples of jobs in each category and their annual earnings or salaries as listed on Talent.com's Salary in Canada page.
5 blue-collar jobs and what they pay
- Heavy equipment operator/paver, $59,670 - $66,909
- Journeyman electrician, $58,500 - $76,596
- Aircraft mechanic, $46,010 - $84,300
- Power plant operator, $62,277 - $87,750
- Elevator mechanic, $54,537 - $114,075
Skilled trades jobs on Talent.com
5 white-collar jobs and what they pay
- Accountant, $47,429 - $75,281
- Marketing manager, $57,500 - $93,295
- Licensed insurance agent, $60,000 - $118,400
- Lawyer, $77,500 - $137,500
- CEO, $65,750 - $180,000
3 pink-collar jobs and that they pay
- Administrative assistant (formerly known as a secretary), $36,000 - $51,634
- Elementary school teacher, $39,000 - $74,997
- Registered nurse, $56,540 - $91,471
Administrative assistant jobs on Talent.com
3 green-collar jobs and what they pay
- Solar panel installer, $36,563 - $46,118
- Landscape architect, $59,771 - $101,953
- Architect, $79,675 - $140,000
Landscape architect jobs on Talent.com
3 grey-collar jobs and what they pay
- Lab technician, $39,000 - $63,114
- Mechanical engineer $61,913 - $75,655
- Airline pilot, $46,800 - $107,250
Mechanical engineer jobs on Talent.com
3 new-collar jobs and what they pay
- Pharmacy technician, $43,050 - $59,007
- Information security analyst, $75,563 - $120,877
- Project manager, $63,748 - $125,000
Project manager jobs at Talent.com