Blue collar redefinedWritten by Kristine Hoffman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The perception of the blue-collar worker is being shattered. Often defined as someone who performs manual labor for an hourly wage, the blue-collar worker of yesteryear has evolved.
In many cases, today’s blue-collar worker — previously synonymous with manufacturing jobs — has become networked, laptop savvy, highly trained and wireless. Thus, blue collar is being redefined in today’s technology-driven world.
Traditionally the mainstay of our region, blue-collar workers have become adept in such areas as computer programming and Web-based systems, and maintain a skill set that is higher than in days past, said Todd Michaelsen, manager of the Electrical Contractors Association Ohio/Michigan Chapter, an organization with 3 million man hours of work per year.
“Production is far superior to what it used to be. The myth that the blue-collar worker isn’t using his or her mind has been dispelled,” Michaelsen said. “Blue-collar workers of today must possess intelligence, problem solving skills and technical skills because technology has been integrated into their jobs.”
Conversely, the Regional Growth Partnership reports our region continues on the path of entrepreneurial high tech start-up companies that, at their core, are dependent upon blue-collar workers.
Not only are companies that were once unilaterally manufacturing finding themselves information-technology dependent, but also tech start-ups are finding themselves needing the partnership of the newly skilled blue-collar work force.
Case in point: Tom Sheperak started Energystics Technologies in Swanton in 1998. The company has developed a unique technology called “energy beam technology,” which couples electricity with material to sterilize, dry, vaporize or coat in such industries as the manufacturing of solar panels.
“This new energy beam tool can be plugged into the industrial process and offers significant cost savings in this process. This allows us to expand into manufacturing operations and to re-employ those who have lost core manufacturing jobs in our region,” Sheperak said.
Although Energystics Technologies is a high-tech firm, the company sees its partners as manufacturers.
“Through the development of this technology, there will be more companies making solar panels and using this energy beam technology, which means more manufacturing in this area. Things still have to be made, and if we can provide the technology to make the manufacturing process more affordable, we’ve made an impact,” Sheperak said.
According to the State of Ohio’s Bureau of Labor Market Information, the authoritative source for labor data in Ohio, between 2000 and 2005, the Toledo metropolitan area [Lucas, Fulton, Ottawa and Wood counties] lost 10,583 jobs in manufacturing industries, which includes not only production workers, but also engineers and other occupations. Between 2000 and 2005, the Toledo metropolitan area lost 131 manufacturing establishments.
“This leaves our region with unemployed workers who would be ideal for manufacturing related to high-tech start-up firms like Energystics Technologies,” Sheperak said.
Michaelsen said workers today have a higher level of education in their trades and must spend years training in order to operate “smart systems” within an organization, including technologically savvy security, firewall, computer and multimedia systems.
“We’re living in a very different time where traditional skills apply, but today our workers’ roles have been stepped up, with computers, systems and fiber optics all changing the way we work,” Michaelsen said. “We tell our workers that they will have ongoing training for the rest of their lives to keep up with the changing face of technology.”
Has blue collar gone high tech or has high tech gone blue collar? You be the judge.
Kristine Hoffman is host and executive producer of “Business 360,” which airs every Monday and Friday evening on WGTE-TV, during PBS’ “Nightly Business Report.”