Today's “blue collar” environment is radically different than that of say our grandfathers generation. The fundamentals are the same. You still have to be extremely tough to take a career of punishment but more that ever skills that were never necessary before are now essential. I am talking about education and lots of it. You can no longer be a guy that “just knows his trade”. I'll tell you why and in the process I will explain many of the areas of education from our generation forward that we will have to master in addition to our our trade skills.
Everything is so extremely competitive these day and “blue collar” work is no exception.
Technology has touched every one of our trades.
To comprehend and be knowledgeable in your trade you must first know some fairly advanced math and science. Trades or Sub-Trades that didn't exist 30 years ago are in extreme demand. Companies are trying to integrate electronics into every component of construction. Houses programmed so people can control plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems from mobile devices. The more you know and understand about these devices the more valuable you will be to your company and trade in the future. I am a huge fan of simple systems but that ship has sailed and she aint ever coming back.
In addition to the tech side, the more advanced you understanding of math and science is the better you will be at repair. I have a background in plumbing and carpentry so I feel like most tradesmen who have been in their field for a few years can install or put together the basics of their trade. In plumbing, my knowledge started to sky rocket when I had to start troubleshooting and repairing things. A lot of times I had to revert back to advanced math and science classes I took in high school and college. Even then there were times when things just defied reason.
These skills will increase your problem solving ability.
Business. Business. Business.
Everything in our society revolves around money. Doesn't matter if you're a farmer or a hair dresser. You don't need a 4 year degree from Stanford or even a state school but you need far more education than you can get from high school. At the very least, take some select classes at a Junior College. Specifically you must take economics, several business classes, a basic accounting class, possibly a marketing class. If your high school English and computer science classes weren't enough, you better re-enforce those as well.
Here is the reason. If you start in the trades right out of high school, you may get 30 years of solid work out of your body. If you make it to 50 years old you will be extremely slower than you were even at 40. This means you will be less productive and less valuable. Your company is going to want to pay you less, much less. YOU WILL BE BLESSED to make retirement age actually doing work. You will probably have to move into a supervisory position, such as crew leader, foreman, or supervisor, where you can put your vast knowledge to work. If you are really brave get your license, you will need all those skills and you will have to be great at all of them.
If you don't get the education you need to move into those positions good luck, you will most likely be discarded. Truthfully I don't know where all the guys go when they get old. They used to just die off before they reached retirement. Now thanks to modern medicine we reach retirement age but we are so beat up it looks miserable.
The days of getting paid on Friday, then blowing a substantial amount of your paycheck in the bar on women, booze and or drugs on Friday night are over. Each generation, I have seen, gets less room for error. Blame whoever you want but it doesn't change anything. We work in a world of liability and if you show up drunk or high or get arrested, you are liable to get your company sued or lose business for them. When you negatively impact the bottom line these days you are gone and you may never find your way back in. WAIT maybe that's why all the older guys are disappearing, too much coke, meth and drinking and driving in the 70's 80's & 90's.
If you take a look around the guys running work look responsible and professional. Sometimes you may know the job better than they do but I can guarantee you who is making more money and puts less strain on their body.
You need to learn everything you can about your trade, including the business end AND you should have a basic understanding of any trades you interact with.
Yes some of the fun is gone. I have a special place in my heart and soul for that wild beast that lives inside me that wants to lift massive amounts of materials and make everybody else look weak or rage on the weekend but it only gets you one place and you don't want to be there. Tradesmen have always and will always be tough because we have to be but we must be intelligent as well. So next time you shake someones hand and it feels like a bear paw, you're in good company, that's a tradesmen, maybe you can get a coffee and talk business.