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How to Capitalize on the New Blue Collar

Opportunities and jobs need to be filled in a surprisingly growing field.

5 Minute Read

What you need to know

  • Blue collar-related jobs are in high demand, but positions are going unfilled because of a reticence among younger job seekers to enter the industry. 

How you can capitalize 

  • By using technology to make blue-collar jobs more appealing and to create better communication between clients and blue-collar vendors. 
  • By creating a modern online training platform for various trades, similar to Codecademy or Treehouse for coding. Or marketing a trades-related boot camp geared toward a younger audience. 

* * *

Between looming fears of automation and regular news of factories and plants shutting down, it often seems that blue-collar industries won’t exist much longer in the United States.  

But blue-collar work isn’t dying. In fact, there are a surplus of jobs. Manufacturing jobs have experienced double-digit growth since 2017, according to a Deloitte study. The problem is that not enough people have undergone the skills training necessary to qualify for these jobs––or not enough people want them. If this current trend of disinterest continues, Deloitte estimates some 2.5m jobs will go unfilled by 2028, potentially leading to an economic cost of $2.5T.     

Consider these stats:

  • 80% of construction firms have reported difficulties filling positions.
  • Demand for plumbing and pipefitting is expected to increase 16% by 2024.
  • Another 46k auto technicians will be needed in the coming years as people hang on to their cars for longer.
  • America could even use more carpet cleaners.

Eric Sprague, an entrepreneur and cohost of the Blue Collar Nation podcast, recently sold his California-based carpet cleaning and water damage restoration business. He had been having trouble finding qualified technicians to work for him, especially after Amazon opened warehouses in the region. “It completely wiped out my entry-level workforce.”

“Imagine a world where you can’t get your plumbing fixed or the power goes out and you can’t get the power fixed,” Sprague says. “If there is no labor to fill these spots, what are we going to do as a society?”

Entrepreneurs can get involved in several ways:

  • Using technology to enable clearer communication between large clients and vendors.
  • Creating an online training program that attracts and educate new workforces. Think of it like a Codeacademy for trades.    

Carisa Miklusak, whose company Tilr has a hiring algorithm for gig and temp workers and was featured in a recent Trends report, says entrepreneurs tend to overlook potential in the blue-collar industries even though investors routinely get involved. 

“Workers in this space are desperate for new technology to improve their lives, from applications to daily interaction to how their hours are recorded. I’m talking to people who have their workers clock in (on a) 1970s machine or write it down on a (clipboard). I have people sitting in offices looking at down to the second whether the handwritten numbers match the clock in and clock out.

“I think it’s an incredible market and opportunity with really smart and skilled people and employers in need.”

Integrating CMMS software

Until a few years ago, blue collar-related jobs involved a logistical mess. Communication between managers and on-site workers was fraught. A few companies have made the process smoother through software.  

  • Fieldwire: A software that focuses on the construction industry and enables managers and workers to communicate amongst one another, track job performance, share documents, and more. The company has raised about $40m in the last six years. Think of it like Asana for construction.   

Fieldwire has about 2k paying companies and has been used on more than 500k projects. The software is free for companies with up to five people. After that, it costs $29 per user, or bigger companies can buy project or enterprise licenses.   

  • Beekeeper: Like Fieldwire, Beekeeper is a communication, scheduling, and planning service for shift workers on construction sites, in restaurants, and beyond. It has been called “Slack for non-desk employees” and recently raised $45m.

With established startups filling gaps on the side of the vendors, Josh Zolin, CEO of Windy City Equipment Services, says one clear opportunity involves streamlining communication between customers and vendors.

For trade-related work, big clients tend to request services through a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), a database that tracks the condition of their various assets and whether they need repairs. Instead of calling or emailing a company like Zolin’s, the client will make a request through the CMMS and it will translate into a work order that gets sent to a vendor. But different clients use different CMMS providers, leading to complications for the workers who handle the requests. Zolin would like to see a service that integrates the various CMMS platforms.  

“A technology that would bridge all those together would be invaluable to the industry,” Zolin says. 

Video Consulting and content marketing 

After selling his carpet cleaning and renovation company, Sprague started a new business, Morning Tech Meeting. Morning Tech Meeting gives subscribers a video five days a week that features an etiquette topic.

Owners of trades-related companies show it to their technicians to improve their personal and sales skills. “A limiting factor for a lot of us in our growth is how well our technicians can manage the client and manage their soft skills. A lot of guys are good technically but have no personal skills or know how to behave in a home.” 

Simple as it sounds, Sprague says having a daily meeting was vital for his business. When he stopped doing them as a business owner he says his workers “resented the fact we weren’t investing in them anymore.” 

Sprague’s business launched in September. He charges $20 a month and has signed up between 200 and 300 clients. His previous business relied on email marketing to pick up customers, and he has an email list of 14k people that he is using to find new clients for the Morning Tech Meeting.      

Similar opportunities exist to use video technology to teach current workers other skills.  

And there’s potential for a content marketing consulting business focused on blue-collar industries. Because many businesses use email marketing, they are in need of content ideas to send customers. Sprague says that sending email consistently is necessary for keeping connections with clients but sending “boring emails” every week leads to unsubscribing. Businesses need assistance with producing quality content.     

Opportunities to solve the blue-collar shortage

Why is there a shortage of quality blue-collar workers? Amazon warehouses are partially to blame, but insiders say the biggest issue is stigma. Despite a guaranteed salary in the high five figures at a young age, fewer people want to get involved with the trades than in past generations. 

Here are some good places to start:

  • Major potential exists for creating and marketing an online platform that eliminates the stigma and educates young workers. VR technology would allow for online instruction even for difficult lessons that would typically require an in-person experience. Think Codecademy or Treehouse, which teach coding to potential developers through hip, modern services. 

The typical ways for learning trade skills still involve apprenticeships or vocational schools. Apprenticeships have become less common, and vocational schools offer a major upfront commitment of time and money (while much cheaper than college, trade school still costs an average of $33k). At the high school level, many trades have been taken out of the curriculum, such as shop class, because of devotion to college prep.

The current alternative products in the blue-collar space either focus on a narrow trade or offer an out-of-date service. Ignitor Labs, for instance, offers video training but Zolin notes that “they have this goofy little cartoon explaining what to do. I don’t think it’s caught up to what anybody in this age would consider a viable course.” Another company, Interplay Learning, uses VR but focuses mainly on solar and HVAC.           

Programs geared toward women could also be successful. “A big untapped market that could help fill the gap is women,” Zolin says.

  • Matching services: There are plenty of job boards in blue-collar industries like truck driving and landscaping. An entrepreneur could take the next step and create an online matching service that pairs companies with qualified workers in any given industry. Current recruitment companies, Sprague says, are often expensive and typically only find matches for project management and higher level jobs.