Graduating Student, Stony Brook University
About This Section
Click on the questions below to learn more about John’s reporting experiences in the white-and-blue collar workforces in a question-and-answer format.
What is this story and project about? What motivated you to study this workforce trend?
This project and report was the culmination of my four years of research, writing, reporting and editing skills within the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY, and as part of the requirements of the final class, JRN 490.
The motivation behind this project came from my own experiences and understanding of the blue collar/skilled trades workforce. While finishing my college degree, I began to reflect on my college education experiences and how they compared to my friends and family who have backgrounds in skilled trades. Some never went to college, while others received a four-year degree, yet chose a different career path than what they studied.
When I was planning this project, which is a requirement to graduate, I was looking for something that wasn’t a popular trend in today’s media or on many peoples’ minds. I knew that the skilled trades industries had something I could work with for this project, but I didn’t know exactly what that might be. After calling local unions, the training directors and presidents of these “locals” all started to note one thing that interested them: more people were wanting to join their unions after having either graduated college or having been in a white collar career prior.
That’s where the idea first started to come together and this project is the result of months of reporting, interviews, research and data analysis.
Why the "Grey Collar Project?"
During one of my interviews, a training director at the Local 25 Electricians’ Union in Haupaugge, NY, brought up the term during a response to a question. Christopher Kelly, who also is the training director for the Long Island Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (LIJATC), used the term “grey (or gray) collar” to describe the new type of worker in today’s skilled trades industries.
They aren’t the typical blue collar worker from the past. While they do still have a copious amount of physical labor involved with their profession, there’s as much brains as brawn involved being a skilled tradesperson today. Kelly, who did not actually coin the term himself, described the “grey collar worker” as someone who has that background in education and can perform physical tasks. These new jobs involve skills from the white collar workforce (math, science, analytics) and mix those skills with the strength and toughness required from the blue collar industry to place these skilled tradespeople in a “grey area,” as Kelly puts it.
How did you find these people to be interviewed? Where did the data come from?
After the union presidents and training directors told me about the people migrating from white collar jobs to skilled trades, I began my own search. I purchased a recruiter subscription on LinkedIn, which allowed me to narrow my searches of profiles in order to target the people I was looking to reach out to. I typically searched for someone with their current title including the world “apprentice,” and based their location in the Greater New York Area.
From there, many people had their resumes with phone numbers and emails on their LinkedIn profiles, so I tried those methods of contact first. If they did not have any visible contact information, I went to social media. Facebook proved to be very valuable as I was able to successfully reach out to many of my sources through its messaging service.
For the data, I had great help from Kevin Jack, who is the Chief of Bureau of Labor Market Information at the New York State Department of Labor. He introduced me to a data set which has been compiled by the United States Census Bureau called Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics. The U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking job mobility throughout all industries. You can view more about their research here.
As for the pay gain/loss data, that was all obtained during the interviews. As many of the interviewees lost a sizable salary, I respected their privacy and have not associated their pay loss with their names or past/current careers, unless they specifically offered the information without my asking.
What's next for you, for these people, and this trend?
After graduation in this coming May (2017), I will be continuing my career path of communications and public relations, even though my program and degree is in journalism. I have found that I thoroughly enjoy working with brands, organizations and companies to develop communications strategies to market their services or products. The skills I have obtained in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University are all very applicable to my career path, as the ability to tell a story is important. Whether I’m telling the story of a white-to-blue collar worker, or sharing the newest company product, the story is still there.
As for the interviewees, they have a mixed set of future plans. Some are in their skilled trades industries for the long run. A slight few are thinking of heading back into the white collar workforce if the employment market improves in their industry, and some are planning on heading back to school to mix their skilled trade skills with a higher education to move up the ranks in their industry.
And for the trend, it’s expected to continue. New York has led this trend above the national average, and with the New York Department of Labor estimating that skilled trades will continue to expand in the next five years, the same is most likely to occur across the nation at a similar rate.
You’ve heard the stories of many. Now it is time to share your own!
If you are a former white collar worker who made a similar switch into skilled trades, post a comment with your story below!