Blue Collar Job Prospects are Bright, But Workers are in Short Supply

Contrary to conventional wisdom, blue-collar jobs are not disappearing. In fact, there’s a labor shortage in Manufacturing, Construction, and Transportation and Storage—the three industries traditionally associated with the working class.

It’s true there are far fewer manufacturing jobs than there were 40 years ago, but the latest Census data show it’s still an industry on the rise. Construction jobs were decimated during the Great Recession, but demand has roared back due to a thriving economy and hot housing market. As more people expect the packages they order online to arrive on their doorstep instantaneously, there’s been a massive spike in demand for Truck Drivers in the last decade.

Using the ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index, which compares the number of available jobs to job seekers in real time, we examined the employment situation in the three largest blue-collar industries. Despite looming threats that could eliminate jobs from these industries—automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and trade wars—we found that employers are still having a tough time filling blue-collar roles.

Manufacturing

  • Opportunity Index: 0.60
  • Top Job Market: Rural Minnesota
  • Top Skill: Assembly line experience

The manufacturing industry faces a number of headwinds, and yet it continues to show steady growth. Although nowhere near its peak employment of the late 1970s, Manufacturing has continually added jobs since the depths of the recession in 2010—despite the Trump Tariffs this upward trend has continued through June of this year.

With about one job available for every two workers seeking manufacturing jobs in June, opportunity in the industry is the highest we have seen since June of 2016. Although one could argue Manufacturing is the industry most affected by technological unemployment, the top skill sought by employers right now is assembly line experience, revealing the human touch is still a necessity on the factory floor.

Construction

  • Opportunity Index: 0.79
  • Top Job Market: Rural New York
  • Top Skill: General Construction Experience

Due to the severe and continuing labor shortage across the U.S., annual construction wage growth has outpaced all private sector growth by nearly a full percentage point over the last three years, according to a recent study from Zillow. The same study showed Residential Construction workers enjoyed a 5% year-over-year pay bump in April of this year, which is two full percentage points higher than the national average.

The Construction opportunity index of 0.79 is the highest we have on record for the industry, going back three years to June 2015. An Opportunity Index score of 1.0 means there is one job available for every worker seeking that job. Anything higher than that indicates a significant dearth of available workers. While the national average as of June hasn’t quite hit the one-to-one mark, nearly half of the 400 metropolitan and urban job markets we track have more job openings than workers to fill them.  

Transportation and Storage

  • Opportunity Index: 0.61
  • Top Job Market: Rural Vermont
  • Top Skill: Class A Driver’s License

The Opportunity Index for the Transportation and Storage industry has nearly doubled since June of last year. Between the two subcategories, Truck Drivers are in highest demand, with a national Opportunity Index of 1.46 in June. The labor shortage among warehouse workers is significantly lower at 0.25, meaning there are about four applicants for every opening.

This disparity is likely due to the fact that automation has taken hold in warehouses more quickly than on the highway. With the meteoric rise in e-commerce over the last several years, demand for both storage and transportation of consumer goods has skyrocketed. While drones have already replaced many warehouse workers, a fully autonomous tractor trailer remains on the distant horizon, which has already led some transportation companies to increase pay and incentives for licensed Class A drivers.

A growing economy and tight labor market have led to greater opportunities for workers in just about every industry, and yet nationally wage growth has remained stuck at around 2.5%. It remains to be seen if the incentives offered by transportation companies will bring a new generation of Truck Drivers into the fold. But it’s clear from this data that blue-collar workers in Manufacturing, Construction, and Transportation have a great deal of leverage when it comes to finding employment and demanding a higher wage.

Jeffery Marino

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Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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