Closing the Blue Collar Skills Gap – Blue Collar Branding

A “How To” Case Study

As a student of – and believer in – Blue Collar, I’ve read lots about a growing gap between traditional blue collar skills – especially in manufacturing – and skills needed in today’s higher tech world (see “Related Posts” at the end of this post.)

There are many names for it, but they all mean the same thing: lots of people out of work while lots of people are looking for work.

Now I see a town which looks to me to be on the right track to solving the problem. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the town is right in the center of America and in the center of Blue Collar: Lafayette, Indiana.

WLFI TV in Lafayette reports that everything from automobiles, gears, engines and even truck trailers are being built right there in Lafayette. But even though there is a sea of manufacturing opportunities in that region of Indiana there is a major “skills gap.”

One of their solutions to this problem has been a collaborative effort between local business, government, and education: the city of Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, WorkOne, dozens of manufacturers and Ivy Tech. They call it the Advancing Manufacturing program – designed to match the right jobs with the best applicants.

To participate in the “Certified Production Technician” classes, applicants must pass a drug test, complete a basic skills test and complete an interview process. Then participants go through an eight-week program requiring 20 hours a week of classroom study at Ivy Tech.

And the best part: the education doesn’t cost anything more than time and dedication – the city and county provide full scholarship money to people who can’t afford to pay for the class at Ivy Tech.

And it looks like they are on the right track: in the six months of the program to date, 90 people have graduated from the program. Many of those students who have graduated have landed jobs at a local manufacturer. That’s what I call putting your money (and your brains) where the problem (and solution) is. Have you seen similar programs where you are?

The full story can be seen here: Part 1, Part 2.

Oregon Tradeswomen Archive Their Blue Collar Career Histories – Blue Collar Branding

Andrea Castillo in The Oregonian writes about my kind of girls – I mean women:

Betty Kendall was the only mechanic at Ed’s Auto Electric to wear pearls underneath her coveralls.

It was 1976. Kendall, now 83, had just received her Associate of Arts degree from Portland Community College in auto mechanics. Years later, she would be named the first woman in the country to become certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence as a master mechanic.

She had a knack for fixing things that not everyone in the male-dominated trade appreciated. But Kendall said her drive to be self-sufficient was more overwhelming than the anger of those who thought it was too counter-cultural.

“In those days, a woman complained once and then she was a troublemaker,” she said.

Kendall was one of 12 tradeswomen who took part in an archiving event to document their history. The international Tradeswomen Archives Project hosted the Saturday event at Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., a Northeast Portland nonprofit that helps women access careers in non-traditional blue-collar work.

Vivian Price, an associate professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, runs the archiving project. She called it a “grassroots movement” to document tradeswomens’ lives, now that many are just beginning to retire.

“Their records and stories could be lost,” said Price, a former electrician. “We’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Penny Painter started working construction in 1980. She was a single mom and needed to make more money than her $5 an hour receptionist position allowed.

Painter, 55, started out cleaning construction job sites. Her income immediately doubled.

She knew the job would come with opposition from her male counterparts, but she earned respect by being a hard worker with a no-nonsense attitude.

And with her hair braided under a hard hat, Painter blended in.

“You couldn’t tell I was a female except for my nails, which were nice and pretty,” she said. “They were always blood red – the same color as my Harley.”

Painter said the view of women in the construction field is changing.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” she said. “Most contractors don’t care as long as you can do the job and will try hard.”

As for Kendall, she found that many people didn’t understand why a woman would ever want to be a mechanic. On the job hunt, she was called a “starry-eyed idealist” and told to go back to being a housewife. She got kicked out of boot shops and ran into trouble buying coveralls that fit.

Her interest in the trade stemmed from growing up in the country. Life there contrasted with the city, she said, where the aftermath of the industrial revolution had deepened gender segregation.

On the farm, Kendall watched her grandmother fix their tractor. She still wore a dress, quilted and made award-winning angel food cakes, but when something needed fixing, she could do it.

“These are things women have been doing for years,” said Kendall, who also raised three children with her husband, a professor of medicine.

That explains the pearls hidden under her coveralls: a few times a week, Kendall would rush after work to meet her husband at evening receptions, when she’d quickly wipe the grease off her hands and swap the coveralls for a dress.

Click here for full story.

Vote for a Blue Collar Party – Blue Collar Branding

Government would be better with Blue Collar legislators.

I usually avoid writing about politics, but I found a New York Times article that raises an interesting proposition: If more Blue Collar people went into politics, would there be a smaller divide between the elite and the people?

Writer Nicholas Carnes asserts that in most elections, we don’t get a say in something important: whether or not we are governed by the rich. In the 2012 election, he says our choice is to be represented by a millionaire lawyer or a millionaire businessman.

He asks why so few elections feature candidates who have worked in Blue Collar jobs, at least for part of their lives? The working class is the backbone of our society, a majority of our labor force and 90 million people strong. Could it really be that not one former Blue Collar worker is qualified to be president?

There are so many more workers than lawyers that there are probably more Blue Collar Americans with the qualities we might want in our candidates than there are lawyers with those traits. If even only half a percent of Blue Collar workers have what it takes to govern, there would still be enough of them to fill every seat in Congress and in every state legislature more than 40 times — with enough left over to run thousands of City Councils.

He says lawmakers from different classes bring different perspectives to public office. Former businesspeople in government tend to think like businesspeople, former lawyers tend to think like lawyers, and (the few) former Blue Collar workers tend to think like Blue Collar workers.

Economic policy routinely tilts toward outcomes that help white-collar professionals at the expense of the working class. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, tax policies are more regressive, and protections for workers are weaker than they would be if our lawmakers came from the same mix of classes as the people they represent.

Millionaires get to set the tax rate for millionaires. White Collar professionals get to set the minimum wage for Blue Collar workers. People who have always had health insurance get to decide whether to help people without it.

Mr. Carnes says we know how to change the demographics of our legislators. In 1945, the House and the Senate were each 98 percent men. In the decades since, party leaders and interest groups have deliberately recruited many female candidates, and today women make up 17 percent of Congress.

So, would you support a Blue Collar political party?

Click here for the entire article.

Blue Collar Political Party

Blue Collar Political Party? There is one house painter in congress who has a paint brush nailed to his wall to remind others – and himself – of his roots and his constituents.

photo credit: marcmoss via photopin cc

Give Up Your Blue Collar for a Month? Blue Collar Branding

Changing Your Collar Can Build Your Brand

Miami, Florida’s Daniel Serfer is renaming his restaurant from “Blue Collar” to “Pink Collar” for the month of October in honor of National Breast Cancer awareness Month.

For the chef/owner of the small restaurant, the cause is very near to his heart. This October marks the 10th anniversary of the date that Serfer’s mother, Marsha, lost her battle with the disease so, in her honor, the chef has pledged to raise funds and awareness for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Serfer is changing the name of his restaurant to Pink Collar for the entire month of October. He means business. “I’m changing the signage outside the restaurant. I’ve ordered pink uniforms. This is a serious disease and I’m completely serious about supporting the cause,” he told reporters.

Serfer has created a special Pink Collar menu for the month, with proceeds from sales of the featured items donated to the Komen foundation. In addition, Serfer and his crew will accept donations from diners who want to order off the regular menu (which will still be available).

Serfer has pledged to raise a minimum of $2,500 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, but is hoping to raise much more.

I admire Mr. Serfer for putting his heart and wallet into this. In addition to paying off in “feel goods,” I believe his efforts will pay off in the cash register.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month  is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.

As well as providing a platform for breast cancer charities to raise awareness of their work and of the disease, BCAM is also a prime opportunity to remind women to be breast aware for earlier detection.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in 1985 in conjunction with the American Cancer Society with the aim of promoting effective ways to fight breast cancer.

In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estée Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon was used to symbolize breast cancer. In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.

The event now counts participants in the millions and is held in over 100 US cities annually.

I call that using color to your advantage!

Thinking "Pink" can lead to good Blue Collar Marketing.

Thinking “Pink” can lead to good Blue Collar Marketing.

photo credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via photopin cc

America and Blue Collar Branding Say “Thanks” to Tradesmen

“Publicity Scheme” or Keeping a National Treasure?

After success at their inaugural event in September 2011, Irwin Tools is once again celebrating National Tradesmen Day Friday September 21, 2012.

National Tradesmen Day celebrates and thanks the hardworking men and women who help build America and keep it running. Irwin defines America’s tradesmen as the electricians, plumbers, welders, drywall installers, framers, masons, carpenters, auto mechanics, and more – “our nation’s real working hands.”

They put their money where their mouth when they gave away more than 1,000 grandstand tickets to a tradesmen night at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN. They gave the tickets to trades workers and honored 23 “Tradesmen of the Track” during pre-race ceremonies with 300 professional tradesmen serving as Grand Marshals for the race.

This may sound like a big publicity scheme – Irwin Tools has much to gain from such events and much to loose from a decline in Blue Collar jobs and the subsequent decline in demand for tools. But they are doing something constructive to try to reverse the decline in Blue Collar employment that all of us in the business can see.

Irwin also sponsors career training organization SkillsUSA, and recently partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) on its Build Your Future campaign. After recent Build Your Future skills competitions, Irwin rewarded top winners in the automotive tech and carpentry categories with an “ultimate race experience,” including stints as honorary pit-crew members, and a trip to the Irwin corporate office for a behind-the-scenes look at how the brand’s tools are developed.

And the publicity seems to be getting some traction.

I almost never read the “Dear Abby” column of the newspaper, but I know that millions of people do. It is the most popular and widely syndicated column in the world.

Today is a slow news day, so I read this (in my local paper) from “Dear Abby” reader Jeff D. from Greenville, SC:

“America’s tradesmen — plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, roofers, masons and more — get very little respect. In fact, the only time these skilled professionals get our attention is when we have an emergency.


“This lack of regard is leading our nation down an unfortunate pathway, as fewer and fewer young people pursue jobs in these professions. If we don’t change our attitude about the worth of tradesmen, who will build our homes and schools, repair our cars, keep our water flowing and our power turned on?


“On Sept. 21, we have a chance to thank a tradesman. Everyone can participate in National Tradesmen Day: Drop a box of doughnuts at the job site near your home. Call your plumber and say, ‘Thank you for your help over the years.’ Invite a skilled tradesman to speak at your child’s school. The ways to honor them are limitless.”

Abby’s reply agrees and talks about how trades used to be handed down with pride. She cites a recent survey by ManpowerGroup showing that more jobs for skilled tradesmen go unfilled than any other category of employment and how it adversely effects our economy.

If you market to tradesmen of any kind, consider joining us in celebrating National Tradesmen Day. There are lots of suggestions at

If nothing else, thank tradesmen in your social media. And tell them BTW, we are grateful for their efforts the other 364 days a year, too!


Thank you American tradesmen! Blue Collar is the best.

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photo pin cc

Mike Rowe-A Blue Collar Brand That Connects with America

a branding pro teaches to connect and believe

Mike Rowe

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Mike Rowe (see links to related posts below.) I agree with his statements in his open letter to Mitt Romney:

  • Mike’s television show “Dirty Jobs” is “an unscripted celebration of hard work and skilled labor that highlights regular people who do the kind of jobs most people go out of their way to avoid.”
  • I’ve seen Mike with pig farmers, electricians, plumbers, bridge painters, jam makers, blacksmiths, brewers, coal miners, carpenters, crab fisherman, oil drillers.
  • I agree that:
    • We can close the country’s skills gap by changing the way Americans feel about hard work and skilled labor.
    • Americans take our infrastructure for granted along with the people who build it.
    • Many viable and “once aspired to” careers are now seen as “vocational consolation prizes.”
    • We need enthusiasm for careers that have been overlooked and underappreciated by society at large.

And I love the work that he’s doing to make a difference in the Blue Collar world:

  • His non-profit foundation is connecting kids with careers in the skilled trades.
  • His foundation has raised over a million dollars for trade scholarships.
  • He has created a highly visible PR Campaign for hard work and skilled labor.

But I’m not about Blue Collar politics, I’m about Blue Collar Branding.

Even though he is humble about it, Mike’s letter demonstrates that the media considers him an expert:

  • The Wall Street Journal called to ask what he thought about the “counter-intuitive correlation between rising unemployment and the growing shortage of skilled labor.”
  • CNBC wanted his take on outsourcing.
  • Fox News wanted his opinions on manufacturing and infrastructure.
  • CNN wanted to chat about currency valuations, free trade, and just about every other work-related problem under the sun.

And our government considers him an expert.

  • He has spoken to Congress twice about the need to confront the underlying stigmas and stereotypes that surround Blue Collar jobs.
  • Alabama and Georgia have used his foundation to launch technical recruitment campaigns. (Mike is spokesperson for both initiatives.)

Corporate America seeks him as an expert. He works with Caterpillar, Ford, Kimberly-Clark, and Master Lock. Non profits, too, like The Boy Scouts of America and The Future Farmers of America.

Being viewed as an expert and serving as spokesperson for so many entities demonstrates to me that he’s pretty good at Blue Collar brand building, too.

He has built a strong brand in the Blue Collar world. I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s not all Mike Rowe the person, that there’s an empire being built. There’s a machine behind the face and name of Mike Rowe. But that’s what branding is all about: establishing a connection with a public, carving out a corner of the consumer’s mind for your brand.

And to do that well, you need to believe in your cause – believe in your brand. I believe that Mike believes in his cause. And he has connected with me.

A Picture of Blue Collar That Explains the Problem – Blue Collar Branding

I found this infographic from that displays many of the things I’ve said here.

American Skills Gap

Cool infographic that demonstrates many of the things I talk about all the time.

Another Blue Collar Green – Blue Collar Branding

Who says blue collar is behind when it comes to green?

I found a story in Bloomberg Businessweek about a blue collar, 24,000-resident town in Michigan which has tripled the state’s requirements for renewable energy production.

Michigan has mandated that municipalities generate 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2015. Wyandotte, a 24,000-resident enclave downriver from Detroit, is at 30 percent. “You think of places like Portland when it comes to green energy, but Wyandotte is this blue-collar community that just wants to get things right,” says John Sarver, who worked with the town when he was at the Michigan Energy Office.

The big push toward conservation and renewable energy came from a program of free energy audits for homes and businesses, says Paul LaManes, assistant general manager for Wyandotte Municipal Services. That was combined with 1.99 percent guaranteed loans to do those “unglamorous” things such as insulation and wiring.

Next the department extended loans for solar panels and committed to buy back the extra energy generated, so some residents now pay no utility bills. The local utility also offers incentives for homes to switch to geothermal energy.

Funding for these programs has come from federal and state grants for “green projects.” The community recently secured a $100,000 award to switch all the streetlights on its two main roads into more efficient LEDs. Also on the agenda, a “brightfield” project that will turn a contaminated site once occupied by chemical and other industrial plants into a wind or solar farm.

“The big thing about Wyandotte is that they take their time and do their studies and all that due diligence,” says Sarver, now executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy. “I think that is what other cities can take away from this—it doesn’t have to be overnight.”

Wyandotte has begun running TV ads to publicize its energy programs in the hopes they will lure Detroit-area businesses and residents to move to the town. The tag line: Save a Watt in Wyandotte.

As a marketing professional, I say this is a great way to market a town. As a blue collar professional, I say this is what blue collar is all about: making the country better and stronger in ways that make sense!

Wyandotte (and blue collar) can be the pattern for the whole country.

Click here to see the original story.

This town knows the color of blue collar.

photo credit: photography via photo pin cc

What is a “Working American?” – Blue Collar Branding

Working Americans are a threatened species

Columnist Michael Raymond writes in the Bluffton (SC) Today:

There are terms which have forever baffled me, not the least of which being “working Americans.” It does not refer to people that have jobs, as distinguished from those that don’t, but usually refers only to people that have blue collar jobs. It always carries the implication that if you don’t have a blue collar job, you aren’t a “working American.” The term is exclusive of white-collar jobs or those making higher salaries. Apparently they are “non-working Americans,” as opposed to those who are not working.

He laments that a sales representative that spends 70 percent of his/her time on the road and makes $200,000 is not considered a ‘working American’ in the same sense as a truck driver who spends his/her time on the road and makes $70,000. He then surmises the term is used to promote class envy.

He goes on to point out that the new socialist president of France, Francois Hollande, has proposed a 75 percent tax on earnings over a million euros ($1.24 million). This has caused French attorney cell phone time to skyrocket as big earners want to learn what preparations they should make before leaving the country. And that the prospect of facing a government hostile to high financial achievement also terrifies young entrepreneurs and has given business investment gurus the jitters.

The simple question, “Why should I work hard if the government is just going to take my earnings?” is simple to answer: You shouldn’t. You’d be a fool to waste your energy and talent. Sit back, relax and wait for the government to take money from some other hard working sucker — and give it to you.

His point is that the mantra of wealth redistribution in the name of social justice and class equity is, in the vernacular of the day, unsustainable. It does not work, it has never worked. It is innocuous in the beginning, a seemingly righteous plea for the less fortunate (“working Americans”), then grows in intensity and becomes a demand for “non-working Americans” (the “wealthy”) to fork it over. Eventually, the system consumes itself from within, and in time, collapses. Businesses and opportunity vanish. And “working Americans” become unemployed.

Is that so? Is that what’s happening now? Is that why the American economy is weak?

I believe that whether or not the “forking it over” actually happens, the fear of the possibility of “forking it over” effects the action of people. As a business person, I know that investment timing is critical to success. Investors will invest and divest as the climate is (in their eyes) right.

That is my belief. My knowledge and experience tell me one thing for sure: No blue collar person or industry thinks it is better to sit back and wait for someone to give them anything. It is always better to earn your own way. That is part of the definition of blue collar.

Click here to read the entire article.

Eiffel Tower

Will Blue Collar America go the way of France?

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Is Blue Collar Desirable? Blue Collar Branding

better defining blue collar

As a Blue Collar marketer, I watch trends to help me better define exactly what “Blue Collar” means.

I have to keep defining and re-defining Blue Collar. My work and my life won’t allow me to wake one day to find that Blue Collar has evolved into something I didn’t see coming. As Blue Collar changes, since I live and breathe Blue Collar myself, I, too, change. And I keep my Clients up-to-date on the change.

So, last week I saw news stories that seem to fight each other in “defining” Blue Collar.

The first is a story in USA Today titled “Blue-Collar Workers Top Charts for Worst Employee Health.”

The article tells how a recent Gallup/Healthways  survey showed transportation, construction and other services may also suffer the worst health.  The survey found that Blue Collar workers topped the charts when it comes to many health concerns: About 37% of transportation workers and 30.7% of manufacturing and production employees are obese; smoking was prevalent among 33% in mining and construction and 29.3% in installation and repair work.

On average, Blue Collar workers were more than 6 percentage points above the national smoking rate. Nearly half of construction and mining workers had not visited a dentist in the past year, and 31.5% of transportation employees had high blood pressure.

This story makes being Blue Collar sound undesirable at best.

On the flip side, there were two news stories of new restaurants that are named Blue Collar – one in Brooklyn, New York and one in Youngstown, Ohio.

Blue Collar Burgers NY

At Blue Collar in Brooklyn, NY, patrons enjoy a Blue Collar ambiance. But what they really care about is the great tasting burger!

The New York place is a burger joint and in Ohio, the Blue Collar name went to a tavern opened in honor of a highly decorated Marine. Both had great reviews, making me want to visit next time I’m close.

So Blue-Collar is undesirable in the health story but desirable in the eating establishment stories.

Maybe Blue Collar is just impossible to define. A definition is, by definition, a pigeon-hole or label.

And the independent spirit in each Blue Collar person is the antitheses of definability.

Either you get it or you don’t!