DANIEL VAUGHAN: The Blue Collar Renascence

November 26, 2018

For weeks, the search for Amazon’s next headquarters has dominated the business news cycle. Local headlines have also been taken over by Amazon in the cities that won: the Washington suburb of Arlington, VA, and New York, NY, as well as Nashville, TN, which won its bid to be a new east coast operations center for the online marketplace.

Altogether, Amazon is expected to create 55,000 new high-paying jobs, and many more ancillary jobs are expected to be added by the economic boost from Amazon flooding cash into the market.

But while following the Amazons of the world as they expand is flashy and fun, it’s more interesting that these high-end tech jobs aren’t where all the market capitalization is going.

While companies like Amazon and Apple are making the front page, investors are increasingly pouring money into…

Car repair shops.

The age of the average American car is getting older, and because of that, the need for mechanics who repair those cars is growing.

There’s also a growing need for auto parts stores. While most of the companies on Wall Street are losing value, auto parts stores are proving incredibly resilient, providing goods and services that retail giants like Walmart and Amazon are having a hard time competing with.

And with more than 300 million cars on the road today, the demand for these businesses is so high that many new owners don’t even know a thing about cars — they’re just jumping in on the opportunity.

“We look for candidates who are aggressive and want to grow,’’ Devin Hughes, director of franchise sales for Meineke, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. “The vast majority of our franchisees are coming from corporate America and looking to build an investment for themselves.”

Auto mechanics and car parts salesmen may not be the sexy front-page jobs that people like talking about, but we’ve seen a boom in market demand for them. And they’re not the only trade witnessing growth. The other profession expecting an increase in employment?


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects demand for plumbers to increase 16 percent over the next decade, as an ever-shrinking pool of workers has a plumber’s skillset. Much like the auto industry, aging infrastructure and a shrinking supply of skilled workers in the field is raising the standard of living for anyone left.

The same story can be found across many tradesmen careers, from the two paths mentioned above to careers for carpenters to bricklayers to construction workers. High-tech jobs, though flashier, don’t translate into solving the immediate problems in our culture. As Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs, said: “You’ve got a lot of very, very smart people standing by waiting for somebody else to do the work. Not a recipe for long-term solvency in my opinion.”

Fortunately, there are signs these jobs will be filled. That’s the great thing about living in a free economy: people can choose careers that offer them the best opportunity. Trade and vocational schools are seeing increasing popularity from Generation Z, the generation after millennials (though it’s still often lumped in with Gen-Y).

And while every industry in America may see a decline during a recession, trade skills typically always have a strong demand. We’ve watched various kinds of retail and tech jobs come and go, especially in the wake of the dot-com collapse and the Great Recession. But trades are always in demand, even in a down market.

As people hold onto their cars for longer periods of time, the market and demand for parts, maintenance, and service increases. And this situation won’t change even if we move into an era of driverless cars. Those vehicles will still require upkeep for the long haul if they’re going to remain on the roads.

And companies like Amazon will still need people to run, service, maintain, and build their warehouses and company infrastructure.

Blue collar work, once seen as receding on the American landscape, is seeing a revival.

The increasing number of trade and vocational jobs is good for the long-term health of the American economy. It diversifies the job market, it increases the amount of entrepreneurship, and it grants people the chance to invest in themselves.

Around the holidays, we often encourage people to shop local and support local businesses. But it would be more apt to encourage people to work local and acquire the skills necessary to sustain communities.

Amazon may be making the front pages, but blue-collar America is quietly surging. It’s the sign of a healthy economy that is providing an opportunity to everyone.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.