Dr. Anthony O. Parker

Blue-collar workers are obviously necessary. We all rely on blue-collar workers for our safety and wellbeing. Each morning we turn the faucet on to brush our teeth; flip a switch to make our coffee, and on a hot day, we hurry inside for the coolness of air conditioning. We assume that our cars will slow down and stop in the rain on a steep downgrade. Trucks bring goods to stores and often directly to our homes. Vehicles are serviced for carefree, safe driving and repaired after accidents. Police officers, firefighters, and EMTs respond to us during emergencies. Nurses and medical assistants care for us when we are ill. Hospital equipment must be repaired and calibrated. Cosmetologists and barbers make us look good. And let’s not forget, computer specialists in the world of technology, and no one wants to imagine a world without plumbers.

Blue-collar workers are the backbone of the American economy. For the most part, their jobs cannot be outsourced. They have specialized training and the work that they perform cannot be done by less than qualified individuals. Work done by an unqualified electrician is simply not safe. The only thing worse than a car that will not start is one that will not stop.

For every professional with a BS or BA to be successful, you need to employ seven to fifteen well-paid artisans. For every maintenance engineer, you need twenty industrial maintenance/mechatronics technicians. Every dentist needs three to five dental technicians. It requires one diesel technician to keep five CDL vehicles moving.

As I interconnect with many of my professional colleagues, I note how they usually see the necessity of blue-collar workers. However, I hope that they see the dignity in blue-collar work. They express

disappointment if an air conditioning technician is not available on a hot July day or express outrage if the dealership can’t repair their car for several days. But, how often do we encourage their children or others in their sphere of influence to prepare for some of these vital blue-collar jobs?

A blue-collar worker with journeyman level skills can earn substantially more than a gray collar and some white-collar workers. I’ve been introduced to master auto collision technicians who earn $90,000 a year. According to Georgia labor market statistics, beginning associate degree nurses have been offered positions at $65,000 a year. Most well-prepared automotive technicians with the appropriate credentials make no less than $50,000 a year. And according to Zip Recruiter, a beginning CDL driver willing to spend nights away from home can earn $58,000 annually.

Blue-collar workers use their buying power to purchase homes, new cars, and durable goods. They either work for employers that provide health insurance or choose the entrepreneurship route, often earning enough to buy private insurance. Creating new prosperity through increasing blue-collar income can be the tide that raises all boats. Only two zip codes in Dougherty County are considered prosperous. We have millions of dollars of untapped potential. Can we afford not to encourage the creation of additional wealth, comfort, and standard of living from other blue-collar workers?

The United States Department of Education and the state of Georgia have done their parts. The cost per credit hour to obtain a technical college education is relatively low. The time needed to acquire a technical college education is comparatively short. The return on investment can be huge. The Title IV PELL grant and the Georgia HOPE

Grant is usually available to those who meet the income threshold. Dual enrollment is available to high school students, and adults without a high school diploma or GED can often joint enroll using “Ability to Benefit” (ATB) Title IV financial aid. Many Georgia citizens can use the HOPE Career Grant and train for a blue-collar program with or without admissions testing.

Some of those who would choose a technical college education assume that if you start in one lane that it will be difficult to choose another. However, I know many Albany Technical College graduates who have been promoted to leadership opportunities both with and without a bachelor’s degree. For example, one radiologic technology graduate and ATC alumnus is a physician in Dougherty County. A former Lady Titan basketball player is a practicing attorney. Three pharmacy technology graduates went on to earn degrees in pharmacy. Another graduate has served as a pharmacist at the Howard University Hospital and on the faculty of Howard and Xavier Universities, and is now an associate VP of sales at a pharmaceutical company. One of our law enforcement graduates is the current police chief at Bethune Cookman University.

Students who reverse matriculate can be huge contributors to our community. Several university graduates have returned to ATC to earn AS degrees in nursing. One former student earned an associate degree in construction management after earning a BS and MBA and is currently employed as a housing director at a major university.

I’m proud to have been a part of blue-collar education since 1980. I’ve had the privilege of working for students at Augusta Technical College, Southeastern Technical College, Aiken Technical College, and Albany Technical College. I’ve never regretted choosing the technical education lane of the higher education highway. It’s been a rewarding journey.