Blue Collar Skills

5 Things Blue Collar Employers Look for In a Hire
Blue Collar Skills

While some assume that “unskilled” or “low-skilled” labor jobs also referred to as blue collar jobs, don’t have any skill requirements, as implied by their title, this could not be farther from the truth.  

Today, I asked a blue-collar business owner what he looks for in a hire, and his straightforward answers may surprise you. Keep reading for the five things blue-collar employers look for in a hire.  

Blue Collar Workers 

Blue Collar Skills

I come from a family of blue-collar workers. My family legacy has been built on the backs of farmers, construction men, carpenters, sawyers, and landscapers, to name a few. Many of these men worked from the ground up and turned their on-the-job experience into successful businesses. Businesses where they now run the show, instead of digging in the dirt.  

One of my brothers-in-law, Ryan Little, owner and sawyer at Silverwood Sawmill in Muskegon, MI, gave me some insight into what he looks for when hiring people for his sawmill. Some of these qualities may seem obvious, but Ryan says these traits are surprisingly hard to find.  

Good Attitude 

Workers with a good attitude set the tone for a more positive work environment. In manual labor jobs, very often, things don’t go as initially planned. Someone who can roll with the punches and keep a positive attitude is a welcome addition to any team. 


A worker that needs constant supervision to stay on task creates more work for employers and managers. Employers want workers who can receive instruction and be trusted to work diligently until the job is completed. Workers should be self-disciplined enough to get projects done on time and move from one task to another without redirection.  


Saw mill

Someone who needs minimal supervision and acts with integrity is a valuable hire. If an employer gets the feeling that one of their workers is “trying to pull a fast one” or cutting corners, the worker’s employment will probably not last long. 

A quality that goes hand-in-hand with trustworthiness is the ability to follow instructions. In many unskilled labor jobs, workers will be working closely with heavy and expensive machinery. The inability to follow instructions can be extremely dangerous and/or costly.  

Ryan tells a story of instructing a former employee to prepare the sawmill for transportation. He told the employee not to move the machine by himself. The employee prepared the sawmill, but “took the initiative” to move it himself and got fired as a result 

Why would Ryan fire someone for “taking the initiative”? Because he knows that it can be incredibly dangerous to move the sawmill alone. If someone transports it incorrectly, the risk of equipment damage is very real. This machinery is worth tens of thousands of dollars and is the livelihood of the entire small business. It is a serious liability to have an employee that can’t be trusted to follow directions in regards to it. 

Hardworking and Passionate 

Saw Mill Owner

Finding employees with a good work ethic is something that Ryan says is becoming more difficult to find. He’s seen his fair share of workers that want to show up late, put in minimal effort, leave early, and still get paid. 

Having a passion for the job doesn’t necessarily mean that it is what you want to do for the rest of your life. It means that you will do it to the best of your ability and take pride in it. 

New hires often fail to realize that Ryan got to where he is today – the owner of his own company – by working hard and learning the business from the ground up. He is living proof that hard work, when combined with passion, pays off. 

Attention to Detail 

Blue Collar

Having an attention to detail is such a valuable quality to have. It can save you from expensive and/or time-consuming corrections later on in the process of whatever task you are doing.  Employers love workers with excellent attention to detail because it makes the company look good when good work is put out. Attention to detail also shows that employers can trust a worker with more significant, or more detailed work.   

This probably sounds like such an obvious point, but in a world of “good enough” workers, great work really stands out.  

I test all of my employees when they are hired,” Ryan says. They start at the lowest level, and I always give them tests that they can do on their own. It could be something as simple as cutting up old tarps, so they can get properly recycled. I explain the entire job and provide them with everything but one tool. That could be garbage bags or a box cutter, and then I’ll leave them to it. I wait to see how long it takes them to engage with me to let me know they’re missing the item they need. If they do not have attention to detail, they won’t notice for a while. If they don’t come to talk to me, that shows they can’t think for themselves or aren’t good with communication.  

Unskilled Worker 

The term unskilled worker” has such a negative connotation. Being an unskilled worker does not mean that you don’t possess qualities that make you a good employee. Having a good attitude, a good work ethic, being self-motivated, and trustworthy, are all skills that you can obtain through discipline and self-awareness 

Regardless of whether you’ve obtained your doctorate, or never graduated from high school, you can be a well-respected, and highly-valued employee if you embrace these five traits.   

“These are the people that will make money and get the bonuses,” says Ryan. “They are the ones I can count on to show up to do the work, and those are the workers that I will invest in and keep around.” 

About the Author

Melanie Lemus is the Communications Specialist for Vision to Purpose providing self-help, business, and career-focused topics. 

About Vision to Purpose

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