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First off, I do not want this material to come across as offensive, patronizing, or in any way insensitive. Because sometimes, individuals tend to associate their personal or self-worth with their job. Identifying classes of employment can appear to place individuals into classes. That is certainly not our objective. Also, it is not our objective to say that one job is any better than another. We simply want to ensure individuals are informed about these various types of employment for purposes of career planning. Classifying employment based upon job responsibilities, characteristics, benefits, and the requirements to obtain or excel the position or career helps in this process.
Let’s get started.
Planning a Career Based Upon Classes of Employment
Historically, there has been a distinction between (labor) blue-collar and (non-labor) white-collar jobs. These distinctions were never really clear, as it told nothing of the general socio-economic status of the position.
Over time, the variety of types of jobs has become increasingly complex. Each type of job is generally associated with some type of knowledge, skill, or ability. Understanding these classes of employment will help you in planning a career in that field or otherwise networking with individuals in that career path.
To understand these differences we begin by breaking down employment in the following classes:
In basic terms, business is about delivering some level of value proposition. There are various functions that may be necessary to keep the business operating.
This begins with a manual laborer. These are the individuals who hold positions requiring physical exertion as a part of their jobs. The job generally does not require a high degree of formal education. It may require varying degrees of training in completion of procedural tasks. These individuals are trained on the specific method or manner of accomplishing any range of tasks. For example, manual labor might include any number of positions, such as facilities maintenance/custodial, warehouse worker, restaurant staff, farm worker/yard maintenance, or any other job the primarily concerns the completion of routine tasks or labor-based function. The role of labor will certainly vary based upon the nature of the business.
Low-skill (non-manual) Labor
The next class of employment is the low-skill, non-manual laborer. I need to preface this by saying that these individuals may have extensive skills or be proficient in the tasks they perform. This classification means that individuals hold jobs that primarily require or involve mundane or procedural tasks that do not require a high degree of knowledge or skill to complete; but, they do not require extensive physical exertion. These jobs generally do not require a college degree, but the employer may require some level of experience in the field. Examples might include a receptionist, retail worker, restaurant hostess, call center employee, nanny/babysitter, etc.
Skilled Labor (Technician)
The next group of employee is the skilled laborer. These positions may require manual labor or not. The defining characteristic is that it requires extensive skill, knowledge, and/or training; but the job is not connected necessarily connect with a bachelor’s degree. It is possible (or likely) that these positions may require a degree or special credentials. For instance, many of these professions are taught in technical colleges and require a state-issued certification. Examples of skilled labor might include: sales, construction (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc.), mechanic, medical assistants, bookkeeper/payroll specialist, paralegal, machine/software operator, content creators (graphic artists/writers), athletic trainer, music instructor, etc. It is worth noting that these jobs are integral to business operations, and individuals working in these career fields may receive high level of compensation.
- Note: Two classes of employment that have begun to run together is that of skilled labor and professional service provider in the area of technology. Individuals working in technology (computer programming, IT systems, software specialists, etc.) may have the required qualifications for a job from self-training or technical education program. It is also not uncommon to see individuals with bachelors and other advanced degrees holding very similar positions. I recall the statement of John McAfee, founder of McAfee, LLC – a computer security company, who said that, “[paraphrase] a PhD from Stanford cannot compete with a high school kid” in this field. Basically, he was illustrating the point that self-learning can be more important in this field than a high degree of formal education.
Manager of Labor
A manager of labor was generally either a manual, low-skilled, or skilled laborer who was promoted to oversee or supervise individuals holding those positions. Promotion to be a manager of labor is generally connected or pursuant to: extensive experience in the field, management training program; or completion of educational program with some experience. Examples of a manager of labor can be seen in almost any business that directly serves the public. For example a manager of labor would include: restaurant manager, store manager, office manager, construction manager, sales manager; etc.
Professional Service Provider
The name professional service provider is a bit misleading, as skilled laborers generally provide professional services to an employer. This category is meant to include those individuals providing professional services; but, acquiring the position is generally linked to a bachelors degree with a specialty major/concentration or specialty master/doctorate degree to acquire an entry-level position. Examples of professional service providers might include: Medical Service Providers (Doctors, PAs, Therapists, specialty nurses), Lawyers, Accountants, Finance professionals (certain types), Marketers (certain types), Economists, Engineers, Architects, Designers (certain types).
Professional managers are generally professional service providers who are promoted to manage other professional service providers. These individuals generally achieve this management position as a result of several years of experience or practice in their field of expertise. This is extremely common for professionals within larger companies that employ professional service providers.
- Note: Often, the transition happens when the service provider seeks an MBA after 5-10 years of professional experience. We talk more about the role and effect of the MBA program on professionals in our article, MBA Programs.
The entrepreneur deserves there own class of employment, simply because they do not fit well within other categories. Within this category, however, there are various types of entrepreneur. Some of these classes include:
- Sole Proprietor (SP) – While this designation is technically a business organization status, it serves to represent the manner in which a sub-category of entrepreneur carries on her trade. The SP might be a hired hand – such as someone paid to cut your grass. Or, it could be a talented gig worker who earns a rate of pay for completion of a particular task or project, such as a designer, editor, photographer, etc.
- Creator – There is a creative class of entrepreneur that may or may not seek to build a business around a creative activity. This type of entrepreneurship is common with individuals in the gig economy. For example, an inventor may create a product and license the technology. An artist or craftsman may create works for sale. A writer may publish a book. The unique aspect about the creator (in comparison to other SPs or Small Businesses) is that she is the creative source behind a physical creation that values a proposition. The sole proprietor might perform a service, where a small business commercializes (or sells) a value proposition created by an employee or third party.
- Small Business – A small business is an organization of individuals seeking to make a sustainable income. The objective is to stabilize operations and turn a profit as quickly as possible. If the operating environment allows, the business may grow or expand.
- Startup (Scalable Venture) – A startup generally has a growth-based model. It seeks to use borrowed or invested capital to create a scalable value proposition. Generally, operational revenue is not adequate to meet the grow needs and the business runs losses throughout its growth. The idea is that sustained growth has future value that is greater than the value of funds used to grow the business.
While entrepreneurship is generally beyond the scope of this article, it’s important to understand how it fits within the classes of employment. Entrepreneurs offer a value proposition within any of these classes of employment.
To summarize, it is beneficial to be able to differential classes of employment for particular job positions and careers. This can affect what it takes to secure and excel in such a position. It can also help in understanding the potential for a job to result in a desired career track.