November 20, 2023 4 min read
No one is more undervalued than those who work in the skilled trades: Boilermakers and blockmasons. Steamfitters and Steelworkers, Carpenters, Electricians, Glaziers, and anyone else who engages in the always difficult, often dangerous work of building, making and fixing things the rest of America takes for granted.
Without tradespeople, America would literally fall apart. Actually, there would be nothing to fall apart, because nothing would’ve been built in the first place. So you’d think society would hold tradespeople in high esteem. But the fact is, most Americans subtly look down on anyone who works with their hands. In fact, that phrase itself is emblematic of the problem. “Working with your hands” has a nice ring to it, but it implies your head isn’t playing much of a role in the process.
Never mind that many trades require more education than white collar work, or that the technology involved in doing these jobs might as well have been developed by NASA. No matter how tech-heavy or cerebrally taxing the job might be, the self-assured masses just see someone who came up short. ‘Hey,’ the thinking goes, ‘you probably didn’t do that well in school, but you’re earning an honest living, and that’s something to be proud of!’
Luckily, most of the people who work in the trades aren’t fishing for compliments. Like teachers, first responders, and soldiers, they’re used to doing incredible things in total obscurity. It’s not about what anyone else thinks. It’s about integrity. It’s about fulfilling a private promise they’ve made to hold themselves accountable. It’s about doing killer work. And it’s about being paid.
The last thing they want is anyone petting their hair, or telling them how awesome they are. Yet, inexplicably, this is how marketers have always approached them.
Every time they watch TV or scroll the internet, they have to endure another ad congratulating them for how tough they are, and how much grit they have, and how they’re rolling up their sleeves and moving America forward. This stuff isn’t just played-out, it’s disingenuous—just another way corporations sell F-150s to IT guys, or Carhartt jackets to “thought leaders.”
Even when companies actually target the workers themselves, they still speak in clichés; just slightly better ones. ‘Hey, we’re just regular guys, out here framing houses in the sunshine, soulfully pursuing a simple life, one pneumatically propelled nail at a time.’ Like the movie Endless Summer, but with tool belts instead of surfboards.
All of this completely fails to take into account that America is undergoing one of the most profound workforce shifts in its history. Turns out automation isn’t coming for all the blue-collar jobs. It’s coming for all those pampered white-collar workers who clock-in from home, or from the cozy confines of their office cubicles. Thanks to artificial intelligence, titles like “Chief Happiness Officer,” “Social Media Sherpa” and “Growth Ninja” will soon join Lamplighter and Pinsetter as jobs that no longer exist.
Meanwhile, in the words of Mike Rowe, “no one’s ever seen a robot electrician, or a robot plumber.” What they do see is an absolutely critical shortage of skilled workers. And as any white collar economist can tell you, supply and demand is a thing. All of a sudden, the relatively small number of workers out there are finding that what they do is more and more lucrative. They’re learning that they can pull more dollars, because they’re in serious demand.
So where’s the workwear campaign that doesn’t waste time trying to bestow value upon people who already know they’re valuable?
Where’s the brand work that revels in the indispensable nature of what tradespeople do, and that they’ve never been in a better position to reap the rewards?
Where’s the advertising that says, if you really want to recognize us, have your checkbook handy there aren’t many people who can do what we do.
Maybe a better question is, what marketer would even be qualified to say that stuff?
It would have to be a company born in America. One that never outsourced a single stitch of fabric, because it understands America is where the best things in the world are made.
A company that came-up in the trades, and knows from experience that workers see what they wear the same way they see their tools—a means to do their job and earn a living—so they have no issue spending more for it.
A company that doesn’t waste time pandering to American workers, because it’s too busy innovating on their behalf, investing in an ever-more-sophisticated domestic supply chain, weaving-in next gen technology to enhance performance the same way Nike does for pro athletes, or the Department of Defense does for Navy Seals, and guaranteeing the things it makes for life.
In short, a company that knows the American worker is about to go on a long-overdue rocket ride, and is honored to help them dress for the occasion.
Throw on your 1620.
Good work doesn’t come cheap.
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