By Keith Breene White-collar workers use their heads, blue-collar workers use their hands. Although this simplistic division of the workforce was first used in the 1940s, the notion of manufacturing workers as the ones getting their hands dirty stretches right back to the industrial revolution. Even the Latin origins of the word manufacturing - manu factus - made by hand - refers to the physical nature of the work. And it was the dirt and soot associated with assembly lines and machine rooms that made blue shirts more practical than white. However, while collar color once made sense as a neat division of the workforce, it is a concept now hopelessly out of date. Modern manufacturing no longer thinks in terms of white or blue collar - the workers it needs now are "new-collar".
Ask most people what ‘industrial’ means to them, and it’s likely to be the image of giant ladles pouring hot molten metal into a giant oven. Nothing embodies large scale manufacturing more poignantly than steelmaking in a blast furnace.