Are Paramedics/EMTs Considered White or Blue Collar?

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Thinking about becoming a paramedic or an EMT and wondering where these professions sit on the “collar hierarchy”. Well, we’ve got you covered with a full explanation of where things are and where they are heading, but we’d discourage anyone from pursuing a profession based on the “status” it brings. It’s always best to choose your profession based on job satisfaction and your own happiness. 

Though there is some debate, Paramedics and EMTs are considered a blue collar profession, because much of the work is with your hands rather than behind a desk.

This isn’t a black or white question and so the answer is not black or white either. In this article, we will talk about the differences between blue and white collar jobs and where emergency medical professionals fit on that spectrum. Here’s what you need to know.

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Also read: Can You Live Off an EMT/Paramedic Salary?

How Are Workers Classified By The Color Of A Collar And Why? 

Firstly, it’s important to be clear about this. The classification of workers by their collar type is an arbitrary system with no official management.

The idea of collar coding seems to have come about during the 1930s when an author, Upton Sinclair, used the term “white-collar” for the first time. 

The term “blue-collar” had already come into existence in 1924 when it was printed in an Iowa newspaper, but a term by itself is not a classification system, once it had company – the system set in. 

Since then, the scale has grown considerably and there are two well-known collar color codes, two others in general use, and maybe 11 more that have been used at some point in time or another. 

Blue Collar vs. White Collar

Blue collar vs White collar

The two collar color codes that nearly everyone has heard of are “white-collar” and “blue-collar”:

A white-collar worker is someone who is designated as a “salaried professional” and whose duties typically reflect office or managerial work.

In the earlies parts of human history – these kinds of workers would have been a real rarity. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that “white collar” workers have made up a sizeable part of the workforce.

The idea of a “white collar” is the white shirts that were typically worn by most office workers in the 1930s. 

A blue-collar worker, on the other hand, is someone considered to be a member of the “working class” whose duties are generally rewarded by either an hourly rate or piece work rather than a salary and which tend to emphasize manual work.

The “blue-collar” is a reflection of the hard-wearing (often denim) fabrics of manual workers in the 1920s and the blue boiler suits some professions wore to carry out such work – this is mainly because blue is better at concealing dirt and/or grease than white is. 

It is worth noting that neither of these collar codes makes that much sense in a modern context. Many people with salaries do manual work, now. Many traditional white-collar workers have some manual aspects to their work (a restaurant manager in the 1930s would have done little except order staff around, a restaurant manager in 2020 will almost certainly be rather more “hands-on”). 

There was also, once, a separation in education between these two collar classifications.

With white-collar workers tending to have university-style education, and blue-collar workers attending more specific technical or trade schools or, alternatively, take an apprenticeship into their trade. This boundary too has become substantively blurred over time. 

For example, a school janitor would typically be considered a “blue-collar” role, but many school janitors are graduates now.

Here is another look at Blue collar and White collar:

The Difference Between Blue Collar Jobs and White Collar Jobs

There are two other collar classifications in common use:

  • Pink collar – a member of the service sector such as a waiter or a retail clerk. This term was only coined in the 1990s.
  • Gold collar – problem solvers/highly-technical-skilled workers thus “knowledge workers” but with a strong element of manual and thus, “blue-collar” work. They tend to exist in research, engineering, and tech roles such as Artificial Intelligence.

Then there are many more in uncommon use:

  • red-collar (government worker)
  • purple-collar (skilled worker)
  • new-collar (contemporary technology worker)
  • no-collar (artists), orange collar (prison labor)
  • green-collar (environment workers)
  • scarlet-collar (adult industry work)
  • brown-collar (military work)
  • steel-collar (robots that displace blue-collar workers)
  • black-collar (illegal work such as smuggling but also manual labor in “dirty” industries such as oil or coal)
  • grey-collar (a catch-all term for those who don’t fit in any other category) 

So, Are Paramedics And EMTs Considered White Collar?

EMTs and Paramedics

Well, it’s certainly possible for a paramedic or an EMT to draw a salary.

However, as we’ve already seen that part of the “white-collar” classification has been slowly eroding. The last hundred years or so has seen major changes in the way that individuals are compensated and rewarded for their time. 

Also, it’s fair to say that many EMTs and quite a few paramedics are on hourly rate contracts and they are paid overtime when compared to their salaried equivalents. Thus, there are many paramedics and EMTs that fulfill this part of the “blue-collar” description.

When it comes to education, however, it’s fair to say that while there is nothing stopping an EMT or a paramedic from obtaining a degree (and, indeed, many will do so over the course of their lives) the education process for these roles does tend to be mainly “polytechnic practical”, at least in most states.

This is a good thing. Classroom learning is very valuable in certain jobs but when it comes to saving lives and treating patients – nothing beats hands-on experience.

Imagine if you were in a hospital and you were about to undergo an operation, would you want a surgeon who had performed the same operation a hundred times or one who had just read about it in a book? 

It’s fairly obvious that almost everyone would opt for an experienced surgeon and the same is true for EMTs and paramedics – when someone entrusts you with their safety, they want to know that you have the practical experience to carry it out. That doesn’t mean that there is no theoretical component to EMT and paramedic learning, mind you – it just means that the practical dominates. 

Finally, there is no getting away from the fact that paramedics and EMTs do a lot of heavy lifting. They will need to carry medical gear to and from an ambulance, they may need to carry patients to and from an ambulance too and they will apply CPR and other techniques which are all forms of manual labor.

This means that EMTs and paramedics under the “collar color code” system would tend to fall into “blue-collar” work.

It’s worth noting though that this is not a static definition. The future is approaching at a rapid pace and more and more work will eventually be automated.

This may mean that EMTs and paramedics become less hands-on and, in particular, paramedics become less hands-on and more skilled robot and machine operators. If or when this happens, the transition from blue-collar to a white-collar worker is very likely, indeed. 

Conclusion

Are paramedics/EMTs considered white collar? Not at the moment, no. These jobs very much involve manual labor and a lot of hard practical work. That’s not to say that there’s no theory involved, it just means that you’re going to find that the balance tips in favor of manual work. There’s certainly no shame in this – it’s what makes paramedics and EMTs so valuable in the work that they do. 

However, in the longer term, we can see a point in the near future when the more qualified end of the profession (paramedics) may transcend into a more white-collar role where their medical knowledge becomes more important than the manual labor side of things, which we’d increasingly expect to see automated where possible. 

Finally, we’d like to stress one more time – these classifications are not important in real life, don’t let them put you off what you really want to do.

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