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The pay-off: rise of the fluoro leaves white-collar workers feeling blue

Meet our new elite worker – the fluoro-collar – who has for the first time helped Australia’s blue-collar workers to beat their white-collar counterparts in bringing home the bacon.

In research out today that highlights fundamental economic changes under way, workers such as Trevor Harrison, 24, a tree-lopper and landscape gardener, have emerged as the 21st century’s powerhouse employees. For the first time, those with traditionally lower-paid physical jobs are earning on average $144 a week more than the professional staff and clerks, with manual workers dominating six of the nation’s top 10 highest-paid industries.

Debunking long-held notions that success in life comes only with a university degree, the report reveals a disturbing earnings gap between the top three male-heavy jobs such as mining, working for a utility and financial services (still mainly white-collar), and the bottom three female-dominated industries: the arts, hospitality and retail.

The inaugural Suncorp Bank wages report shows that while mine workers in Western Australia on average earn about $159,000 a year, and enjoyed one of the biggest jumps in pay across all job categories in the past 15 years thanks to the resources boom, Canberrans are still at the top of the earnings pile when compared with workers in other states and territories.

That would change, the report predicts, with big-earning fluoro-collar workers connected to the mining industry pushing either Western Australia or the Northern Territory to the top of the average weekly wage scale. NSW had the lowest wages growth in the nation.

Jobs that are described as “low-glamour” that provide households with power, water and waste removal services are enjoying unparalleled wages growth due to new technologies and competition, while those working in the media and telecommunications industries have seen wages similarly jump due to the digitalisation of the global economy.

While other flouro-collars connected to the construction industry are also experiencing good pay rises, so are scientists, whose average wage in 1996 was below that of a white-collared administration role.

Some heavily-unionised industries such as transport and warehousing have seen significant slumps, with weekly wages struggling to increase 50 per cent over the past 15 years.

The rise of convenience shopping, online trading and franchising have hit retail wages badly, while hospitality remains “the biggest loser” in the wages war, the report says.

As for Mr Harrison, he left Bundaberg seven months ago after two female friends headed to Port Hedland to cash in on the mining boom.

“I thought to myself, if two girls can have a go, so can I,” he said during a break in a training program he was doing in Perth yesterday.

 He got a job almost immediately as a fly-in-fly-out tree-lopper working for a contractor tending Rio Tinto’s 1200 houses at remote Mt Tom Price in the Pilbara, 1560km north of Perth.

For the past six months he has worked two weeks on, one off on a $72,000 package, but next month he moves to a four-week on, one-week off roster that will earn him about $120,000, plus bonuses.

He says it is a perfect lifestyle for a single man, and is keen to “upskill” so he can “grab any further opportunities that may come my way”.

Training Course Experts managing director Mark Partridge said Mr Harrison was typical of so many workers who were knocking on his door to get certificates that showed potential employers they were serious.

“You can sit in an internet cafe and send off your CV to 20 places and hear nothing, or you can do something off your own bat that will show companies that you’re keen to learn and earn,” Mr Partridge said.

“And the people I’m seeing are from all ages and backgrounds, not only from all over Australia but from all over the world, who have decided to come here and have a go and see where it all ends up.

“It’s a pretty exciting time, to be honest.”

Reinvent Your Career would like to thank The Australian where this article first appeared.

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