Blue Collar Brilliance By Mike Rose (A Summary)

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated December 17th, 2023

My dad worked in a factory in Kenilworth, NJ. He woke up at 4am with his brown-bag lunch drove up the Parkway and ended his day at 2:30pm. He was home in time to see me after school and was in bed by 8pm. 

He worked hard, came home dirty, but made sure we always had a roof over our head and food on the table.

He was the traditional 1970’s dad. 

I never knew what he did growing up, but I did learn later in life he was a manager and in charge of the production work on the factory floor. 

All those years I assumed he was more of a “laborer”, but in fact he was a boss. He managed the workers, hired and fired, did the paperwork and made important decisions on purchasing. 

He never finished high school and was what some would call “just a blue collar worker”. 

But to me he was so much more. 

This is why into my adulthood I never judged anyone by their job. 

My dad was smart. He read. He taught me so much about life, like that education does not equate to intelligence.

That is exactly what “Blue Collar Brilliance” is about. 

The term was coined by Mike Rose, a former professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who passed away in 2021.

In his essay, “Blue-Collar Brilliance,” he argues that the skills and talents of blue-collar workers are often overlooked and undervalued in our society.

His use of pathos to tell his story allows us to really understand how misjudged blue-collar workers often are.

In this article, we will take a closer look at Mike Rose’s essay, examining the definition and importance of blue-collar brilliance, the skills and talents of blue-collar workers, the myth of the white-collar worker, the rhetorical strategies used in the essay, and examples of blue-collar brilliance.

mike rose blue collar brilliance creator
image credit: UCLA

What Does Blue Collar Brilliance Mean?

According to Mike Rose, blue-collar brilliance refers to the skills and intelligence of a group of workers who are often overlooked and undervalued in society. The typical meaning of blue collar workers is those who perform manual labor, such as factory workers, mechanics, and construction workers.

They have developed specialized skills and knowledge through on-the-job training and experience, rather than through formal education.

Mike Rose describes blue-collar brilliance as a combination of physical skill, problem-solving ability, and creativity. Workers in blue-collar jobs frequently encounter challenging problems that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They must be able to diagnose and repair complex machinery, troubleshoot electrical systems, and solve other problems that require a high level of intellect and creativity.

Why Blue-Collar Brilliance Is Important

Mike Rose argues that blue-collar workers are essential to American society and that their skills and contributions are often overlooked. He points out that many blue-collar jobs pay well and offer job security, and that the skills developed in these jobs can be highly transferable to other industries.

Furthermore, he believes that recognizing and valuing blue-collar workers and their contributions can help to reduce the stigma associated with blue-collar work, and can ultimately lead to greater societal equality and respect.

What Makes Blue Collar Workers Brilliant?

Blue-collar workers possess a wide range of skills and talents.

They are typically highly skilled in manual labor, such as welding or construction work, and are often experts in the use of specialized tools and machinery. They also typically possess strong problem-solving skills, as they must frequently diagnose and repair complicated systems. 

Blue-collar workers also tend to have excellent spatial awareness and a well-developed sense of touch, which are critical skills in many manual-labor jobs.

This is why skilled workers have so much potential to work some great blue collar side hustles or create their own businesses.

The Need for Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

To succeed in many blue-collar jobs, workers must possess highly developed critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They must be able to diagnose and solve complex problems quickly and efficiently, often with limited resources or information.

This requires a high level of intelligence, creativity, and adaptability, which are skills that blue-collar workers possess in abundance.

The Role of Pathos in Blue Collar Brilliance

Mike Rose believes that blue-collar workers possess a unique emotional intelligence that is often overlooked. They are keenly attuned to the needs and emotions of others, and often have a deep sense of empathy and compassion.

This emotional intelligence is a critical component of blue-collar brilliance, as it allows workers to communicate effectively and build strong relationships with others.

The Myth of the White-Collar Worker

Comparing White-Collar and Blue-Collar Jobs

Mike Rose argues that there is a common misconception that white-collar jobs are inherently preferable to blue-collar jobs. He points out that both types of jobs have their own unique challenges and rewards, and that blue-collar workers often possess a wider range of skills and talents than their white-collar counterparts.

He also believes that many white-collar jobs are actually far less intellectually stimulating than many blue-collar jobs, which require constant problem-solving and hands-on skills.

The Importance of Formal Education

Mike Rose acknowledges that formal education is important for many types of jobs, but argues that there are many high-paying, fulfilling careers that do not require a college degree. He believes that society must place greater value on the skills and talents developed through on-the-job training and experience, rather than solely valuing formal education and degrees.

The Value of Blue-Collar and Service Jobs

Mike Rose stresses that skilled trade and service jobs are critical to American society, and that they often provide essential services that are overlooked or undervalued. He believes that these jobs are essential to the functioning of American society, and that they deserve greater recognition and appreciation for the hard work and dedication required to perform them.

Theory Of Hidden Intellectualist By Gerald Graff 

Mike Rose employs Gerald Graff’s theory of “hidden intellectualism” to demonstrate the intellectual depth and complexity of blue-collar work. Graff argues that many young people possess high levels of intellectual potential that are not recognized or valued by society, and that this “hidden intellectualism” can be channeled into a wide range of career paths, including blue-collar work.

The Use of Pathos in Blue Collar Brilliance

Mike Rose employs pathos, or emotional appeals, to build a connection with his readers and to demonstrate the emotional depth of blue-collar work. He offers numerous personal anecdotes and stories of blue-collar workers who have been directly impacted by the work they do, emphasizing the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from performing meaningful work.

The Role of Mike Rose’s Personal Experience

Mike Rose draws on his own personal experience to lend credibility and authority to his arguments. He describes his own experiences watching his mother and Uncle Joe work in blue-collar jobs, and emphasizes the importance of understanding and valuing the work that blue-collar workers do.

Examples of Blue Collar Brilliance

General Motors’ Workers

Mike Rose offers the example of workers at General Motors to demonstrate the depth and complexity of blue-collar work. He describes the highly specialized skills and knowledge required to design and build cars, and emphasizes the critical thinking and problem-solving skills required to troubleshoot complex systems. He also points out the pride and fulfillment that many GM workers feel from being a part of a larger organization that produces a high-quality product.

Stories of Waitresses

Mike Rose also highlights the work of waitresses, including his mom Rose Merglio Rose (Rosie) to illustrate the emotional depth and complexity of blue-collar work. He describes the challenges of working in a fast-paced, often demanding environment, while balancing the needs of customers and coworkers. He emphasizes the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills required to succeed in this type of work, and the sense of community and fulfillment that can come from providing excellent service.

rose meraglio rose - the inspiration for blue collar brilliance
image credit: UCLA

The Personal Experience of Mike Rose’s Family

Mike Rose draws on his own personal experience watching his mother and Uncle Joe work in trade jobs to demonstrate the value and importance of blue collar work. He describes their specialized skills and the challenges they faced on the job, and emphasizes the sense of pride and fulfillment they felt from doing meaningful work.


Mike Rose’s essay on Blue Collar Brilliance makes a compelling case for recognizing and valuing the skills and contributions of blue-collar workers. He argues that these workers possess a wide range of skills and talents, and that their work is essential to the functioning of American society.

Furthermore, he believes that recognizing and valuing blue-collar workers can help to reduce stigma and increase societal equality.

By valuing the skills and contributions of blue-collar workers, society can reap a wide range of benefits. Not only can it lead to greater respect and recognition for these workers, but it can also lead to a greater appreciation for the diversity of skills and talents that exist in our society. Furthermore, by recognizing the importance of blue-collar work, we can encourage greater investment in training and education for these workers, ultimately leading to a stronger and more prosperous society.

Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.