We all pay our dues in one way or another. Even those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths have to start somewhere. True, they may get a better starting point, but they may also lack in climbing ability. In the end, even the last one out of the gates has a decent shot at finishing tops if he runs the course right.

For many of us, climbing our way to the top involves spending some time in a blue-collar career. Blue-collar jobs are different from their white-collar counterparts in that they involve manual labor. As a result, many blue-collar positions may be more rewarding and even better paying than white-collar ones. In fact, in an era where many young professionals find themselves handcuffed to a desk, watching their waistlines expand and their hairlines recede, there is virtue in hanging up the old suit and tie and replacing them with working boots and, well, a blue-collar shirt.

More often than not, however, the traffic flows the other way. For many, the overall benefits of a white-collar job make it a more alluring career than a blue-collar one. What follows is a game plan for those who want to change gears and switch colors.

The other piece of paper

We all value the almighty dollar, but the cost of admission to the white-collar world is that other piece of paper: a diploma. Overrated though it may be, a diploma is still the first step to get out of the blue-collar world. Whether you need to complete a high school degree, a college diploma or a certificate, one major requisite to entering the corporate world is to complete some advanced level of education. Note that this piece of paper is not only a sign that you have a background in one field or another, it also serves as proof that you have the discipline and capacity to learn. This latter quality is one that many employers look for in potential hires.

The power of contacts

If you have spent all of your life working in a factory or a plant, it might be hard to convince an office hiring manager that you can switch from that lifestyle to a corporate one. So it helps if you can locate someone on the inside to refer you. In any job setting, most hires are made as a result of a favorable reference.

If you don’t have any valuable contacts, then it’s time to make some.

Build bridges to that other world…

Expand your network

If you’re employed at a plant, you might only socialize with colleagues from your work. If this is the case, you should look at expanding your circle of friends. For example, you might befriend your spouse’s friend’s husband, or even the parents of your children’s friends. The idea here is to find and establish relationships with people who might be able to refer you in the right direction.

Sports involvement
Another way to meet people who might open doors for you is to get involved in community sports leagues. In this setting, you might be the better athlete or leader, giving you the upper hand in a social context. You’d be surprised to see the number of people who go out of their way to be your friend in this context.

Start low, aim high

It may be hard to land a white-collar position at a corporation, but it might be easier to land a lower level job in that same company. Once you are inside, you can then maneuver as you wish. Many famous bankers started as tellers; many in the entertainment business started in the mailing room. While these positions are certainly not blue-collar, they are at the lower end of the totem pole.

Unleash the entrepreneur inside

It’s not easy (especially when you work full-time), but if the corporate world doesn’t want to let you in, you have to find a way to break down the walls yourself. What better way than to start your own company, even if only on the side? If things pick up, you will find yourself in a white-collar setting sooner than later.

Blue-collar blues

Whatever route you take, you first must ask yourself why it is that you want a white-collar job. While there are some obvious advantages, the fact of the matter is that in a blue-collar setting, when you punch out, you punch out. In a white-collar position, despite the best of intentions and abilities, you usually end up taking your work home with you.

E-mail of the week:

I am a young black professional working in a Fortune 1000 company in a mid-management position. I am 31 years old and have worked here ever since I got out of college. The problem is that I am the oldest black professional here, and while that is good on one front, the truth of the matter is that I do not ever see myself moving higher into a senior position. Is this paranoia? Or should I start looking for another, more minority-friendly organization?

Well… one piece of information that I do not have from you is whether or not you have been passed up for any promotions to senior management. This is pretty important; if you have never been offered any promotions, then that is a bad sign. But it there have never been any advancement opportunities to begin with, then there’s no need to get paranoid — at least not yet.

It would also help to know how many people are in this organization. If there are many younger black employees who are working their up, then you might want to stick around as a mentor to them. If there are no other black employees at all in the rearview mirror, then that could be a bad sign.

Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend that you stay in neutral waiting for others to determine your career path for you. Surely you have annual reviews with a supervising manager. Don’t bring up the “race card,” but do ask what it will take for you to get to senior management. In all fairness, 31 is not young per se, but for a F1000 company, being in a mid-level management position is not a bad place to be.

Good luck, and feel free to send me more information if you wish.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.