The thought of attending college for two or more years may have you thinking of passing up the chance to use your GI Bill benefits. If a traditional degree program doesn't grab your interest, a vocational or trade school may be an alternative more suited to to you. These kinds of schools are a traditional path into what are known as "blue-collar" occupations. The first step is to learn what these occupations are and how to get hired in them.

Although technology has largely replaced humans in certain occupations, the blue-collar worker will be needed for years to come. The New York City skyline, for example, would not exist if it weren't for the construction workers who risk their lives every day to build the next generation of skyscrapers.

Let's take a look at a breakdown between blue- and white-collar occupational classifications to get a better feel for how they differ:

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Blue-collar occupations

■ Mostly trade jobs consisting of manual labor mostly working outdoors.

■ Education through a vocational or trade school; earning a certification may be required to attain employment.

Examples include construction workers, electricians, law enforcement, commercial divers, welders, boilermakers, maintenance workers, telecommunications, truck drivers.

White-collar occupations

■ Mostly professional occupations consisting of working in an office environment.

■ Education through a traditional two-year or four-year college; earning a degree is required to attain employment.

Examples include receptionists, human resources, doctors, attorneys, contracting, criminal investigators, financial advisers, teachers, information technology, scientists.

If you have these type of characteristics, then a blue-collar job may be right for you:

■ You love working with your hands and building stuff.

■ You can see yourself working mostly outdoors, rather than in an office setting.

■ You enjoy learning but may not have the patience to sit in classrooms for two or more years.

■ You don't mind what can at times be hard manual labor, to include working around physical hazards.

■ You're willing to start at the bottom and work your way up.

A blue-collar job may not require a two- or four-year college degree, but letting your valuable GI Bill benefits go to waste is never a good choice. While vocational and trade schools can be a good way to start looking to train into a blue-collar occupation, many community colleges also have built themselves up with programs for those looking to learn a trade.

As always, before you choose a school, be sure to check out the list of VA-approved schools at

Make no mistake, working at a blue-collar job will have its pros and cons just like any other. But if learning a trade feels right for you, the GI Bill can help cover it and also put you on a path of multiple opportunities. Hard work and dedication can bring a good paycheck in a career you enjoy — in a field that needs veterans with your type of skills.

Stay tuned — in my next column, I'll talk about apprenticeships, and how this could be the perfect way to get your foot in the door in a blue-collar occupation.

Steven Maieli is the founder of, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans' issues at