Richard Yeagley’s ambitious documentary attempts to chart the decline of the American tradesman, both in terms of the declining number of laborers and in how U.S. society views its blue-collar workforce. The film provides input from academicians on occupational trends, while “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe provides sour insistence that tradesmen are constantly ridiculed as being intellectually inferior to the white-collar workforce. Indeed, the film argues, the expressions “working class” and “middle class” are not considered to be synonymous, even though many tradesmen earn wages that position them comfortably in the middle class economic-level definition.
The film also interviews a number of Baltimore-area construction workers, masons and carpenters who grouse about their work and how they are perceived. Scratchy clips from vintage (and unintentionally funny) educational films offer some clue on where the tradesmen began to lose popular favor, while contemporary statistics offer a harsh view of the current economy’s impact on this sector.
While Yeagley’s research is commendable, many of the interviews that he conducts – with both white-collar and blue-collar experts – traffics in obvious observations, and too many people share near-identical views of the topic. Indeed, at least a half-hour of repetitive talk could have been easily cut from “The Tradesmen,” which would have strengthened its core thesis. Nonetheless, it provides much-need insight on a subject that rarely raises attention among economists and sociologists.