The paradox of blue and white-collar jobs

Today I narrate the life-journey of two citizens; a construction worker and a banker. On the one hand is a blue-collar worker in a field that is otherwise reserved for those who seem unambitious in life.

On the other one is an educated, neatly dressed white-collar professional who spends most of his time in some air conditioned office in a banking hall in the same city as the former guy. Please excuse my gender selection of two males; it makes the writing and reading easier.

“How did that guy overtake me? How did a guy that never stepped in a high school or, if he did, scored the lowest grade manage to own a house while I am still struggling to pay rent or clear a mortgaged one? How did he manage to set up a successful business for his wife, or own acres of real estate, or fleets of vehicles before me?”

Well, this is the question that lingers in the minds of most people when they turn 55; a sad reality in life. They know very well that they studied hard, worked hard and lived a generally organised life.

What they really can’t figure out is how that rugged looking, unschooled fellow managed to build an economy 100 times better than theirs.

Before going any further, I want to make a disclaimer that this story is not meant to demean any career or encourage school dropouts. Its sole aim is to educate us on good and bad choices and perceptions in life and how they influence who we become.

It is meant to teach us to value each one in society and respect what they do, everyone is fighting a battle, respect them for the milestone covered.

Believe me or not, often times than not, those citizens from whom not much is expected are the ones who pull a couple of surprise moves in life. So, let us now hear the story of the Construction Worker versus The Banker.

Construction work and many other casual labour jobs are openly despised by many owing to the fact that they seen as a preserve for the non-skilled, academically weak and unintelligent people.

You only need to be physically able and probably have some strong muscles to venture into this work which means one can get started immediately they acquire a national identity card or soon they clear high-school studies.

On the other hand, a career in banking is coveted by many. In order to become a banking clerk, one needs a Bachelors Degree from a university or at least advanced training in accounts, which obviously mean spending at least 3 years in post- high-school education.

According to market rates in Kigali, on a bad day, a construction worker - umu aide takes home Frw3,000. If he has some masonry skills, he takes home Frw5,000 and those with tilling or painting skills can take home as much as Frw8,000.

On the other hand, a spot check on banking clerks salaries in Kigali shows that most banks offer a basic monthly salary of Frw300,000 –400,000 to their employees.

Remember that by the time the banker accumulated enough academic papers and degrees and the time tarmacking looking for a job, the construction worker already started work and has 3-5 years of experience, he has known what the contractor wants, how he makes his money and decisions, and he is now envisioning to become a fully-fledged contractor in the future.

He aspires to raise and be the big boss soon. He has by default been “hardened” by rubbing shoulders with the strict supervisors who wont stomach poor workmanship and make them redo work each day, bossy clients who are hesitant to pay their wages on Friday evenings, rude engineers and city council inspectors who occasionally threated to close the project in case of technical errors.

At the start of his life in the city, the construction worker, owing to his perceived “low class” standards is comfortable renting out a house in some informal settlement preferably near the construction site.

‘Near’ to him means he can comfortably walk up to 8km, which keeps him physically fit, a good quality for his job. His house rent where applicable is around Frw15,000-30,000 per month.

The ‘smart’ construction worker will also get a job as a night watchman in a neighbouring estate and earn a good income too. Never mind if he is just paid to go and sleep in someone’s nice compound, Kigali is safe. Thanks to the nature of his job, he does not need to worry so much about his job.

On hard days like concreting, the client will offer him some food and on other days he will have a corn of boiled maize, or a boiled egg and roast peanut and a litre of tap water from the site will be a perfect dessert. No eyebrows to be raised, the guy has Mutuelle health insurance to take care of resulting health hiccups, that by the way hardly happen to these guys.

The graduate banker, on the other hand, due to his perceived “high class” status in society, at the start of his job, he will rent a 2 or three bedroom bungalow, mostly on own compound in a decent area in the city. Smaller houses are not yet easily available in Kigali.

Chances are he will have our other guy here to guard him in the night and pay him some Frw30,000 a month. House rent will cost him Frw150,000-250,000 a month. Don’t beep at his salary above as yet. Unlike the construction worker who used bus number 11 (walking) to work, the banker has to pay for a bus fare to and from work every morning, a motorbike ride occasionally will be inevitable when he is running late to work.

On most end month Friday nights, he will need a late night taxi to ferry him home after a night out bashing with his fellow educated friends. He won’t be stable enough to ride on the motorbike that rescues him on other days.

Part TWO of this narration will focus on how these two guys continue to manage their lives. How their wisdom or lack of it model their lifestyle and the outcome of both at fifty-five years of age. Watch the space…

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Rwanda, and an architect and urban designer with keen interest on the dialectical relations between Architecture and Society.