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What Is A “New-Collar Job”?

White-collar, blue-collar – new-collar?

The rise of the “new-collar job” and what it means for the workplace

The rise of the "new-collar job" and what it means for the workplaceAlthough pop culture may make it seem otherwise, not everyone goes to college right after high school. In fact, only about 34 percent of the U.S. adult population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the number of graduating high school seniors going to college in recent years has been declining as well.

This spells trouble when compared with projections on future workforce needs, which estimate that 35 percent of jobs created in the next three years will require at least a bachelor’s degree, and findings from employer surveys, which indicate that nearly a third of employers have increased their educational requirements for positions that used to require only a high school diploma.

This gap between expected job growth and the rising cost of a four-year college degree (plus the crushing loan debt many recent grads are facing) has contributed to concerns about the shrinking opportunities for middle-class Americans to get high-paying, traditionally white-collar jobs at the same time as the blue-collar job market continues to lag behind in terms of job creation.

But it’s not all bad news: This chasm has also resulted in the creation of an entirely new category in the American labor market: the “new-collar job.”

New-collar job

What is a new-collar job?

New-collar jobs (also called middle-skill or no-collar jobs) are those that prioritize worker skills over education, particularly in industries like technology and health care.

The term “new-collar” became widely popularized in an op-ed piece by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty in USA Today. In the piece, Rometty extolls the value these kinds of workers can offer:

“But even as many seek to revitalize traditional industries, lasting job creation will require an understanding of important new dynamics in the global labor market. This is not about white collar vs. blue collar jobs, but about the “new collar” jobs that employers in many industries demand, but which remain largely unfilled.

…[The] nature of work is evolving – and that is also why so many of these jobs remain hard to fill. As industries from manufacturing to agriculture are reshaped by data science and cloud computing, jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting.

And the surprising thing is that not all these positions require advanced education. Certainly, some do… [but] in many other cases, new collar jobs may not require a traditional college degree…What matters most is that these employees – with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists – have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.”

The new-collar job market is most popular in the tech sector, which has struggled to find workers with the drive and skills needed for many of its unfilled job openings.

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Recruiting for a new-collar job: Skills over education

Many new-collar job openings are in the tech sectorAccording to research from LinkedIn, the most sought-after skills by U.S. employers last year were all in the tech space, and several of those skills didn’t necessarily require formal education.

The most in-demand hard skills, according to U.S. employers:

  • Cloud computing expertise
  • Data mining and statistical analysis
  • Smartphone app development
  • Data storage engineering and management
  • User interface design

The “new-collar” movement provides employers looking to fill hard-to-fill job openings with the opportunity to rethink how they recruit the types of workers they need.

Below are some practical steps for recruiting for skill over education and long-term new-collar job success:

  • Start by re-examining your current workforce recruiting strategy.
    Are there key skills your workforce is missing? Determine what skills are critical for your business to be successful (not just now, but five or 1o years from now), and including those as part of your screening and selection criteria.
  • Re-think where you look for talent.
    If a four-year college degree is less important than the key skills your organization identified in the first step, then it follows that a university career fair may not be the best place for you to recruit for your new-collar job openings. Instead, start branching out to community colleges, vocational and technical schools, or even high schools that offer credentialing or training programs.
  • Don’t throw your new-collar hires to the wolves
    Just because an employee has the skills you’re looking for doesn’t mean they necessarily come with the know-how to navigate a traditional office environment. Consider putting together specific employee onboarding programs or mentorship programs with senior workers to help new-collar hires feel comfortable in and connected with your company.
  • Consider upskilling to retain top new-collar talent
    Particularly when it comes to tech jobs, the skills employers need today are likely to be outdated within just a few years.  Investing in ongoing employee development and training programs ensures today’s new-collar hires have the relevant skills to keep up with changing workplace demands.
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2 responses to “What Is A “New-Collar Job”?”

  1. Search Recruitment Leeds says:

    Very interesting read! I didn’t know much about this prior to giving the article a read, so I thank you for putting in the effort to produce such great content and thanks for sharing,

  2. […] a sustained and healthy new collar jobs market. But as we and others have argued (like here and here), what’s needed now to drive more growth is a cultural shift in the way we think about work, the […]

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