New collar jobs are trending.
Coined by IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty in 2016, the term “new collar” plays off the distinction between “white collar” and “blue collar” work. Rometty established the term for tech workers who earn their skills and knowledge through non-traditional education and training. Instead of a college degree, new collar workers may have picked up their knowledge through “community colleges, technical schools, software boot camps, certification programs, high school education, apprenticeships and internships [or] … may even be self-taught.”
While, at first glance, new collar work may seem specific to the tech niche, our use of technology and automation surged during the pandemic. Already ubiquitous, tech expanded its reach rapidly as we moved our work, social, and economic lives online. As a result, new collar opportunities are exploding in virtually every sector.
Manufacturing and healthcare, for example, both have ample opportunities for new collar workers. As pointed out in a piece at Forbes.com, in manufacturing, tech skills are needed to run automation and software, manage robotics, analyze data, and perform additive manufacturing and 3D printing. And, in healthcare, new collar workers include:
- Ultrasound technicians;
- Pharmacy technicians;
- Medical and dental assistants;
- Mechanics and programmers; and
- Service delivery analysts.
Although these (and many other) tech-based tasks can be performed without a college degree, many companies still create job postings that list traditional job requirements. And, since most postings garner a deluge of applications, large-scale employers often have automated applicant tracking systems that are programmed to weed out resumes based on keywords and/or gaps in employment. This method of managing job applications works against new collar candidates, “hiding” those who don’t have degrees from well-known schools or who are missing the required amount of experience.
Employers are facing a tremendous crunch in the current tight labor market. In order to fill open positions, they are being encouraged to re-envision their recruiting strategies and become more open to new collar workers. But, not every employer is embracing this change; and those who are may need some time to transition. In the meantime, if you’re a new collar worker seeking a new position, be prepared to adjust your job search strategies.
The Emergence Of New Collar Work
Companies in the United States have traditionally struggled to fill positions in the tech field. That situation worsened during the past few years. Increasingly isolationist policies by the federal government have restricted immigration, which has resulted in a decrease in the number of qualified immigrant workers. As well, the surge in online activities and the increasing automation during the pandemic accelerated job growth in the tech sector.
Unemployment in the tech sector is now at near-record lows. A news release from CompTIA, the non-profit association for the tech industry and workforce, reports that, for the month of March, 2022:
- The unemployment rate for those within the tech industry was at 1.3% (compared to the national rate of 3.6%);
- 19,000 new jobs were added in the American tech sector;
- There were more than 115,000 open job postings for software developers and engineers across the country; and
- There were more than 412,000 open job postings in total across core tech occupations.
In order to deal with this shortage of qualified applicants, some companies are becoming more open to the idea of hiring new collar employees.
The Appeal of New Collar Work
In their scramble to attract applicants and fill open positions, many companies have added or enhanced job perks. Compensation packages are being continually reassessed and adjusted. As well, the LA Times reports that, “Good and experienced tech workers are being treated like celebrities – hounded by recruiters, courted by managers, and bestowed a bevy of options … [including] flexible hours, sign-on bonuses and permanent remote work.”
In addition to ample opportunities, better pay, and flexible work arrangements, the acceleration of tech adoption in virtually every aspect of our lives means that new types of jobs are opening up within the tech field. For example, a piece in Forbes by Velia Carboni points out that, “roles spanning vendor relationship management, content management, copywriting, product management and user experience design” may be solidly within the tech domain. People who may have never considered working in tech before may already have the transferable skills needed to make the shift.
And, if the job requires an existing skill set, like coding, it’s possible to learn those skills without pursuing a time-consuming and expensive college degree program. Investigate:
- Certifications that can be earned without any background knowledge, related education, or hands-on experience;
- Attending a bootcamp;
- Building a project to finesse and demonstrate your skills;
- Inhouse opportunities for learning on the job, like the Equity Accelerator program at Okta;
- Internships (yes, they exist outside of post-secondary programs!).
New Collar Jobs To Consider
The beauty of new collar jobs is that they’re available to virtually anyone who has the drive to learn the required skills. Whether you’re completely new to the workforce or you’re seeking change and new opportunities, new collar work is worth looking into.
Keep in mind that job qualifications aren’t standardized and different companies may have different requirements for essentially the same role. Some employers may insist on a college degree before they’ll consider interviewing you while others may be content (or even prefer) that you demonstrate your suitability via games, coding challenges, questionnaires, or case interviews. You may need to do some research to find an employer who is hiring for a role you are interested in and who is open to new collar employees.
Coursera has a couple of terrific blog pieces that detail the qualifications for a number of different tech-based roles, with a focus on cyber security. They summarize each role and discuss the possibilities within each for new collar applications. A sampling of their suggestions is below.
Help Desk Technician
There is nothing more entry level in the IT field than a help desk role. Also known as a help desk analyst, desktop support technician, or service desk technician, the experience you earn in this role can serve as a launch pad into several different (and potentially more lucrative) jobs in the tech industry including system or network administrator, cloud engineer, or cyber security specialist.
While database administrators traditionally required a bachelor’s degree, it’s possible to find work in the field with demonstrable knowledge of database languages, most commonly SQL. While certifications are available to earn, it’s possible to pick up SQL on your own through free online classes, books, and practice.
Cyber Security Specialist
There are actually a number of entry-level roles within the cyber security field which could be suitable for new collar workers. As explained in a piece at Coursera, the positions of information security analyst, information security specialist, digital forensic examiner, and IT auditor often only require certifications to demonstrate your skill level and some prior entry-level experience in the IT field (such as a help desk technician or web developer).
Cyber security professionals are in extremely high demand. According to the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)² there were 3.1 million unfilled cyber security positions worldwide in 2021. In order to fill those positions, employers will be keen to hire anyone with the necessary skills.
Whether you’ve never worked in tech before or you’re currently in an entry-level position, the sector is ripe with opportunities for you to explore and advance within. With some self-directed learning, hands-on work creating projects, and the appropriate certifications, you could be on the threshold of a new, exciting career.