White Collar. Blue Collar. New Collar: The Future of ‘Career’

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

July 2, 2022

The number of ‘new collar’ career options continues to grow as technological innovations upend traditional job descriptions. A four-year college degree is no longer necessary to secure a rewarding job and successful life. Learners looking to find their ‘non-traditional’ path to the occupation of their dreams should consider the emerging offerings in these key industries.

 

What’s A ‘New Collar’ Job?

Just a few years ago, employers relied primarily on education transcripts when searching for new hires. Education level – high school, some college, college graduate, etc. – was used as the key indicator of an applicant’s capacity to do the work, and the four-year degree track was considered the ‘best’ path to a successful career. Those who achieved that goal often went on to attain ‘white collar’ jobs, which were typically based in an office setting and offered higher wages and a more lucrative career path. Learners who didn’t attain the degree were often assigned to ‘blue collar’ jobs, those that typically paid less and involved physical labor or more menial tasks. There were only rare opportunities for blue-collar workers to achieve white-collar levels of success.

That standard is changing, however. These days, a growing percentage of the population doesn’t pursue a ‘traditional’ educational path yet still gains significant skills and abilities by accessing ‘non-traditional’ training resources. Newly dubbed ‘new collar’ jobs don’t require a four-year degree, but they do require more skill than a high school diploma, so some form of education or training is still necessary. Many of these occupations also pay the same wages as those received by four-year degree graduates, which makes them that much more desirable. These opportunities offer many community members not just a rewarding career but also the upward mobility that they might not otherwise have the capacity to achieve.

The demand for these ‘new collar’ workers is growing as these ‘middle skills’ – more than high school and less than university caliber – are becoming more available. In many, if not most, cases, the addition of occupationally related technical knowledge is now the employer’s critical resource need.

New Collar Jobs

Several industries, in particular, are experiencing a high demand for these ‘middle skilled’ workers:

Healthcare

Perhaps not surprisingly, healthcare jobs related to ‘vaccines’ are now in high demand as viruses continue to evolve. The medical clinic, sales department, and community outreach sectors all have openings for vaccine management and administration personnel.

The pandemic also opened many job opportunities for molecular biologists. These lab-based scientists search for clues and solutions to cellular-based healthcare issues.

Technology

Also not surprising is the rise in the scope and number of technology-based occupations. As a stand-alone industry, the technology sector continues to evolve as innovations build on existing platforms to provide more services and capacities.

Cybersecurity specialist‘ is an especially valuable career option. Cybercriminals are everywhere, and many, if not most, consumers have been victimized by evil-doers breaching their digital accounts.

Cloud computing specialists are also in demand. The rise of ‘remote’ work shifted much of the world’s workday to the cloud, and keeping those digital resources safe and functioning correctly requires constant attention.

The global population of data scientists is also growing. These technology wizards use their comprehensive knowledge of databases, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other digital assets to search out ever more granular insights from vast quantities of raw data.

Finance

Technology has disrupted the world of finance as much as it has disrupted every industry. These days, financiers must be competent not just in financial standards and capacities but also in the technologies through which much of the global finance activity now takes place:

Much of the global banking sector now relies on automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to manage many routine but sensitive financial chores. Mastery of both security and compliance standards is also critical to achieving career success.

The demand for advanced analytics is also on the rise in this sector. Gartner’s research indicates that 80% of financial institutions are using advanced analytics to guide investment, mergers, and other critical financial decisions.

The traditional ‘accountant’ career is also becoming more attractive as digital resources provide better management and control of financial assets. Most businesses benefit from the input of an accountant who is familiar with both IRS regulations and state and local tax rules.

There are many more jobs and occupations available in each of these sectors, all of which don’t require an expensive four-year degree and most of which do offer fulfilling work that can sustain a fulfilling lifestyle.

 

Community Colleges Rise to the Challenge

A consequence of the demand for these newly defined job skills is the emergence of ‘non-traditional’ training opportunities, and California’s community colleges are reinventing themselves to provide those very specific educational opportunities. New courses are developing as employers and industry insiders offer direction and insights to college curricula development. Businesses are building internship and apprenticeship opportunities to connect with future employees. The ‘workforce development’ community is collaborating to ensure that education (at most levels) leads to both employment and economic success.

California designed its Strong Workforce Program (SWP) to respond to these specific demands by investing billions of dollars in upgrading the middle-skill training capacities of its community colleges. Launched in 2016, the SWP uses labor market research to guide the development of relevant, occupationally based curricula for its colleges, to ensure that:

      1.  California’s community college students aren’t wasting their resources studying subjects that have little to no chance of sustaining lifelong employment, and
      2. California’s economic resources are invested in building and growing its economy through strategized workforce development initiatives.

As the new post-COVID-19 economy emerges, more ‘new collar’ occupations will materialize. California’s community colleges are well on their way to providing the training needed to both attain and succeed in those careers.

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