“No degree? No problem! At IBM, we are looking for apprentices that have a passion for technology, an appetite for learning, and the determination to succeed. This is a full-time earn and learn program for those who don't have a 4-year bachelor's degree in the field but have acquired knowledge in the domain.” — 2022 Online “Help Wanted” ad by IBM for New Collar Workers
What you just read might have been considered an optical illusion or misprint less than ten years ago. It was a given then that to work for IBM, you needed a four-year degree if you wanted any type of skill position with upward mobility.
How times have changed.
- Blue collar vs. white collar
- What are new collar jobs?
- Where are new collar workers coming from?
- List of new collar jobs
- Ditching student loan debt
First, let's take a brief look back at the history of collar color.
If you’re familiar with IBM, the company emerged as a technology pioneer in the 1960s in Endicott, N.Y., a small town in Upstate New York. Endicott is located approximately three hours outside of New York City, and its claim to fame is being the home of the glory years of IBM.
In Endicott, like most towns and villages outside of big cities in the Northeast, there were two types of jobs: blue collar and white collar. Until the emergence of IBM, Endicott was a “blue collar town,” with its largest employer being the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company. Most of the shoe manufacturing company’s employees were immigrants who wore shirts with blue collars while they made shoes or worked on the factory's equipment.
Decades later, IBM came along and brought with it something foreign to that region: white collar jobs. If you worked at IBM, colored dress shirts were forbidden. Only neatly pressed white shirts could be worn, along with the famous IBM pocket protector. No jacket required.
IBM’s Endicott office was a world where engineers and other professionals with four-year college degrees worked in air-conditioned offices housing some of the world’s most massive computers. It was worlds apart from Endicott-Johnson shoes, where only a select few ever got to wear a shirt with a white collar.
This brief history lesson of Endicott probably closely mirrors the area where you grew up: a downtown dotted with brick and glass towers full of white collar workers with college degrees (who could now wear any color collar they wanted), surrounded by small towns where manufacturers housed blue collar workers who may or may not have had a high school diploma.
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It’s probably only fitting that in 2016, former IBM CEO Ginni Rometti coined the term “New Collar Worker.” Rometti recognized that there was an untapped labor pool out there comprised of intelligent individuals who didn’t have a diploma on the wall, but who had the brains, desire, and potential to help take a company to the next level of its development.
Over the next few years, IBM developed an apprenticeship program where the company would select and train individuals who had the desire to enter the world of technology, but didn’t have a degree. The company was betting on a person’s potential, not their diploma.
Fast forward to 2022
While it’s taken time for many companies to latch on to it, the time has arrived for the rise in prominence of the new collar worker. Between the exodus of white collar workers in the past couple of years due to forced layoffs or voluntary retirement, coupled with the Great Resignation and upheaval in the employment market in general, companies need good people — and they need them right now.
Employers don’t have the luxury of time to wait for the people they need today to earn their college degree in two to four years. As a result, companies are actively searching for people who may not have a degree, but who are self-trained in a particular area or who are judged to be fast learners that can be trained and put in a position of responsibility in a condensed period of time.
Some manufacturers are converting blue collar jobs to new collar jobs. Blue collar workers who understand their employer’s business are being trained for new collar positions within the company. They’re getting on-the-job training in software and automation, CAD design, robot maintenance, 3D printer repair, and collecting and analyzing data.
[ Related: The benefits of upskilling & reskilling in 2022, explained ]
While some companies can convert some of their blue collar workers into new collar workers, many can’t. Instead, they’re finding new employees who have developed their technical and soft skills through nontraditional education paths, including:
- Technical schools
- Software boot camps
- Certification programs
- Apprenticeships and internships
- Community college classes
- High school education
Depending on the role and skill requirements, some new collar workers are even self-taught, having invested hours preparing for new jobs involving digital technology in the healthcare, engineering, technology, and software sectors.
Interested in a new collar job for yourself or someone else? Here is a small sampling of what’s available:
Software Developer (median salary: $110,000)
Many technology companies are in dire need of workers to create applications and software programs for desktop and web-based systems. Many new collar workers gravitate toward software development because of the online training and boot camps available to help them build an impressive portfolio and get started in a new career.
Learn More: Disability Insurance for Software Developers
Registered Nurse (median income: $75,000)
Registered nurses (RNs) can now earn this prestigious designation by earning an associate degree in nursing or graduating from an approved nursing program; a bachelor’s degree is no longer required. In addition to solid starting salaries, many hospitals are now paying substantial sign-on bonuses because of the lack of candidates in this field. There are also many well-paying private-duty opportunities available for RNs.
Learn More: Disability Insurance for Nurses
Pharmacy Technician (median salary: $35,000)
This career may not be as lucrative as some others, but it certainly is a long-term career opportunity. In many cases, only a high school diploma is required, and much of the training is provided as you work alongside a pharmacist in a retail pharmacy or hospital.
Computer Technician (median pay: $17 per hour)
Jobs are plentiful for these technicians who provide network, software, and hardware support for private companies, non-profits, and government offices. Depending on the organization, prior experience may or may not be required.
Medical Assistant (median hourly wage starts at $15 to $20 an hour)
An aging population means there’s a great need for medical assistants. It’s a new collar job helping healthcare organizations by evaluating patient samples, submitting prescription refills, performing exams, and helping people stay healthy in various other ways. Entry-level medical assistants need at least a high school diploma or GED, but most have associate degrees.
Many high school graduates are choosing to pursue new collar jobs over enrolling in a four-year university and taking out the massive student loans often required to pursue an undergraduate degree. They’ve seen older siblings and friends land well-paying jobs with outstanding potential without a four-year degree and without being saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in loans that will take decades to pay off.
Employment opportunities and the development of digital skills continue to become increasingly available to people regardless of their educational and socio-economic background. A willingness to learn, a solid work ethic, and a drive to succeed now provide a level playing field. No degree required.
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