"New Collar" Jobs Offer Great Opportunities for Students

By Glenn Marshall

Commentary: Businesses and K-12 schools should come together to help students graduate with skills and experience to take on a growing sector of "new collar" jobs

Employers are now looking for a variety of talents, skills and personality traits in job candidates.  These attributes need to be developed at each level of education, whether it is for traditional professional-level jobs or blue-collar jobs.  But even this division is changing.

In the manufacturing community, we are looking for candidates who will become "new collar" employees. These are well-paying jobs with advancement potential that mix both academic credentials and specific skills that can be developed through internships, apprenticeships, two-year colleges/trade schools or recognized through gaining specific certifications.  What this means is that we need to support our educational system by working with them to adapt their programs to meet these new opportunities for their students.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently issued a report on education requirements for jobs in 2020. It noted that “There will be 55 million job openings in the economy through 2020: 24 million openings from newly created jobs and 31 million openings due to baby boom retirements. By educational attainment: 35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30 percent of the job openings will require some college or an associate’s degree and 36 percent of the job openings will not require education beyond high school.”

What is a New-Collar Worker?

A new-collar worker is an individual who develops the technical and soft skills needed to work in technology jobs through nontraditional education paths. Candidates for new-collar jobs are unique in that they do not have a four-year undergraduate degree. Instead, the new-collar worker is trained through community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, technical certification programs, high school technical education and on-the job apprentices and internships.

Over the past five years, the shift from degrees to technical  skills has been gaining momentum. A few large tech companies, including Google, have started to hire more people in tech roles based on their demonstrated competencies and potential to learn on the job.

Stephane Kasriel, the founder and CEO of Upwork suggests that the shift from degrees to skills is here to stay. He argues that, to prepare for the labor market over the next two decades, everyone needs to radically rethink education. In a World Economic Forum blog, he writes:

“Skills, not college pedigree, will be what matters for the future workforce – so while we should make sure college is affordable, we should also make sure higher education is still worth the cost, or revisit it entirely and leverage more progressive approaches to skills training. Skills-focused vocational programs, as well as other ways to climb the skill ladder (such as apprenticeships), should be widely accessible and affordable.”

Community in Education Collaboration 

Schools and businesses have common and often compatible goals to better prepare their students for higher education, careers, and life. The Learning First Alliance (LFA) business partners from leading industries discuss new ways to reach their mutual goals in a report, “Community in Education: Bringing Businesses and Schools Together.” It encourages schools to partner with local businesses, from large, multi-national corporations to small, family-owned storefronts, to give their students more meaningful, real-life educational experiences while in school and college.

Some of the points made in LFA’s report include:

  • Educators and workforce experts alike often warn that our children need improved 21st century skills. They won’t be adequately prepared for college and work without having these four critical areas for development: collaboration and teamwork; creativity and imagination; critical thinking; and problem solving.
  • More than just technological expertise, 21st century skills refer to content knowledge, literacies and proficiencies that prepare individuals to meet the challenges and opportunities of today’s world. Other critical skills are: a work ethic; flexibility and adaptability; global and cultural awareness; information literacy, and leadership.
  • “Business leaders are united in their concerns regarding their future workforce. Business and industry face a looming gap between available positions and workers with the skills to fill those positions. Partnerships between businesses and education are an important factor in building a strong workforce.” —Nancy Fishman, ReadyNation
  • “There are at least two major reasons this collaboration is important. First, public schools are responsible for preparing students for college and careers. Whatever path young people follow, they will become part of the workforce, so preparing them for this inevitable phase of their life requires good communication with employers. The second reason is equally important, I think. Businesses pay a substantial portion of local taxes and are a key stakeholder in the work of public schools. They need to be actively engaged, and listened to, as school leaders develop policies and implement programs.” —Tom Gentzel, National School Boards Association

Businesses have been critical of the work readiness of new graduates while schools believe they are graduating career-ready citizens. These groups must come together to collaborate to discover how, collectively, they can understand what is needed to graduate career- and college-ready citizens. The siloed approach does not help meet the needs of the students, teachers and the employers to succeed in linking education to economic prosperity of individuals and the community.

To address these opportunities and challenges the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) and the San Antonio Manufactures Association (SAMA) is holding a summit May 9-10, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas. The summit is for business, educators and community leaders to learn how to graduate career-ready citizens while retooling the current work force for success in the 4th Industrial Revolution. For more information go to: http://www.ame.org/event/san-antonio-2019-summit.

By Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding (retired), Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team

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