New Collar Workers —The New Education / Skill Model

Over the last few centuries the nature of work — and how we prepare ourselves for work — has changed dramatically. While steam engines and mass production may seem quaint when compared to cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the industrial revolution transformed entire continents from largely rural to industrial societies. Practically everything changed: farming, manufacturing, transportation, communications, and banking to name a few.


With this shift came a shift in the workforce. It was no longer a matter of working on the family farm or running a small inn for weary travelers passing through. Blue collar workers operated machinery, worked in factories, framed buildings, and performed other types of manual labor. Meanwhile, white collar workers, who usually had a higher education and college degrees, worked in salaried positions such as administrative and clerical jobs, management, finance, law, academia, research, and so forth.


While we still have blue and white collar workers, today’s workforce isn’t quite so blue and white, because once again, technology is changing practically everything. The way we shop, bank, communicate, travel, read, navigate, entertain ourselves, secure our homes, capture memories, and interact with one another has changed thanks to the Internet and Internet of Things, cloud computing, smartphones, and artificial intelligence.


Some fear these changes, wondering what will happen to Uber and truck drivers once autonomous cars and cars hit the road? What will happen to manufacturing jobs in the age of automation and robotics? What will happen to receptionists and schedulers now it’s so easy to book an appointment online?


Others see opportunity, including IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty who coined the term “new collar worker.” IBM does not always require a college degree, but rather emphasizes relevant skills. These skills are often acquired via vocational training. Rometty explained at the 2017 World Economic Forum that while artificial intelligence will certainly replace some jobs, most people will be working with AI systems. This, of course, requires new skills but it’s not all that different from the previous workforce shifts humankind has experienced.


“We’ve seen it in the past, when people come off of doing farming, they had to learn to read. The industrial area, it was mechanical skills,” Rometty explained. 

What is a New Collar Worker?

A new collar worker can be defined as a person who has taken a non-traditional educational path (ie, community college, software bootcamp, vocational training, certification training, apprenticeship, and even technical education at the high school level) to acquire the technical and soft skills needed to work in technology jobs.


Rometty also said, “If we would change the basis and align what is taught in school with what is needed with business ... that’s where I came up with this idea of ‘new collar.’ Not blue collar or white collar.”


Examples of new collar job skills include:

  • Running software and automation
  • Running robotics
  • Analyzing data
  • Performing cloud computer maintenance
  • Working with CAD files
  • 3D printing
  • Additive manufacturing
  • Running ultrasound machines
  • Programming computers and equipment


The healthcare field, for example, is prime for new collar workers. Medical and dental assistants and pharmacy and ultrasound technicians now need technical skills to complement their existing skillsets.


Technology is creating jobs. In fact, in the United States, the Department of Labor is expecting a shortfall of 2 million skilled workers over the next year.

How Africa Can Take Advantage of the New Collar Education Model in this Age of Advanced Technology

Technology’s impact is felt around the globe, perhaps most dramatically in Africa, which is changing and evolving before our eyes. The traditional higher education path as we know it (high school to college to graduate school) is elusive in Africa. In fact, getting through high school is a feat in some parts of Africa. For example, according to Unesco, in Sub-Saharan Africa, over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. Nearly 50 percent of youths between 15 and 17 are not in school.


Clearly, the education model, along with the factors keeping kids out of school, needs improvement. The new collar education model can certainly play a pivotal role in equipping Africa’s workforce with the skills needed now and in the future.


Vocational training takes many forms and can start in high school, or even earlier. For example:

  • Robotics camps and competitions
  • After school STEM programs
  • CAD drafting classes
  • Computer programming classes
  • Partnerships between technology companies and schools


For those who are out of school, vocational training opportunities include:

  • On-the-job training
  • Apprenticeships
  • Internships
  • Certification training at vocational schools or online
  • Bootcamps
  • Computer training classes
  • Workshops


NumberTrend is committed to helping African employers, IT professionals, and new collar workers succeed with rewarding technology jobs in Africa. As part of that commitment, we offer computer training programs, workshops, and job fairs at high schools, universities, and other locations across the continent. We’re excited about technology and its potential to transform our world for the better. How about you?

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