There’s blue collar and white collar. And now there’s also “new collar.”
New collar workers are signaling a new era in hiring that doesn’t care for the credential of a college degree. That’s especially beneficial when 66% of the population doesn’t have a college degree anyways.
But what exactly does it mean to be a new collar worker?
What is a new collar worker?
New collar workers are highly skilled employees who land jobs in the top half of the wage scale that do not require a college degree. According to job search site Monster, health care, engineering, technology and software are some of the industries looking to hire new-collar workers.
The term was coined nearly a decade ago by Ginni Rometty, former chief executive of IBM, to describe this new portion of the workforce. However, it’s hit headlines and gained traction in recent weeks as more and more companies toss degrees to the side.
“The traditional definition of blue collar was no degree, skilled labor, but a trade and then white collar had a degree and did office work,” said Don Gannon-Jones, vp of content at interviewing company Karat, who doesn’t have a college degree himself. “This idea with new collar is recognizing that a lot of people are going to college, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, to just get a degree. They almost don’t even care what the degree is … it’s just to get the credential.”
However, there are plenty of industries that aren’t addressed by academia where it makes sense to require a degree.
“If you can find people with the right skills, who cares about the degree?” said Gannon-Jones. “There could be a lot of advantages.”
Steve Boucher, director of strategic advisory and solutions at learning and upskilling platform Degreed, agrees: “Recruiters were saying that they were getting these people applying that had great degrees, but it wasn’t preparing them to do the actual work. It was all theoretical.”
How did it emerge?
When companies require four-year degrees, it automatically shuts out a large group of candidates. That’s why it’s no surprise that more organizations are getting rid of this requirement. While they do that, they’re creating a path for a new group of individuals that are being recently labeled new collar workers.
Gannon-Jones says that unlocking more of the population is one of the biggest advantages of degree-free hiring.
“For anybody who wants to build a workforce that more accurately represents the diversity of their customer base with different backgrounds and experiences, you need everybody,” said Gannon-Jones. “You open up the top of your recruiting pipeline, rather than shutting off 60% of the population that don’t have degrees.”
Josh Millet, founder and CEO of talent success company Criteria, says that with a labor shortage, it’s especially important for employers to consider saying goodbye to degree requirements.
“It’s not just that employers are saying ‘hey, this college degree is not that reliable as a predictor,’ they also can’t afford to only hire people that have college degrees,” said Millet. “They have no choice. In the next decade, it’s going to be a race to hire people. Even people who still believe in college degrees are like ‘hm, I can’t fill my roles.’”
How can employers hire new collar workers?
85% of Americans are considering changing jobs this year, which means it’s time for employers to begin paying attention to the rise of this new category of workers.
When degrees are no longer required, candidates might wonder about the other kinds of qualifications and certifications recruiters look for when hiring someone without a degree. Benchmarks of success start to look different. For some employers, that might mean looking at certifications acquired.
But Millet and Gannon-Jones warn that certifications shouldn’t be leaned on too heavily as it could quickly become the cheaper version of a degree. Instead, they suggest building interview questions that focus on the job and potential scenarios to see how they’d handle it. Millet says that what will matter more than knowing how to use a certain program will be skills like being a quick learner, critical thinker and adaptable to change.
“The practice of requiring degrees as a proxy will fade,” said Millet. “Why use a proxy when you can measure something correctly? Especially when that proxy is so problematic from an access and equity standpoint.
And hiring this way will benefit the employer too. Boucher argues that c-suite leaders can leverage the rise of the new-collar workers as an opportunity to build a skills-first organization.
“For new collar workers, how do we adopt this skills-based or skills-first organization,” said Boucher. “Really, it’s about skill acquisition and growth. Does the candidate have the skills and at what level?”
A part of that requires balancing skill acquisition and growth.
“Think about closing those gaps,” said Boucher. “You’ll know you’ve done that by either increasing the number of people who have that skill or by increasing their proficiency level.”