In discussions that examine trends in technology and manufacturing regarding the next generation of workers and the evolution of the roles they're hired to fill, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has coined a new term -"new collar jobs." New collar workers are people who develop the technical and soft skills needed to work in increasingly "smarter" industries through nontraditional education paths. Typically they can to adapt quickly and easily to changing roles based on advancements in technology. Ideally, workers in new collar roles are trained in advanced technologies like cybersecurity, data science and artificial intelligence.
The fact that these new collar workers are expected to be flexible as the employment landscape changes isn't the only thing that's unique about them when compared to workers of previous generations. Many new collar workers are the attend vocational schools, or perhaps have some kind of focused associate's degree in terms of higher education. Less emphasis is placed on achieving a bachelor's degree. Instead practical skills are prized above all else, prioritizing vocational training over a traditional four-year degree.
Vocational school is becoming such an important part of American employment that IBM has created P-TECH vocational schools that offer a six-year program combining four years of high school with two years of vocational training.
The flexibility demanded of the workforce by the way AI is changing traditional job roles isn't the only thing that new collar workers bring to the table. Many blue collar roles are likely to fall by the wayside as automation spreads, but new collar workers have the technological education and innate savvy - especially since many are from younger, digital-native generations - to control the high-tech manufacturing equipment that will be outfitted with AI. Where a blue collar assembly job may be replaced by a robot, a new collar job controlling that robot will open up.
It presents a unique challenge in manufacturing especially, since that industry now faces a skill shortage and is on track to have nearly two million vacant manufacturing jobs by 2025. Because so many of these jobs involve highly specialized skills, the best hope manufacturers have is to fill those roles with new collar workers. Ensuring that workers undergo the necessary vocational training to learn precisely how to apply their education to the job as they enter the workforce is crucial to keeping things running smoothly. After all, all the AI in the world won't make a difference to a company's bottom line if there's nobody around to operate it.
Following IBM's P-TECH lead, Ginni Rometty has called for government, industry and education leaders to develop new and innovative ways of building the new collar workforce, who will be poised to become the white collar workforce of the future. It may be a simple matter of combining practical, thorough education with a genuine appeal to younger generations to take up jobs that traditionally haven't been considered especially attractive. Blue collar jobs in manufacturing can be dangerous. New collar jobs are typically safer, both because they're further removed from the "front line" and because advances in technology have made all jobs safer. They are also more intellectually challenging and offer higher pay. Ensuring students understand the benefits of new collar manufacturing roles and giving them the skills they need to enter the workforce fully prepared may be key to keeping the manufacturing wheels turning for the long-term.