How these U.S. workers are switching blue collars for white without earning a degree
Growing unmet needs for workers have led some American businesses to lighten education demands as they seek employees
The American workplace may be witnessing a new “fashion” trend among U.S. laborers.
As The Wall Street Journal puts it: “As the labor market reorders, more Americans are making the leap from blue-collar jobs and hourly work to ‘new collar’ roles that often involve tech skills and come with better pay and schedules.”
Amid work disruptions from the pandemic, the so-called Great Resignation and a major shift in employment needs, workers who were previously shut out of some jobs because of their educational attainment or skills are trading up to jobs that pay better and used to require a college degree.
The Journal cites a survey by the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman that finds more than 1 in 10 Americans who had low-paying jobs in warehouses, the service sector and manufacturing jumped to jobs with more opportunity and better pay in the past two years. Those workers found jobs in software and information technology, healthcare, finances and elsewhere.
Nationwide, as companies found it harder to find workers to fill their needs, many have reportedly dropped some of the qualifications that used to be mandatory to even get an interview, like having a college degree or having some related work experience. Lots more companies are willing to provide on-the-job training. And some are even becoming more flexible about work schedules.
Even a year ago, many companies were dropping the requirement that hirees have a college degree, NPR reported. “The tech industry is filled with people who have the same type of education and advantages. As the sector expands, economists say this reinforces inequality. Ovia Health is among a number of companies identifying entry-level jobs like the one Knowles has and dropping the degree requirement. The objective is to diversify their staffs and gain a market advantage.”
Instead, some companies are asking applicants to show what they know and what they can do, rather than providing proof of formal education — a form of “competency-based” or “project-based” hiring.
Google, Apple, IBM and other tech companies don’t require a college degree. Elon Musk recently said Tesla doesn’t. The list is growing.
Tracy Burns, CEO of the Northeast Human Resources Association, told NPR she’s been encouraging companies to drop a college requirement for jobs that don’t really need a degree. “It might not be all job descriptions, but (there’s) definitely a trend to really evaluate the true necessity of a four-year degree,” she said.
That doesn’t mean college isn't a good idea, experts add. In a survey last year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 87% of U.S. employers deemed college a good investment. But as the Morning Brew reported, it’s too expensive for a lot of Americans. Student loan debt exceeded $1.75 trillion last year, based on Federal Reserve data. And college enrollment shrunk 6.6% between 2019 and 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Companies aren’t the only ones helping workers who don’t choose a college path to get in the door to decent-paying jobs. The Deseret News has reported on the issue — and some of the challenges and solutions. One article noted that “even as experts call the path straight from high school to college a good one, they are also increasingly lauding apprenticeships and other training programs that teach young people the skills they need for well-paying jobs — electrician, carpenter or auto mechanic, among scores of other occupations the country also needs — that don’t require a four-year college degree.”
The pandemic, economic pressures and burgeoning needs of U.S. companies have expanded that list.
Many employers are also more willing to provide some flexible scheduling — something helped by the fact that remote work demonstrated workers could be flexible and still get jobs done during the pandemic.
“The workers who made the ‘new collar’ switch skews about 67% male and 77% between ages 25 and 44, according to the Oliver Wyman poll,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Sixty-seven percent live in cities and 70% describe themselves as optimistic about their career prospects.”