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The Rise of New and Blue Collar Jobs

Posted by Flux on 

22 February 2024

What’s trending?

There is an uptick in people pursuing ‘new collar’ and blue collar jobs. New collar workers occupy the middle ground between white and blue collar workers. These are individuals who have acquired the skills to work in technology jobs through non-traditional educational paths like community colleges and technical schools. Many of them are looking to upgrade from blue collar work to earn higher salaries with better working hours. In China, some young people are moving in the opposite direction: rejecting white collar jobs in favour of blue collar ones. This is a part of a larger trend known as taking off “Kong Yiji’s long gown,” which refers to college graduates who are embracing manual labour. They are seeking jobs as baristas, cashiers or tour guides, hoping to find balance in their lives through ‘mindless’ menial tasks. On Xiaohongshu, China’s version of Instagram, the hashtag ‘my first physical-work experience’ had more than 31.7 million views as of 7 November 2023. 

Why is it important?

Young people are coming to realise that academic qualifications no longer guarantee a satisfactory job. “People are taking a good hard look at the rise of the cost of college tuition, the less security offered by white collar jobs. And all of a sudden white collar jobs don’t look as fabulous in comparison,”  said Kristen Lucas, associate professor of business at the University of Louisville in the US. Micro-credentials, which are courses that are shorter and less expensive than university degrees, are gaining in popularity and enabling the rise of new collar workers. We have yet to see whether the popularity of blue collar work will persist and spread from China to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, it is indicative of a segment of society whose members regard themselves as cogs in a machine, unable to see how their work contributes to the product or services of the larger corporation. They seek to go back to basics and make a direct difference to people’s lives. They  also want a more relaxed pace of life and are prepared to sacrifice income to attain this. It should be noted that a large majority of blue collar workers around the world do not have the luxury of choice and are obliged to take on this kind of work. 

What can businesses and policymakers do about it?

Policymakers in countries with high rates of unemployment should invest in and encourage the creation of courses for new collar workers. They should also encourage schools and parents to advise students on this career path and emphasise that a university degree does not guarantee employment. Businesses should develop in-house training and upskilling programmes to help existing employees and job applicants acquire the skills needed for new collar jobs. These programmes can include technical training, digital literacy, and industry-specific certifications. Partner with community colleges, vocational schools, and other educational institutions to design curricula that align with the skills required for new collar jobs. Offer internships and co-op programmes to help students gain practical experience. Focus on hiring candidates based on their skills and competencies rather than their formal education. Rely on skills assessments, portfolio reviews, and practical tests during the hiring process to identify the most qualified candidates. Review and revise job descriptions to ensure they do not inadvertently discourage potential candidates with non-traditional educational backgrounds from applying. Those graduates who opted for blue collar work because they couldn’t find employment in their field of study may feel they have wasted time and money obtaining a college education. In this scenario, encouraging new collar work would potentially allow them to boost their incomes. For employees who feel like cogs in a machine, businesses could address the need for job fulfilment by emphasising how their role fits into the bigger picture of the organisation. Include employees in decision-making processes that directly affect their work or workplace. This involvement can create a sense of influence and engagement. Organise regular team-building activities, social events, and recreational opportunities to foster a sense of camaraderie. Cultivate a positive work culture that values work-life balance, diversity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging. 

By Faeeza Khan

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