Is a “new-collar” worker right for your next job opening?

Are you familiar with the term “new-collar worker?” If not, think about a potential job opening you might have in the future.

Let’s say you have a candidate who has the exact skill set and relevant experience you’re seeking for the role but no college degree. You have another candidate with a college degree but no direct experience related to the position.

Who would you hire? Should the absence of a college degree be a deal-breaker, even if you felt the first candidate was a better fit?

It will depend largely on the position and what’s needed for success, but many employers are now saying they value skill over education for certain jobs. It’s a return to an ideology that existed before college degrees became so common.

This is due to the fact that, while a college degree might signal that a candidate has proven critical thinking skills and a good work ethic, the degree itself isn’t necessarily an indicator of success in the workplace.

As this trend becomes more widely embraced, a new type of job candidate is emerging. Dubbed “new-collar workers,” they’re blazing a trail beyond traditional blue-collar and white-collar career paths.

Want to start considering new-collar workers for available positions in your business? Not sure what you should be looking for?

Here are five questions to help you evaluate whether a new-collar worker might be the right fit for your job opening.

1. Does it make sense for the position?

Many professional positions require college degrees for good reason. From doctors to commercial pilots, there are many occupations where lives are on the line and a strong educational background is critical.

However, in a tight market, hiring individuals with college degrees for every professional position isn’t always possible. Across the spectrum – from IT and health care to engineering and beyond – many employers are now looking to new-collar workers to fill their skills gaps when appropriate.

But how do you decide which jobs make sense for a new-collar worker?

Start by asking how, if at all, a degree in a specific subject would benefit a person in that role. Review the job description and consider the specific duties outlined. Could they be performed by someone with the right training? Or will lacking a degree impact their ability to perform these duties?

If you determine that the role could be fulfilled by a new-collar candidate, be sure to market the position accordingly, and remove any references related to education from the job description. For instance, you wouldn’t want to include traditional, education-focused wording, such as “Associate’s degree required. Bachelor’s degree preferred.”

A better new-collar job description might say: “We’re looking for skilled coders. Do you have the right skill set? If so, we want you. Show us what you’re made of. Please apply.”

If you’re willing to consider them for the position, let new-collar workers know that you’re open to non-degreed applicants.

2. Do they have the right attitude?

New-collar workers are a special breed.

While they might have the right skill sets, they may often be denied work opportunities due to their lack of formal education. As a result, you might find that many new-collar workers possess a higher level of grit, determination and loyalty than traditional candidates – all attributes that could make them ideal hires.

When you interview new-collar candidates, look for indications that they possess these key attributes. Ask behavioral-based interview questions that get them to open up about how they’ve handled situations in the past.

For instance, if you were interviewing a software developer, you could say, “Tell me about a project you worked on in the past. What were you trying to create? What was your time constraint? Did you meet your deadline? Did you do this under budget?”

When you speak to a candidate in that manner, you can make a better determination of whether they possess the characteristics you’re seeking.

3. Do they exhibit passion for their skill?

Another big benefit of hiring new-collar workers is that they’re typically very passionate about their chosen skill set. Honing in on one particular skill set in their career, they tend to have laser focus on what they do for a living because they see a future for themselves in their chosen line of work.

For example, an ultrasound technician might express how much she loves her line of work because she can see the difference she’s making in the lives of expectant mothers. Devoted to her work, she’s likely to remain committed to continuously learning about the developing technology involved in this field.

Look for new-collar candidates who demonstrate passion for their skill. These will be your best hires.

4. Will they be able to grow with your company?

As a business owner, you’re living in an ever-changing market. To be successful, your company has to be ready to quickly pivot when the market demands it. And you need agile employees who are also capable of changing gears and adapting quickly when necessary.

That’s why, when you’re hiring new-collar workers, you should fight the initial urge to make a job offer to candidates simply because they have experience with a specific technology you use in your company.

First, take time to consider whether your candidate has the skills to be able to grow within the position.

For example, if you get a new programming tool in five years, will the candidate be able to learn the new program as well? Do they have the learning mindset needed to fulfill the future needs of your organization?

By posing questions that identify the candidate’s attitude toward continued learning, you can better gauge their ability to respond to the changing needs of your company.

5. Are you willing to train?

The more we move into the future, the less education will likely be demanded. That’s because, as technology advances, many jobs will require on-the-job training by employers. Think of it as a shift in emphasis from theoretical to practical application.

And it’s already happening. In fact, 46 percent of employers have hired a lower-skilled worker and trained them for a higher-skilled job within the last two years, according to a CareerBuilder study.

If your company is experiencing a skills gap, it might be an opportunity to look for new-collar workers who you could train. These could be individuals who already have some of the skills you need, or those with a low skill level who could be educated on how to do the job.

Consider how your company could prepare these individuals to be successful. Is there a crash course you could provide upon hire? Could they job-shadow coworkers with the necessary expertise before striking out on their own?

Make sure you have a plan in place before bringing new-collar workers on board who require more instruction.

Close your skills gap with new-collar workers

Whether you’re hiring a self-taught web developer or a vocationally trained technician, there are a number of skilled workers in the job market who might be the right fit for your open position.

With these key questions in tow, you should be in good shape to assess whether a new-collar worker is a good choice for your next hire.

Seeking more HR expertise like this? Download our free e-book now: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.


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2 responses to “Is a “new-collar” worker right for your next job opening?

Linda Scott Cummings

It’s time we returned to the ideals of the time before college education became so prevalent. I find that this statement (from above) is not true: “a college degree might signal that a candidate has proven critical thinking skills and a good work ethic”. I think that more “new-collar” workers have the potential to show a good work ethic. Critical thinking is no longer being taught. I’ve talked with educators at all levels. University professors lament that by the time they get the students they are past the age where critical thinking can be taught. Of course, a few arrive with the ability to think critically, and they ae mentored by their professors and usually exit the system believing the only job for them is academia. It’s very much time to hire “new-collar” workers, train them, and give them a path to success. I’ve always been a fan of apprentice programs. Not everyone thrives in a classroom. Other skills are very valuable – and we should value them. I have a few jobs that are right for “new-collar” workers. Some positions require extensive training and others can be trained in a matter of months. For example, a master’s degree with a thesis in an area of specialization often does not indicate competence. Instead, it indicates familiarity with the topic, accompanied by the assumption that they employer will train that candidate in the essentials of the work. It also comes with the assumption that the candidate deserves a higher salary because of the education. That is not practical for many positions. I definitely prefer someone with the essential working skills – often education can be obtained by many people on-the-job (that’s the reverse of our current paradigm). Of course, that presumes a good, basic education level upon which to build, including the ability to communicate both verbally and in writing.

Insperity Blog

Hi Linda, Thank you for sharing your insights on education and “new-collar” workers. Your comments are well explained and will help other readers understand your perspective on these subjects.

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