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New-collar jobs explained: Everything you need to know

Individuals are reshaping their preparation for roles, moving beyond the four-year college degree. New-collar jobs prioritize skills, unlocking opportunities for overlooked talent.

Companies are looking to a diverse talent pool to find workers without college degrees and implementing a skills-first hiring approach to hiring. These workers are known as new-collar employees.

The rising cost of college and student loan balances has students questioning if a traditional college education is a good return on investment. Instead, people are turning to shorter technical programs, certifications and hands-on learning. Due to rising costs, college enrollment has declined by 21% year-over-year, according to Education Data Initiative. The Education Data Initiative states more than 43.6 million borrowers have student loan debt, with the average federal student loan debt around $37,718.

Technology changes quickly. Currently, artificial intelligence is changing the technical landscape, and employers need skilled employees. Fifty-four percent of global tech companies reported a skill shortage in 2023, according to Statista. Many employers are dropping the degree requirements for hiring and looking at other training and experience. Employers are also looking for soft skills such as a strong work ethic, a willingness to learn and a success-driven individual willing to get the right training.

With this shift in education, the term new-collar employee has emerged.

What is a new-collar job?

New-collar jobs are newer jobs that require a specialized skill set. These jobs do not require a degree and are based on skills instead of relying on college degrees. With new-collar professions, employees develop their skills without traditional four-year college degrees and take educational paths such as community college, certification programs or internships. Depending on the role, these employees might be self-taught.

Individuals with the necessary soft skills or drive to learn through practical experience or occupational training are considered new-collar employees. Many industries are changing with data science, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, and four-year degrees might not be able to keep up with the shifts in technology.

Most new-collar jobs involve digital technology and fall into four categories -- healthcare, engineering, technology and software.

New-collar vs. white-collar vs. blue-collar jobs

The division between white-collar and blue-collar workers started during the industrial revolution of the early 1900s. White-collar employees who worked in administrative and professional capacities wore white shirts. In contrast, blue-collar workers who performed manual labor in industries such as manufacturing and construction wore blue uniforms. There are fewer distinctions between these job categories in today's world due to changes in the economy and developing sectors. The traditional line separating white-collar and blue-collar jobs has loosened in the modern workforce, reflecting the changing character of the labor market.

New-collar jobs can be a blend of both white and blue collar. New-collar jobs are all about the hands-on training to be hired -- the skills versus the education. Software developers are typically considered white-collar workers, but it might be a new-collar job if the employee does not have a four-year degree and pursues an online boot camp training program. This employee might have been a blue-collar worker choosing to get this training.

Why companies are offering new-collar positions

With the shortage of labor, companies are turning to skill-based hiring for a larger talent pool. The exodus of white-collar workers in the past few years involved forced layoffs, retirement and the Great Resignation, which caused an upheaval in employment.

Companies might not have the time to wait for people to earn degrees to fill vacant positions, and they are learning that people can be trained in their positions in various paths different from the college degree.

Examples of new-collar jobs

New-collar jobs tend to be more technical. Some examples of new-collar jobs include the following:

  • Cloud administrator.
  • Computer technicians.
  • Cybersecurity architect.
  • Database administrator.
  • Dental assistant.
  • Digital marketer.
  • Field service engineer.
  • Graphic designer.
  • IT support specialist.
  • Mortgage loan originator.
  • Pharmacy technician.
  • Project manager.
  • Social media assistant.
  • Software developer.
  • Sonographer.
  • Web developer.

Learn more about some technology jobs that do not require a college degree.

Training for new-collar positions

Some employers are choosing to train current employees for new-collar positions. Other companies are looking for new employees who have both soft and hard skills from different education paths, including the following:

  • Technical schools (often two-year degrees).
  • Community college classes.
  • High school graduates.
  • Software boot camps.
  • Certification programs in areas such as AI, machine learning and blockchain.
  • Apprenticeships and internships.

Some new-collar workers are self-taught and invest time preparing for new jobs in the technology and software sectors. They can take skills tests from employers to prove their knowledge.

Amanda Hetler is a senior editor and writer for WhatIs, where she writes technology explainer articles and works with freelancers.

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