Breaking Into the “New Collar” Technology Workforce

If you’ve been thinking about pursuing a career in technology, but fear that a lack of bachelor’s degree will hold you back, a “new collar” job could provide the pathway to a new profession in software development, cybersecurity, data analytics, digital manufacturing and more.

The term “new collar,” coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, pertains to jobs that emphasize skills over college degrees… and usually provide salaries in the upper half of the U.S. wage scale.

Although more tech companies have been following IBM’s lead and dropping their degree requirements, you should expect to encounter fierce competition for jobs at any high-profile firm. With that in mind, here are some tips for breaking into the “new-collar” tech workforce. 

Master In-Demand Skills and Hands-On Experience

Whether you choose a training program offered by a coding camp, community college or vocational school, it’s vital that you master job-related skills to the point where you can quickly and easily show them off at an employer’s request.

ZipRecruiter has compiled a list of the top 20 skills that frequently appear in job postings that don’t require a college degree, with AngularJS, JQuery, HTML5 and JavaScript leading the pack. However, with businesses adding “new collar” positions and skills all the time, candidates should do their own research and develop a customized list of job-related requirements and competencies before selecting a training program.

For instance, companies are looking to hire cybersecurity architects, project managers, cloud administrators, data storage engineers and UI designers. Depending on which of those suits your fancy, you might choose to master anything from AWS to best practices for inspecting network traffic for malicious code.

“Change is happening,” affirmed Sarah Boisvert, founder and CEO of Fab Lab Hub, a member of the international Fab Lab training community, and author of “The New Collar Workforce.” It is easier to land your first job when there’s a shortage of experienced talent in the market and employers are desperate to hire, she added.

For example, some manufacturers are willing to pay six-figure salaries to newly minted professionals with design skills in robotics or digital fabrication that involves CAD and 3D printing, Boisvert noted. At the same time, those employers want to see problem-solving skills and hands-on work.

Also, make sure to consider a training provider’s alliances with employers, and the integration of labs, internships and project-based learning opportunities into the curriculum. Look for programs where students can boost their market appeal by earning badges or digital credentials; the best badges are certified by a learning partner and provide a platform that lets students showcase their actual work and mastery of key skills to prospective employers.

“Badges allow you to learn many of the same skills that are taught in college courses without the prerequisites,” Boisvert said. Many students start out earning digital badges and eventually become engineers.

At the Flatiron School, a coding bootcamp, students are encouraged to blog about their activities as a way to showcase communication and writing skills to prospective employers, according to Avi Flombaum, dean and chief product officer, who also advised: “Ask to see an audited copy of a school’s job placement report.”

Why do you want that report? A school’s outcomes over the past six months will tell you whether graduates are learning in-demand languages and technical skills (such as the TensorFlow open-source library) and whether they are truly prepared to enter the job market.

Target Realistic ‘New Collar’ Opportunities

An analysis of open job postings reveals that small- to midsize companies outside the major tech hubs are much more likely to create jobs aimed at attracting “new collar” tech workers. As an example, IBM is hiring “new collar” workers in places such as West Virginia, Louisiana, Missouri and Iowa, rather than the traditional coastal markets.

“The high-profile tech companies that are hiring thousands of developers every year may have as many as 10,000 to 30,000 candidates in the pipeline,” Flombaum explained. “And they have such a lengthy hiring process, that they tend to overlook non-traditional candidates.”

On the other hand, the companies that are hiring 10 to 20 professionals a year have a much more people-centric hiring process, and they don’t always need someone to build an app or program from scratch. “You’re better off starting out at a small company that will allow you to learn and make steady progress in developing your career,” Flombaum noted.