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We all understand the difference between white-collar workers (those who have historically worked with their minds) and blue-collar workers (those who have historically worked with their hands). But what are “new-collar” workers?

The term “new-collar” is used to identify workers in new jobs in the digital industry, technology workers such as cybersecurity analysts, application developers, cloud

specialists, etc.

These are jobs that require a combination of specific skills - acquired through vocational or technical training - with a knowledge base from higher education, but not requiring a university degree. It’s a new generation of professional careers that lies between white-collar and blue-collar ones.

IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty coined the term in 2016, following the organization's efforts to increase the number of skilled people in technology jobs. A skilled workforce, for whom the education system no longer responded, was in high demand.

The manufacturing industry will quickly embrace this type of workforce too, since computers are essential to operating factories. Manufacturing jobs now require skills in the fields of automation, robotics, CAD, 3D printing and Big Data, etc. and are in need of machine managers, programmers, technicians and operators with the necessary digital skills.

These new needs will lead major industrial players to upgrade their "technical component"; the set of theoretical, technical or tactical professional knowledge related to an operational vision. The knowledge required to exercise this new profession requires reconciliation between "knowledge", generally acquired at a school desk, and "know-how", generally acquired on a machine, thus combining technical skills and academic knowledge.

Therefore, the term "new-collar" is gaining momentum and prestige in the industry, as well as better wages! It also finally enables promotion of technical and manufacturing jobs, thus enhancing the image of yesteryear’s blue-collar workers. Today being a "new collar” worker is admirable, enviable and profitable.  

Going beyond technical skills

According to TechForce Foundation, the demand for information technology and communications graduates in the United States was twice the supply in 2018. Due to an initial shortage of skilled labour, firms were primarily interested in technical skills in order to meet their needs. But as the supply of specialized school programs increases and the demand for these "new-collar" workers stabilizes, employers will seek more than technical talent and woo those who also have good interpersonal skills.

Obviously technical knowledge and know-how are paramount, as they must be acquired. But, as for any specialist, demonstrating "Know how to be" and "Know how to interact" is also expected, as it is for any other role in the organization.

Relational skills are the "human component"; the person’s set of professional qualities. These include "Know how to be", which is the set of interpersonal skills related to attitudes, such as self-assurance, autonomy, versatility, resilience, authenticity, self-control, etc., which enables a person to be in touch with themselves, and "Know how to interact", which is the set of behavioural attitudes like respect, courtesy, politeness, punctuality, diplomacy, empathy, etc., which enables them to be touch with others such as their colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc.

During the hiring process, after validating a candidate’s knowledge and experience, HR professionals try to select those who, beyond operational skills, also understand how to work well with others, who demonstrate the ability to adapt and to problem-solve, who are fluent in written and verbal communication, and who demonstrate emotional intelligence and effective professional relationship management. This means that the candidates should have also acquired relational skills (soft skills).

In any professional situation, relational incompetence is a source of tension, misunderstanding, dissatisfaction and inefficiency. In general, a person is hired primarily for their operational skills, but usually fired for lack of relational skills.

Knowing how to operate machines and having a special affinity for computers, diagnosis and technology is not enough. In today's workplaces, we no longer work in silos or solo. It is sometimes difficult to find this blend of operational skills and relational skills and "new collar" workers with relational skills definitely have an advantage over other candidates.

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