Why We Can’t Define The Workforce As Blue Or White Anymore

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Workforce and Economic Development professionals have long assumed that each one of these terms is practically self-explanatory.  They are part of our shared language, words upon which we can all agree.

The reality is, in fact, much more complicated than that.

Words matter. We have known for a long time that the language we use shapes the world in which we see and act. How we speak impacts how we think and what we do, and that includes professionally. Words are not only tools: they are also barriers to new thinking.

I many ways, the future of workforce development will depend on challenging the words we are most comfortable with, and one of these is “collar.”

Technological complexity and change, economic and political disintegration have all shattered the notion of a singular workforce divided into collars.manufacturing, manufacturers, altek media group, altek, media, dwight cromie, riverside, county, san bernardino, southern california, videoThe most familiar:

WHITE: The professional and administrative: 20 million of these in US in 2016

BLUE: The industrial and manufacturing workers: 19.6 million, or about the same

But what about:

GREEN: Those employed in clean energy and environmentally positive industries: 8 million in 2016

PINK: Primarily women in “service industry jobs”—which include occupations ranging from teacher to nurse to maid. It is hard to determine the number of jobs that are “pink collar” since they clumped into a single anachronistic and sexist category. Low estimate: 1 million

GOLD: Higher-end professionals like doctors and lawyers: about 1 million physicians and about 1.3 million attorneys

GREY: Police officers (750,000) and salespeople (!) with over 8.3 million employees

ORANGE: One of the fastest growing worker groups in the US: Prison labor, currently incarcerated people. They are over 1 million prison workers in the US right now

NO COLLAR: The entrepreneurs in the gig economy: about 1 million

And the NEW COLLAR: Jobs in industries we cannot even imagine.

The numbers speak for themselves: more people are employed in these “other collars” than either white or blue-collar job.

We can go — but these growing labels indicate the ever-clearer reality that no unitary “workforce” exists. In its places is an increasingly complex and dynamic mix of employees, occupations, and employers. That translates to a future jobs eco-system that requires an even more sophisticated understanding by workforce and economic developers.

Time is of the essence. Rethinking how we create a workforce – beyond the misleading
collars” — that meets the evolving needs of both learners and employers will depend on a new multi-disciplinary problem-solving approach. This approach must leverage end-to-end planning through implementation, build unprecedented Innovation Networks and use labor market information and best practices for data research. Part of the solutions can include change management, apprenticeships, regional brand development, the creation of employee engagement communications and accelerated outreach to employers and unions and educational agencies.

The challenge is to prepare for — and shape – the future without relying on yesterday’s information alone – or outmoded, inaccurate and constraining definitions. Changing the future requires tracing the trajectory of these trends to identify the impacts and insights that apply and then develop customized programs for industry sectors, occupational clusters, programs and community colleges. It’s a wicked problem to be sure, but one challenge that will require our best thinking and strongest actions, including dropping the concepts we might be most comfortable with.

About The Author: Walter Dario Di Mantova is the Vice President and Partner of Powerminds, a tribe of strategic and creative minds invested in transforming education, workforce and economic development that spans every discipline and every kind of partner. He can be reached at walter@power-minds.com

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