Blue Collar Work Goes High Tech

December 12, 2016 by Eva Artschwager

Conventional use has differentiated between blue and white collar employment largely on the basis of skills. Blue collar work was typically seen as more manual. While many blue collar jobs do require expertise, few were seen to engage the office-based skills typically associated with white collar positions.

But the development of digital technologies has changed all of this. Not only will technical skills become standard for blue collar employment; the majority of new digital employment opportunities are likely to be in blue collar fields. A 2015 article in Forbes points to the many new local, “digitally enabled,” blue collar jobs that have been created in recent years, such as drivers for Uber, managers for Airbnb, and handymen for TaskRabbit.   In the language of a 2016 report from Accenture Consulting, technology isn’t removing blue collar positions as much as it is making them all increasingly “digitally augmented.”  All of these jobs will require increasing levels of digital skills.

Computerized Dashboard on Agricultural Equipment
Computerized Dashboard on Agricultural Equipment

This change means that training for blue collar positions must shift accordingly. So far, however, it has not adequately kept pace with the changing needs. As a result, many blue-collar positions that require some level of technical capacity go unfilled. As a result, states are scrambling to address these workforce gaps. One way to do so is to simply raise the baseline of digital skills that workers bring with them into the workplace. “Digital literacy is becoming increasingly important as the prevalence and role of automation grows.” Another solution, one that focuses on higher level technical positions, is to provide coding bootcamps that that offer intensive training and produce job ready candidates. In all cases, states, schools, and training programs are recognizing that retraining the blue-collar workforce is essential for economic growth.

New Mexico is preparing the future workforce by providing students with more opportunities to learn hands-on skills that align with today’s work environment. One example of this is the ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, which develops technical capacity in students interested in entering the construction profession. Basic requirements in math, science and language are integrated into projects focused on construction and engineering, fields that rely heavily on technology. Other training programs, such as the Workforce Development Program at UNM Gallup Community Education, focus on more traditional training such as that for the commercial drivers license. But even these programs require the ability to use digital skills to maintain computerized log books, manage computerized equipment controls, and perform computer-based equipment safety checks.

While these jobs are unlikely to become completely mechanized in the near future, increasing levels of technical expertise for blue collar work can be expected.

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