In 2015, a report from Burning Glass and General Assembly called attention to the rise of a new type of occupation. These roles combine technology skills with positions that haven’t historically required them, like analysis, design or marketing. Burning Glass called those positions “hybrid jobs.” Today, in a rapidly digitizing labor market where tech skills are fast becoming table stakes, we might just call them “jobs.”
Back when that report came out, so-called hybrid jobs were largely a white-collar phenomenon. But today, we’re witnessing a rise in demand for digital skills that is transcending desk work — and, in fact, may be transforming the entire “color spectrum” of the American workforce.
Think of the mechanic who now needs to understand the fundamentals of computer science in order to fix a car. Or the allied health professional who will be most effective if they can apply data science-driven insights to their work tracking positive COVID-19 test rates. Or the construction worker using sophisticated imaging tools to prepare a site for a new wind farm.
None of these are really white- or blue-collar jobs. We might think of them, instead, as gray-collar (at the intersection of manufacturing and technology), pink-collar (allied health and the care economy) and green-collar (clean energy). These are the jobs that will define the future of work. And they’ll be the majority of jobs in the U.S. before we know it.
The expansion of the color spectrum has profound implications for employers and policymakers alike. A decade ago, demand for digital skills was common in roles like marketing and data analytics, which were concentrated in the country’s tech hubs and largely available to highly educated workers. These jobs often required a college degree, which means they didn’t reflect the so-called “middle-skilled” occupations that make up the majority of the U.S. labor market.
But today, the pandemic has precipitated the rise of an emerging category of positions that require some combination of physical and technical skills, even if they don’t typically require a college degree. A look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections of fastest-growing occupations over the next decade is telling: Green-collar jobs are two of the top three. Pink-collar jobs make up six of the top 10. Data and technology jobs, of both the gray-collar and “new-collar” variety, make up much of the rest. Most of these are middle-skilled jobs, meaning they’re accessible to the millions of U.S. workers who don’t have a four-year degree.
These jobs are on the rise because they offer long-term stability and the prospect of career advancement. They are hard to automate because they require strong emotional intelligence or physical dexterity. And, perhaps most important, they respond to many of our society’s most urgent needs: the rise of technology, the impending climate crisis, and the social and demographic shifts that are increasing demand for health care workers. Research suggests that they may, collectively, make up more than half a billion of the jobs in the world’s economy over the next decade.
If we acknowledge the likely rise of these jobs over the coming decade, the question then becomes: Are we prepared to meet the demands of all these fast-growing sectors of the economy?
The answer to that question is troubling, but not surprising. The country is facing a widespread nursing shortage in the wake of the pandemic. A body of research suggests that high-wage, middle-skill positions — like the skilled trades — still face stigmas that prevent people from pursuing those careers. All of these are jobs that pay well, are in high demand and have stayed resilient even amid the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. But while the need for skilled workers in these positions continues to increase, too many jobs remain unfilled — and the country is paying the price.
In short, the rise of pink-, green- and gray-collar jobs is likely to be accompanied by a pernicious job mismatch, as enduring stigmas and the need for more skills training keep supply low even as demand is high.
There’s no one solution to this challenge. But if we start now, we can tackle these talent gaps before they overwhelm the labor market. Doing so will mean investing in campaigns to revitalize middle-skill sectors like the skilled trades, and providing greater support to care workers. It will mean embracing apprenticeships and other learn-while-you-earn programs that better align the needs of employers with the aspirations of workers. It will mean providing training that meets working learners where they are and enables them to gain digital skills without investing years of time and money. It will also demand that employers rethink aspects of their social contract with workers to embrace the idea that front-line employees should capture a proportional share of investment in upskilling to those of their corporate…
Read More: The workforce color spectrum is expanding