Blue-collar jobs are now digital New Collar jobs that create new opportunities for well-paying, engaging careers. Technologies like 3D Printing are ubiquitous across industries creating more ways for people to find satisfying work. For example, even dentist offices and dental labs are 3D Printing digital impressions and prosthetics like crowns. All big companies like Boeing, GM, Ford, GE, and Apple utilize advanced technologies that require New Collar workers.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Sarah Boisvert.
Sarah Boisvert has spent 30 years bridging manufacturing and workforce training. She is the co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc. that invented and manufactured lasers and laser machine tools. She has consulted for the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT’s Media Lab in Cambridge, MA, and developed a digital badge micro-certification program for New Collar job skills. Sarah is passionate about education transformation and founded the New Collar Network to offer innovative job training nationwide.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
It’s my pleasure to talk about one of my favorite topics!
I come from manufacturing — I was the co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc. that invented and built UV lasers, including the laser for LASIK eye surgery and laser machine tools used in medical device manufacturing. After selling Potomac, I consulted for the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT’s Media Lab. Having been a high-tech employer, I was interested in the pain my colleagues were experiencing due to the skills gap and researched the Future of Work and Augmented workers. I also consulted for the National Governors Association Future Workforce Now toolkit for states to innovate education and workforce training.
With America Makes, the national 3D Printing accelerator, I developed Digital Badge micro-certifications for high school through incumbent workers and mini-badges for middle schoolers. In Santa Fe, NM, I founded the New Collar Network, a North American non-profit alliance to bring new workforce training models to all industries. In collaboration with Santa Fe Community College, we launched the New Collar Innovation Center to foster disruptive changes in higher education and workforce training.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
Technologies like 3D Printing, AI, robotics, and generative design that were once the purview of manufacturing and high tech are now ubiquitous across industries. At a National Governors Association roundtable, a Walmart HR consultant revealed one of the main store-level management worries: Headquarters is bringing in janitorial robots — so who is going to program and repair them?
Deploying these new technologies takes people — workers trained in the specific skills needed for optimal performance of the large sums invested in digital tools. Today blue-collar jobs are digital, requiring what IBM Executive Chairman Ginni Rometty calls the New Collar Workforce. While this high-paying, engaging [dare we say fun?] jobs require specific digital skillsets, many do not require a college degree to get started.
Consequently, employers need to re-think hiring practices that are designed for old models and embrace new training such as digital badge micro-certifications and registered apprenticeships for 21st-century careers. The Federal Government is leading the way through an executive order issued by the White House in 2020. Prompted by an industry Workforce Task Force that included companies such as Apple, the administration called upon all government agencies to refocus on skills in hiring decisions where it makes sense.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
College choice depends upon your career path. On a mission to be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist? Most likely, you’ll need a string of college degrees. But not sure about your future career or good at only a few topics in high school? Then the options apart from college are many.
Today you can get certifications in areas that interest you and immediately get a well-paying job that can support a family. IT, Robotics, 3D Printing, Coding, Cybersecurity, CAD design and more beg for operators and technicians at higher than average starting salaries — with benefits. While working you can simultaneously earn college degrees to advance in your field — often paid for by your employer.
Registered apprenticeship programs are also entering the 21st century. Modern apprenticeships are available in IT or 3D Printing. It’s an earn-as-you-learn program with 2/3 salary and education 100% paid by your employer. NO college debt and when you finish in 6–12 months you start out at 100% salary with no college degree required.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
Research from the World Economic Forum predicts that 75 million jobs will be lost to automation by 2023. Yet, during the same time period they estimate that another 130 million digital jobs, many that don’t currently exist, will be created. Painful? Yes, for some. But for digital natives who grew up watching laser lightsabers in Star Wars and the Star Trek replicator, what is more fun than living a job out of science fiction.
The robots do the heavy lifting literally and figuratively, but for now, anyway, humans must still program, monitor, and yes, repair robots. It is humans who innovate and the integration as Co-bots utilizes the best of both worlds. Humans are being uplifted to new, engaging digital jobs that take advantage of uniquely human skills for which they are freed by automation.
Planning a career should start with micro-certifications to test out your compatibility with a New Collar job skill set. If you do well in the courses and can get a job, then plan from there or found a startup!
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
It depends. For some jobs, digital functions can be remote — like programming a robot or designing a new product in CAD for 3D Printing. But if you are going to repair a robot, most likely you need to be on site.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
Both employers and state legislatures need to recognize that college degrees are not required in the 21st century for a lot of open jobs. Many states predicate funding on a number of degree enrollees or graduates which disincentivizes colleges to explore education alternatives. And employer hiring practices are tied to college degrees which may or may not be required.
I once had a community college tell me it takes two semesters of calculus to run a CNC machine. I told them they should talk to the Vo-tech grads from the ’60s and ’70s who had no advanced math and had great jobs in the automotive industry.
More importantly, we need to value the skills and contribution to our communities from non-college grads who are the backbone of our nation.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
Over the last four or five decades, we have convinced our people that college is the only path to success. As vocational training has been decimated in the USA, employers have increased the education requirements for jobs. They will now have to re-think hiring practices to reflect skills over degrees.
As a society, we need to respect the contribution of non-degreed workers and value their place in our organizations.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
New, disruptive technologies demand New Collar workers who have the digital skills to create a Future of Work — that is actually here now! People are just so excited to find work that engages their brains, as well as their creativity — New Collar jobs, are just so much more fun than old blue-collar jobs.
Our digital badge programs bear this out when we see human potential blossom.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
Non-degree programs are the answer. Our individual digital badges average 6 weeks in length at an average cost of 250 dollars. A Master Badge, for example, as a 3D Printing technician takes 6 months to complete at a cost of about 2,000 dollars.
The industry can’t wait for workers and is today desperate for people who can fill the skills gap!
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Blue-collar jobs are now digital New Collar jobs that create new opportunities for well-paying, engaging careers. Technologies like 3D Printing are ubiquitous across industries creating more ways for people to find satisfying work. For example, even dentist offices and dental labs are 3D Printing digital impressions and prosthetics like crowns. All big companies like Boeing, GM, Ford, GE, and Apple utilize advanced technologies that require New Collar workers.
- Automation is freeing up humans for higher-level work. Robots don’t yet operate independently. Humans and automation tools are “Co-bots” with the machines making the human’s task easier. As mentioned previously, the robots are here, and who is going to fix them? You guessed it, humans.
- Furthermore, it is humans who innovate, not machines. Machines do the heavy lifting — literally — and take over the boring, mundane, repetitive tasks. Robots afford humans the time to think, ideate, and bring new ideas to life.
- New Collar jobs do not require college degrees. While it takes an advanced degree to invent a laser cutter or 3D Printer, operation and service of new technologies is possible for anyone with training in the required skill set. As new tools advance to mainstream markets, manufacturers design machines that are more user-friendly and easier to repair, creating possibilities for operators and technicians in the field. Much like commercial 2D Printers, the average person cannot keep a sophisticated machine functioning, but with training, specialized workers are key to a new world of technology-driven applications.
- Employers are rethinking hiring practices. Coronavirus exacerbated the need for skilled workers which has opened employers to recognizing that repairing a robot does not take a college degree! We have seen an ever-increasing creep up in the requirements to perform jobs that is totally not necessary.
Many organizations like the US Government [the largest employer in the USA] are including skills in hiring practices, leading the way to more opportunities for New Collar workers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
Attributed to Winston Churchill: If you’re going through hell, keep going.
No matter how bad things get, if you stop and dwell on failure you will, of course, fail more. You need to keep moving forward to get through the bad times and innovate solutions that lead to success.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
IBM’s former CEO and current Executive Chair Ginni Rometty is the hero of the New Collar movement. She is a visionary, embracing micro-certifications that IBM pioneered with Mozilla but also not afraid to return to tried and true models like apprenticeships.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
I live at NewCollarNetwork.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.