Hot 'new-collar jobs' and the skills you need to get them

US News & World Report
Rebecca Koenig and Nancy Pham
Emergency room nurse Richard Horner wears a mask as he deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, January 18, 2018.
Mike Blake | Reuters

The labor market is bursting with jobs that don't require bachelor's degrees but do demand special skills, typically related to digital technology.

Called "new-collar" jobs, these positions usually provide salaries in the top half of the U.S. wage scale. They also offer promising career prospects, thanks to the fact that companies of all kinds are increasingly reliant on online tools and data. Demand is so great that Congress is considering the New Collar Jobs Act of 2017, which would provide tax credits to employers who pay for workers to get training in cybersecurity.

That's good news for American workers of all ages who don't have college diplomas, including young people just entering the workforce, caretakers trying to get back to the office and older people looking to change careers.

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"New-collar jobs mean new opportunities – especially for communities traditionally underserved by tech," said Joanna Daly, vice president of talent at IBM, via a spokesperson.

Identifying New Collar Jobs

Which jobs qualify as "new-collar" positions?

According to IBM, which has embraced the phrase with a website devoted to its new-collar jobs, titles include "application developer," "systems administrator," "data center technician," "software engineer," "project manager," "technical support representative" and "security analyst." In 2017, 15 to 20 percent of IBM's new hires in the U.S. filled these kinds of positions.

Job-search website ZipRecruiter breaks new-collar positions into four main categories: health care, engineering, technology and software.

Data from job postings in these categories that don't require bachelor's degrees, listed on the platform between March 2017 and February 2018, reveals the most in-demand job titles among employers that use ZipRecruiter. They include:

This data is a representative sample of the national labor market, according to Cathy Barrera, the company's chief economist.

"We do see that in some areas and some industries – and technology is one – the fraction of the jobs that don't list as a requirement a college degree is increasing," she says.

ZipRecuiter also shared data about which skills and keywords are most frequently requested in ads for these new-collar jobs. These are important to note because skills, not education level, are what define these careers.

"Tech is really exciting because it's really about what you're able to do," says David Yang, co-founder and chief creative officer at C4Q, a nonprofit that trains low-income people for technology careers. "At the end of the day, that's what makes someone hirable: being able to produce high-quality products."

The skills that appear most frequently include JavaScript, HTML, troubleshooting and customer service.

Finding Hot Spots

Although Silicon Valley attracts ample attention as a high-tech hub, it's far from the only place where new-collar jobs abound. For example, half of IBM's job openings in West Virginia, Texas and North Carolina are considered new-collar positions, according to the company.

To identify hiring hot spots, ZipRecruiter calculates what it calls an "opportunity index," which measures the ratio of available jobs in a particular location to the number of job seekers who live there. For new-collar health care jobs, the highest opportunity indexes are found in Glen Falls, New York; Ithaca, New York; Duluth, Minnesota; Utica, New York; and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"The top four cities are small, out-of-the-way places you might not expect would have such a tight labor market for health care workers," Barrera says.

For engineering, the hot spots are Grand Rapids, Michigan; the greater Portland, Oregon area; Pittsburgh; the greater Seattle area; and the greater Washington, D.C. area.

For technology, high opportunity indexes are found in Pittsburgh; the greater Washington, D.C., area; Denver; the greater Boston area; and the greater Detroit area.

For software, the hot spots are Baltimore; Pittsburgh; the greater Portland, Oregon area; the greater Washington, D.C., area; and the greater Boston area.

That means people looking for new-collar jobs have good odds overall in Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and Boston.