“It just blew me away that a company like IBM was recognizing that there was a whole untapped workforce out there and they were going to give us a chance,” said the 21-year-old Hannaford.
Hannaford dropped out during his freshman year at North Carolina State because traditional school just wasn’t for him. But after a few years of working at a shoe store, he decided to go to Alamance Community College — an IBM education partner in Graham, North Carolina — to pursue a career in technology.
Today, he is a software engineering apprentice at IBM and has an offer for a full-time position, starting in October. The salary the apprenticeship offered was double what he made at the shoe store. The promotion comes with another raise.
“It’s been such an amazing opportunity,” Hannaford said. “Financially, this has absolutely changed a lot.”
So-called new-collar jobs, positions that require specific skills but not a bachelor’s degree, are in high demand, according to ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. The skills gap, in which jobs stay vacant for lack of qualified applicants, has given opportunities to people like Hannaford who take the initiative to train for .
Many new-collar jobs offer the potential for job security, career growth and a large salary increase from other jobs available to those without college degrees. While the median annual salary for someone with some college but no degree is about $40,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many new-collar jobs offer wages over six figures.
“The reality is that the middle-class lifestyle that they want has actually never been more readily available,” especially to those who are able to invest time in training, said Ian Siegel, co-founder and CEO of ZipRecruiter.
The positions are so enticing that even people with degrees are retraining to boost their salaries.
Meryl Dakin, 29, was an English major in college and had worked as an au pair, a bartender and an operations officer in New Orleans.
“I didn’t have a lot of marketable skills,” Dakin said.
Through a coding boot camp, she found that her love for learning languages translated well into coding. When she and her husband relocated to New York, she decided it was time to change careers. She started at the Flatiron School, a for-profit school that offers technology classes, right away.
Today, she’s a software engineer for the school.
“I’ve never been in a profession where there is more demand for me,” Dakin said. In addition, she said, she’s making about $20,000 to $30,000 more than she expected in a job outside tech.
The biggest gap between wanting a new-collar job and getting one is knowing where to find training, Siegel said. Fortunately, many programs that help people from all walks of life to access training for new-collar jobs have started in the last few years.
“This whole idea of a one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work,” said Adam Enbar, CEO of Flatiron School.
Many programs available to those who want to learn new skills are offered by for-profit schools. Some have the mission of diversifying the tech industry, while others help students follow their passion. They all are tightly focused on what skills are most desired in the market and give students opportunities to build their portfolios through project work. While most programs are not accredited and students don't receive a degree upon completion, many have certificates or badges to demonstrate skills learned.
The top skills desired in new-collar jobs are in tech, according to a ZipRecruiter analysis of 3 million new-collar job postings from the last two years.
Some also include career coaching.
“All of the pieces taken together play a critical role in making sure all the students are set up for success,” said Tom Ogletree, senior director of social impact and external affairs at General Assembly, an experiential education company focused on today’s most in-demand skills.
In addition, a number are low cost or even free.
“It’s super important for people to have access to education and for that to be accessible from a cost perspective,” said Zach Sims, co-founder and CEO of Codeacademy, a tech education company.
Most for-profit schools have classes at multiple price points, ranging from free online courses to full-time intensive sessions that can cost up to $15,000. Free courses are generally massive open online courses, or moocs. For classes with tuition, students apply and some schools offer scholarships. Students cannot receive federal aid, however, because these programs are not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education.
For students worried about accreditation, hesitant about for-profit schools or those who want to make sure investing in their education will pay off, there are some things to look out for. You can check to see if a school is accredited by searching for it on the U.S. Department of Education website. You can also search your state's education department website to see if a school is licensed.
Potential students should also search the school's history and read reviews from former students. Make sure you know costs of tuition up front, ask about the graduation and job placement rate and how those numbers are reported. If you have any questions about the school, ask an employee or a former student.
For those seeking to improve their salary or find more fulfilling work, now may be the time. The , and the number of .
“This is the golden age to be a job seeker,” said ZipRecruiter's Siegel, pointing to three obvious categories with job growth: construction, health care and tech.
His advice for job seekers is to commit to a day of online research to see what jobs are available and where your interest lies. Then, invest in learning the skills necessary for the job.
“When you actually dig into what jobs require, you’d be surprised at how many of these opportunities are within your reach,” Siegel said.
“You owe it to yourself right now to go test the market if you’re looking for a higher salary.”
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