The past two years have seen more than a tenth of Americans move from low-paying labor jobs to positions in tech. Dubbed as “new collar workers,” many of these people used recent lockdowns to learn new skills that have helped them find higher salary roles with greater flexibility. This workforce of people from non-conventional backgrounds can bridge the tech talent shortage, but only if companies can adapt their recruitment processes accordingly.
Players like Google, Apple, and IBM have taken the step of dropping college degree requirements to attract new collar workers, but bringing on board new workers requires more than eliminating formal education requisites. Even before the pandemic, nearly one third of developers considered themselves self-taught, meaning the relevance of the college degree had already slipped.
With the tech industry adding 12,300 jobs from February to March this year, the different perspectives, diverse experience, and self-discipline of new collar workers is invaluable. And companies that continue with their past hiring strategies are at risk of overlooking this potential. Here are three ways businesses can better see, and seize, new collar workers.
Bridge the onboarding gap for people making a leap
The recruitment journey doesn’t end once a candidate accepts an offer. And a new collar candidate likely won’t accept an offer that doesn’t specify what training programs are in place for them when they start. You need to actively advertise programs that fill any knowledge gaps they may have – for example, the different types of technologies you use, the tech terminology you prefer, and the team structure you work with. You can’t assume that a new collar worker will automatically be familiar with your industry and product offering.
Let these workers trial your communication and management tools, and have the option to shadow teams for a “day in the life of” experience. On top of that, share information about your competitors, similar products to yours, and encourage new hires to demo your service.
They should also meet with HR to ask questions beyond the scope of tech. At Index, we make a point of non-traditional tech hires meeting with the CEO too, to bridge hierarchies and give them an overview of the higher level strategy, as well as daily operations.
Remember to be patient, there may be a big learning curve but that doesn’t mean the person isn’t qualified – they may actually highlight any friction in your onboarding process that could prevent other new collar workers joining.
Update your recruiting playbook
New collar candidates may naturally be more fearful of rejection coming from a non-traditional trajectory. They’ll likely be less forthcoming in applying to positions, and more easily turned off by tech-heavy job descriptions.
When writing the brief for your role, ensure that you break down the duties and expectations clearly, using welcoming and inclusive language. Explicitly state that people from alternative backgrounds should apply. Tools like UInclude are handy here to construct a more mindful post.
Part of the reason new collar workers are gravitating toward tech is because of the attractive perks that the industry offers. However, new workers may need even more accommodations, particularly around flexibility if they have existing commitments. For example, they may have a family, are taking a night course or had travel plans or particular routines that were in place before they transitioned to tech. From the first point of contact, you need to ask candidates about their day-to-day commitments and pinpoint how you can support any responsibilities they have.
Celebrate “new collar” culture
By now, all companies know how important a sense of belonging is for workers. And as the newcomers, new collar workers need to be made to feel accepted and integrated with the wider company.
Before bringing new collar workers on board, you should take care to maximize your exposure to them outside of tech spaces. Sponsor events at universities and coding camps, and post online in unconventional groups like gaming communities and subreddits. You could also offer internships or programs specifically designed for pending new collar workers. These could be led by long-time employees or management to facilitate social mixing.
At the same time, share stories of successful new collar workers. Champion them on platforms like LinkedIn and Medium – for example, Marell Evans’ story – as well as in local press. The idea is to showcase people who have transformed their careers, and to help lay down a pathway for others to follow suit. The people you uplift will ultimately become ambassadors for your company and spread the word to others in similar transitions to contact you.
A sense of belonging stems from being treated the same as team members from traditional tech pathways. By that token, be conscious of giving new collar workers standard market salaries – they may need a hand developing general tech best practices, but that shouldn’t impact their wage.
If you opt not to ask for a college degree in the hiring process, live coding tests or probation periods can help you find quality candidates, as these will demonstrate candidates’ hard skills. Likewise, you can show new collar workers that you’re focused on culture and soft skills at your company. When we review engineers’ resumes at Index, people’s motivation and values are the central. Of course, we confirm that they have the technical capabilities, but even if they’re only a 70% match, we know that the rest can be learned on the job – and that it’s our responsibility to teach it.
New collar workers are a needed breath of fresh air for the tech workforce. Still, companies can’t assume that this cohort will automatically approach them. By actively tailoring your onboarding, recruitment playbook, and company culture, you’ll show that you’re evolving at the same pace as the new generation of workers themselves.