The new-collar worker is an individual who develops the necessary technical and soft skills to work in an organisation without the prerequisite educational qualifications.
In India, the new collars have been a reality for quite a while now. In fact, they have existed for over three decades. Organisations in the manufacturing and retail sectors have been bringing in large numbers of people onto their shop floors and skilling them to take up vital roles in entry-level positions. In some cases, these very employees have been able to move up the corporate ladder to take up managerial roles and even work abroad.
“Organisations in India have been recruiting those who are keen to work but are formally underqualified, for retail and manufacturing-related jobs since the 1980s. Prospects have been brought in and trained to work on the shop floor, operating forklifts and even making watches,” says Raj Narayan, former EVP and CHRO, Titan.
“Organisations in India have been recruiting those who are keen to work but are formally underqualified since the 1980s.”
Raj Narayan, former EVP and CHRO, Titan
Since then, the new-collar workforce has evolved. Employees from the new generation are seemingly placing a greater importance on gaining technical knowledge and skills in the stream of work they desire to go into than getting a formal degree.
India, although not as bad as most nations, has seen a rise in the cost of living without a proportional rise in average income. Today, the average income in India is somewhere between INR 9,000 to INR 10,000 whereas the cost of living is nearly three times higher (INR 27,000 to INR 28,000). One of the key reasons for such a rise in the new-collar workforce is their inability to afford quality higher education. Little wonder then that they choose to skill themselves in their stream of choice.
Fortunately, numerous large organisations have seen immense potential in the new-collar workforce, beyond the entry-level positions. Here are some reasons why organisations such as IBM and IKEA have shifted their focus to skills-based hiring and have begun to invest and capitalise on this new-collar generation.
Practice over theory
“When people are in constant contact with their craft, they tend to gain a heightened understanding of the nuances of their work.”
Ramesh Shankar, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com
As new-collar employees take it on themselves to learn and hone their skills, they gain a profound understanding of that particular function because they are constantly dealing with it on a daily basis. A common observation is that these skilled individuals become savants in the function they specialise in.
Ramesh Shankar, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com, provides us with an anecdotal insight from his time at Royal Enfield. “One of the boys on the shop floor worked with our engines every day. At a certain point, he could identify the issue by just listening to the sound of the engine starting.”
“When people are in constant contact with their craft, they tend to gain a heightened understanding of the nuances of their work,” concluded Shankar.
Having a formal education on the subject does not mean that an employee will be able to tackle issues related to it in a better manner. A key reason is that the education system has not evolved at the same pace as we have developed newer understandings. Recruits with formal education understand the intricacies in theory but lack the ability to apply them in practice.
“Theoretical knowledge is only useful if it can be applied to a practical situation,” says Shankar.
In many cases, formally-educated recruits have to go through rigorous training programmes during their onboarding phase. If organisations are willing to splurge on onboarding / training programmes to tailor new recruits to their methods, the same can be done for those who have skilled themselves independently.
Sign of the times
“Economic headwinds and tech disruptions have created a culture of curiosity.”
Jacob Jacob, GCHRO, Malabar Group
Since the pandemic, the corporate landscape has shifted such that organisations and their leaders have had to figure out new ways to appeal to the newer generation of workers. Many from the Gen Z workforce fall under the new collar. Being faced with new-age demands, the organisations have to change their employer value propositions to suit the new demand.
“Economic headwinds and tech disruptions have created a culture of curiosity. These instabilities have created a situation where organisations have to work towards empowering the new generation, and in this case, the new collar,” says Jacob Jacob, GCHRO, Malabar Group.
New-age problems such as diversity and inclusion are constantly brought to question by the new generation of employees keeping organisations on their toes at all times. Organisations are also constantly dealing with issues related to attrition, and thus, have to evolve their hiring practices to suit this change.
Organisations have already begun to adopt skills-first hiring as their mode of recruitment, as it best suits the needs of both the employer and the new-age employee.
Expanding on the same, Jacob says, “The culture of an organisation starts as an act of imagination, but reimagination is required to sustain it. Gone are the days of questioning educational qualifications. It is time to adopt a mindset where skills, their relevance to the organisations and whether they bring actual value to the company become more important.”
Adding to the same, Vivek Mehrotra, former head – learning and development, Zomato says, “HR personnel should be open to new approaches and be willing to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce. By doing so, they can create a workplace environment that supports the success of new-collar employees.”
The sky is the limit!
“HR personnel should be open to new approaches and be willing to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce.”
Vivek Mehrotra, former head – L&D, Zomato
Keeping in mind the current landscape and the future of recruitment practices, it is very much possible to see a member of the new collar take up leadership roles in the future.
No recruits come into an organisation with leadership experience and pedigree. It is up to the organisation to skill and develop them further to suit the organisation’s needs and lead a team or the organisation as a whole.
New-collar employees have proved that they are not only willing but capable of learning and retaining crucial skills in theory and in practice. Constantly diversifying their skills will allow them to gain a better understanding of multiple functions making them better-informed leaders.
With the changing recruitment practices, it is highly possible that we see a member of the new collar take up leadership roles in the future. Thus, new-collar employees are the future of any organisation as they have the potential to become skilled leaders and make significant contributions to the organisation’s growth and success.
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