Rise of the 'new-collar' worker: How COVID has given birth to a fresh breed of employee

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to youth employment in Australia.
The retail and hospitality sector - traditionally a major source of youth jobs - has been hit particularly hard.
In addition, COVID-19 has supercharged the use of technology in the workplace, placing renewed emphasis on having to keep up with ever-changing technologies.
Once, there was a clear direction to take with a career path - it used to be that if you like cooking, for example, you might become a cook or a chef.
But jobs, as we know it, are now rapidly evolving.
Stock image of a chef preparing a dish on a gas stove in a restaurant kitchen.
Stock image of a chef preparing a dish on a gas stove in a restaurant kitchen. Credit: Getty Images
And roles that young people are currently studying for may not exist by the time they finish.
So what is the future for meaningful employment for Australia’s youth?

New-collar worker

Saxon Phipps is the founder of Year 13, a company dedicated to helping young people plan their post-school lives.
Phipps, along with some close friends, founded the free online company out of school after seeing many young people disenfranchised in the modern working world.
He believes we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution - driven by technology.
“The fourth industrial revolution is the influence of technology in traditional industries,” Phipps says, citing as just one example the runaway success of video conferencing company, Zoom.
Technology has blurred the lines between the blue- or white-collar worker and has given birth to a new type of employee - the ‘new-collar worker’.
“Traditionally, things are broken down into white-collar and blue-collar industries,” Phipps says.
Stock image of a young carpenter in a wood workshop using laptop.
Stock image of a young carpenter in a wood workshop using laptop. Credit: Getty Images
“Rather than it is defined as white- and blue-collar worker, there is now a ‘new collar‘ of worker where the focus is on the skills and the character virtues of an individual.”
Phipps says even traditional jobs like bricklaying are now not solely blue-collar.
“An example I like to give is you think of a blue-collar worker as being a bricklayer, there’s not a lot of technology traditionally involved in the role,” Phipps says.
Stock image of a steelworker during steel pour in steelworks.
Stock image of a steelworker during steel pour in steelworks. Credit: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images/Cultura RF
“However, if a bricklayer were to have a pair of oculus glasses on - and they’re able to see the faults, the lines, the lengths, the foundations of a building and what they’re about to do - you ask the question, ‘is that a blue- or white-collar worker industry?’
“The common response is that it’s a blue-collar industry because there’s still the manual laboring process.”
But Phipps believes that because of technological adaptations it is now part of the new-collared work.

Skills flexibility

The old idea of a career path has drastically changed.
Phipps says you now have to look more closely at what skills intrinsically drive a person to choose a certain job.
Being able to understand those skills will help young people move into work.
Engineers examining plans on laptop while prototyping parts for project on 3D printer in workshop.
Engineers examining plans on laptop while prototyping parts for project on 3D printer in workshop. Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
“We are seeing carpenters, chefs, and other blue-collar workers who are using those innate skills they have learned through blue-collar industries and are applying them to new industries,” Phipps explains.
“It’s the principles of what you are learning that helps you to transfer those skills from industry to industry.”
Phipps believes if you understand and use these skills you are more likely to be a dynamic worker and more employable.
“Using a combination of vocational and tertiary education, focusing on upskilling, will help provide young people who are at risk of unemployment to develop these enterprise skills,” the Year 13 founder says.
“This will encourage innovation and experience to be able to transfer from industry to industry and into further education.”

Truth Project

At the end of 2019, Year 13 undertook a trial school program, The Truth Project - a one-day impact presentation at more than 50 schools around Australia.
The project was designed to help motivate, educate, and improve engagement amongst school students in Years 10, 11, and 12.
Each year group was presented with a series of videos, animations, data, workshops, and keynote speakers to help encourage students. The program was tailored for each year group.
Stock image of school students using technology at school.
Stock image of school students using technology at school. Credit: Lincoln Beddoe/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The project found that 74 per cent of people who completed the program felt they had a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
After the success of The Truth Project 2019 pilot, Year 13 decided to continue the program in 2020.
Phipps believes programs like these are imperative in helping bridge the gap for young people to find meaningful work at which they excel.
“The project helps to empower young people so they don’t feel disheartened that schoolwork may have no [direct relationship] to what they want to do,” Phipps explains.
“Once students actually identify their reason, they can see the principles of their education and what they are learning.”
Phipps says we need to change the way young people, their schools and parents all think about working careers.
Stock image of school students in class working with tablets.
Stock image of school students in class working with tablets. Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
He says a lot of people often don’t understand the quick-changing nature of the new job market.
“I lot of people will say that young people will work in seven to 10 different industries throughout their career,” Phipps said.
“People often say it to make it sound as though young people are no-hopers, when in fact, it is a highlight on the changing environment of the workforce.”

Future workers

For Australia’s future workers currently at school, focusing on a singular career path may be redundant.
With the increase in technology in the workplace, some jobs are becoming obsolete, fast.
So, does the idea of focusing on skills-building help school kids?
Stock image of a worried and stressed student.
Stock image of a worried and stressed student. Credit: Carol Yepes/Getty Images
For 16-year-old Kurt Jones, it absolutely does.
The Year 11 Queensland student, who completed The Truth Project in March, says it has changed the way he thinks about life after school and his future work prospects.
He says the program taught him and his classmates skills flexibility.
And he says finding what you enjoy is more important than just focusing on a career goal or money.
“I think that in schools there is such a gap for preparing students for the future and actually making them aware that the traditional way isn’t always the best for each individual. Times are changing,” Jones explains.
“I think that by equipping students and giving them great skills to take on the workforce it will definitely help fix youth unemployment.”