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The New Collar: Tech Skills Without A College Degree

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we’ve all heard since childhood. When you get to high school, the question changes to ‘where do you want to go to college’. But shouldn’t the question really be ‘do you want to go to college’? Not all careers require a four-year degree, and those that do are also looking for experience with that knowledge. The question of whether or not to go to college has been surfacing a lot more in recent years as people with four-year degrees look at other avenues that could have saved them time and money had they opted for a different route. This isn’t to say college isn’t the best choice for some people. But there are other options and other paths that lead to success.

“There’s no need to even have a degree” – Elon Musk

There are hundreds of examples of very successful people who never went to college. Some of the brightest minds in technology never went, or never finished their college degrees. One prominent name in tech without a college degree is Elon Musk. If you don’t recognize the name, maybe you’re familiar with Tesla or SpaceX. The leader of these innovative companies is one man who never went to college, and in all honesty, doesn’t think there’s a need to even have a degree.

In an interview with Abrome, Musk states ‘There’s no need to even have a college degree. If someone graduates from a great university, it might be an indication they will be capable of great things but it’s not necessarily the case.’

Sourcing New Talent

As tech companies grow and compete for talent, many find top talent without degrees. In fact, Google released hiring data that showed roughly 14% of their employees never went to college. The old methodology of competing for talent from select prestigious schools is over. Companies realize the level of talent in people without the opportunity or funds to go to four-year universities.

The Downside of Hiring Only From Academic Environments

Google took a hard look at their hiring data and realized the difficult questions, high GPA, and advanced degrees they were looking for really didn’t correlate with positive performance. In an interview with Google’s Vice President of Operations, Laszlo Bock, Bock talks about the downside of hiring from college environments. “Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment.” Google is looking to find skilled workers with experience putting their knowledge to work.

The New Collar

The term “new collar job” was coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, and is a play on “white collar” and “blue collar” jobs, which refer to professional and vocational jobs, respectively. New collar jobs are jobs that combine technical and soft skills to work in the contemporary technology industry through non-traditional paths. This new collar approach focuses on adaptability and learning skills over GPAs and formal degrees.

Sam Ladah, HR Vice President for IBM calls for a focus on skills, not education. “We’ve been very successful in hiring from [coding] bootcamps,” says Ladah. For a lot of companies, a degree doesn’t tell the full story, it just lets an employer know the applicant was capable of meeting standards in an educational environment. With so many jobs requiring two or more years of experience, those going through hands-on training have more experience than many coming from traditional paths. “We’re looking for people who have a real passion for technology,” says Ladah. He goes on to say that currently about 10% to 15% of IBM’s new hires don’t have traditional four-year degrees.

Filling the Skills Gap with New Collar Workers

The technical skills gap is an issue the entire industry is facing, and the need for talent, in this case, has brought new opportunity for those looking for a rewarding and high paying career. Alternative options are perfect for a lot of people to land the dream job without attending a four-year college or traditional path. If you are looking to change or launch your career, there’s never been a better time to start toward the goal of a career in technology. The industry needs skilled workers, and the opportunities open new doors for more growth in the future.

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