A little background in case you’ve never heard the terms blue collar or white collar jobs. To be a blue collar worker was to hold a job that tended to be more physical labor and less education. Whereas as white collar workers tended to be the office drones, sometimes requiring college education. Blue collar tended to be paid a wage, white collar workers were paid a salary. Blue collar jobs tend to fall victim to changes in technology and automation but are mostly immune to outsourcing. For example factory workers were largely replaced with robots but when the drains are are clogged in your house you need someone local to fix it. White collar jobs on the other hands are much more susceptible to outsourcing especially workers whose job involves a lot of “computer time”. While the white collar workforce in the Western world has had a sip of the forthcoming changes as a result of the Great Recession, the real dramatic shift will occur as Artificial Intelligence technology matures and Big Data finally delivers on its promises after years of false starts.
In the end, both traditional white collar and blue collar workers will have become victims to economic forces that aim to drive down cost. Strictly knowledge worker jobs will die just like strictly labor jobs gave way to machinery. But in change there is always hope for new and better workplace. Enter a new breed of worker. What I affectionately call the “purple collar” worker. In short, the purple collar worker is mix of the traditional blue collar and white collar workers.
My prediction is that these new workers will mostly be independent consultants who self finance both their retirement and healthcare. After all, as of the 2010 census 99.7% of companies in the United States employe 500 or fewer employees. 89.6% have fewer than 20 employees. The trend is toward smaller and independent, especially as your health insurance status is not directly tied to your employment status. People will be more likely to take the plunge of self-employment.
Purple collar workers will be very adept at using technology. They will be very mobile. They will not work set 9-to-5 schedules though they may very well end up working 50+ hour weeks spread over 6 or even 7 days a week. Still, they will enjoy a much better life/work balance. Workers don’t want to be drones and employers/patrons don’t want “good enough” drone quality results. They will be extremely customer oriented, perhaps to a fault. But they will also strive to put customer first since their livelihoods will depend on it more so than a company guy or gal.
They will blend entrepreneurial business savvy with a practical, technical ability. They will have practical, hands-on skills and abilities that balanced academic knowledge. They will have more breadth than depth and rely on networking with other similar consultants who have depth in parallel fields to their own. This will allow them to fill-in the blanks of missing knowledge when working on specific projects. Think of these relations as a sort of loose guild. Many may very well take advantage of resources such as makerspaces or worksharing (also called coworking) spaces for any reason including access to classes for continuing education, tools, machines, social interaction and business networking. We may even see the introduction of “professional makerspaces” that are geared more towards small businesses versus the amateur enthusiast. What exactly a professional makerspace could be is a topic I would love to explore in a blog post.
Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, who also happens to be a fellow Eagle Scout and Marylander, has often repeated his mantra that he want people to work smart … and hard. It’s a simple notion but one that is immensely powerful for rebuilding our economy post-Great Recession. Too often the strictly white collar office gigs have become complacent and a bit arrogant in believing that being smart is a substitute for being a hardworker. Conversely, blue collars tend to look down at the cushy office jobs as a waste of resources. The truth is in a globally connected economy that travels near the speed of light, you need both types of skillsets.
So the future needs to be purple collar jobs. Where human creativity and hardwork can complement and take advantage of technology and computational-heavy analysis skills. True renaissance men and women. People as comfortable with a welding machine as they are running an Excel spreadsheet. People who can leverage the emerging desktop manufacturing technologies and build personal brands will be able to maker very lucrative careers out of catering to hyper niches with unique products and services. After all, consumers want the quality of handcrafted products but at mass produced prices. Historically the answer is pick one or the other. But I beg to differ, we can do both we just never really sat down to figure it out. Purple collar workers will crack that question. While this seems to be heavily referencing jobs that produce tangible products, I believe services can benefit from adopting a purple collar mindset as well.
So there you have it. My prediction on the rise of the purple collar worker. Of course our education system will need to evolve as well. Future of education is another topic I think about a lot too. After all what is education but a preparation course for a work life. It’s a system and thus you can’t tweak one without tweaking the other to ensure the overall system remains in-tune. But that’s a blog for another time.