To Fill “New Collar” Tech Jobs, Businesses Connect To Students

Dec 14, 2018

“New collar jobs” is a phrase that’s starting to get batted around a lot in career and technical education. These are high paying jobs that require specialized training, but not necessarily a four-year degree. And they include growing industries like cyber-security.

Tony Marshall runs a small cyber-security business in Raleigh. He says a lot of young people don't even know his industry exists.

There's a tsunami of problems that's coming up because our workforce isn't aligned very well with the job opportunities that are coming around. Our school systems aren't designed to change fast enough to prepare the students for the new jobs. -Tony Marshall

“If you ask a ninth-grader what they want to be, 90 percent of them are going to tell you they want to be a football player, a basketball player, a rapper, a policeman or a fireman,” Marshall said.

A lot of other jobs are out there, and a lot of employers are hiring. In a recent survey by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, almost 60 percent of employers in STEM-related fields and manufacturing say they have trouble hiring now. 

“There’s a tsunami of problems that’s coming up because our workforce isn’t aligned very well with the job opportunities that are coming around,” Marshall said. “Our school systems aren’t designed to change fast enough to prepare the students for the new jobs.”  

One goal of education is getting students ready to one day enter the workforce. As the job landscape changes, business leaders are stepping in to help students prepare.

Marshall helps fill his new jobs by offering apprenticeships to young military veterans. That's a prime example of work-based learning -- essentially learning about work, while at work. Many business leaders are trying to bring work-based learning to students at younger and younger ages.

Ashlie Bucy is the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education. Its members are business leaders from across the state who are concerned about education. Bucy says the business community is beggining to recognize that it will have to start to grow its own workforce. She says it isn’t realistic any more to expect schools to fully train students for high-tech, modern jobs.

“What we're doing differently now is trying to tap the employers to initiate this momentum and saying, ‘Employer, you are responsible for opening your doors and creating these opportunities,” she said.

That means getting employers to motivate their employees to be guest speakers in schools, to offer on-the-job field trips for students, and organize career fairs and internships, according to Bucy. NCBCE has built a new online tool to help employers connect to classrooms called the Navigator.

The Navigator : A Marketplace For Employers and Educators

“The Navigator is a marketplace that allows educators to access resources that employers have,” Bucy explains.

Employees at Fidelity Investments who have volunteered to serve as resources to classrooms on the Navigator marketplace.
Credit Liz Schlemmer / WUNC

As an educator, you get a shopping cart and you can pick out resources for your students -- say, a cyber-security expert to come talk to your computer science class. Except, unlike other online shopping spots, everything on the Navigator is free. That makes it the first of its kind.

Technologists at Fidelity Investments donated their own personal time to develop the Navigator over the course of a year. Fidelity hosted a conference on work-based learning to launch the tool, and dozens of its employees have volunteered to serve on the Navigator as resources to classrooms.

“Particularly with younger employees, they are looking for companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility, and this is one of those ways that a company can do it,” said Tom Ryan, senior vice president at Fidelity Investments.

Governor Roy Cooper is getting behind the Navigator and plans to help spread the platform to other states.

Gov. Roy Cooper congratulates the creative team that developed the Navigator. From left to right, Christian Felkl of Fidelity Investments, Mark Branly of Registered Creative, Cooper, Stuart Shih and Alex Mussorici of Fidelity Investments.
Credit Liz Schlemmer / WUNC

“It's going to make our workforce better because it allows real-life collaboration between educators and the workplace,” Cooper said.

The Navigator launched this month. It's already open to public school K-12 educators, but NCBCE is in the stage of recruiting more employers to step up and open their doors to students. Businesses can also use it to advertise internships and programs they already offer -- employers like Tony Marshall from the cybersecurity business, who first learned about the Navigator at the conference hosted by Fidelity.

“I think the Navigator could be a wonderful tool in terms of educating those young people so they can opt in,” Marshall said. “I don't know how many young people we have that opt out [of the tech industry] just because they don't see themselves in it.”

Employers have a big task if they want to grow a workforce to fill the 22,000 tech jobs that are currently vacant across North Carolina.

Follow Liz Schlemmer on Twitter @LSchlemmerWUNC.