Technology blurs the line between white-collar and blue-collar work

IN A MODERN AUTOMOTIVE PLANT, robots are everywhere. People? Not that much. Even if there are thousands of employees there, it can be hard to spot them on the assembly line. “You walk by and say, ‘Where are they? They’re not putting the cars together. They should be somewhere else,’” says David Santi, dean of the Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship at Mohawk College in Ontario.

The “other place” could be an office, where they work with artificial intelligence software. Or a shop, where they are repairing a robot or retraining it for optimal performance based on data analysis. From mines to high streets, automation has transformed the way workplaces work and reshaped the work of skilled workers. “Smart factories” and “Industry 4.0” are the buzzwords experts use to talk about changes in manufacturing, metals, and other industrial sectors. The idea is that modern technologies and management practices, from machine learning and the Internet of Things to decision-making based on data analysis, add up to a fourth industrial revolution.

How will workplaces and workers be maintained? Continuous mid-run recycling is one of the great answers. Workers entering the trades today will likely not just learn a skill set that will stay the same for decades. They will periodically be trained and upgraded to adapt to technological change or to prepare to move into management. “There are all these other secondary and tertiary skill sets, like data analysis and programming, that are going to go into the skilled trades, which we never really thought about before,” says Santi, who started out in the trades, with qualifications in automotive and machinery. heavy. . “Traders work with business analytics, they work with engineers, they work with finance people, and they make decisions about teams and operations together because everyone has a role to play.”

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To thrive in these evolving workplaces, Santi says, marketers can expect to go back to school, perhaps multiple times. To meet that need, universities are creating pathways for workers who want to gain skills that are traditionally considered white-collar and/or high-tech.

“Traders are working with business analytics, they’re working with engineers, they’re working with finance people, and they’re making decisions about teams and operations together.”

The micro-credentials trend in education may fit the requirements of skilled workers who just need a little boost. With online or in-person training for a few hours or a few months, they can gain a new competency, often while continuing to work full time. Canadian Colleges for Resilient Recovery, for example, is a coalition of post-secondary institutions, including Mohawk College, that are developing micro-credentials and jobs to re-skill workers eager to enter the growing green economy.

Meanwhile, as more people develop the skills to work in the factories and workplaces of the 21st century, the traditional line between blue-collar and white-collar work is blurring. And with six-figure salaries becoming more common for skilled tradespeople, there is no longer a pay gap.

To help prepare workers for the age of Industry 4.0, Mohawk and two other Ontario universities have teamed up to offer a new, first-of-its-kind bachelor’s degree in business administration aimed at those already working in skilled trades . Through a combination of distance learning and 420 hours of structured work experience, students will gain knowledge in leadership, project management, accounting, applied research, and a host of other areas that can help them move up the managerial ladder or eventually manage their own businesses The first cohort started this fall.

Workers entering the trades today can expect regular updating to adapt to technological change. At left, a Mohawk College student practices on a welding simulator. At right, a student works in the machine shop at Mohawk’s Stoney Creek Campus for Skilled Trades.

All of this recycling may seem like a lot of work, but Santi says he finds that most young people are eager for careers that allow constant evolution. “They don’t put the same barriers in front of them that I think we put up.”

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Coming out of high school, James Kretz worked as an electrician’s apprentice. He then he left. But that time and experience was not wasted, he says. “It made me discover that I wanted to do something a little more within my range. Honestly, he wasn’t very good at being an electrician’s apprentice.”

However, it taught him how to do hands-on work and how to collaborate with others in an industrial setting. He also exposed him to a broader range of career possibilities. In short, he was a springboard to where he is now: in his last semester working toward a civil engineering technician degree at Mohawk.

Kretz’s advice to other young people? “Whatever you end up choosing or doing, just go full throttle, become an expert on your subject, and really dig into the work you’re doing.” What if it doesn’t excite you? Go to the next challenge.

In his cooperative placement last semester, Kretz estimates that he spent 80 percent of his time in the office and the other 20 on site, making sure the structures he designed worked in practice. (By the way, he also got to work with drones.)

So are you embarking on a blue or white collar career?

Both, he says. “There are a lot of jobs where you’re going to see both sides.”

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