The Era of ‘New Collar’ Jobs and How It’s Impacting One Triangle Firm

Article By Seth Thomas Gulledge – Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal

Falling in line with a growing national trend, potential Triangle candidates can now find a job at a prominent engineering firm without a four-year degree.

SEPI, Inc., a Raleigh-based consultancy firm, has announced that four-year degrees are no longer a basic qualification for potential employees. That announcement joins SEPI with the ranks of companies now recognizing high skill-based positions that can be filled by graduates armed with associate’s degrees.

President + CEO Sepi Saidi says the decision to remove the qualification came down to an “a-ha moment” for her during a panel discussion when someone asked about qualifications.

“I have seen people who do great work and were brilliant – people I’ve relied on heavily – who didn’t have a four-year degree,” she says. “When I heard that, it was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments.”

The move also presents strategic importance for the firm, which Saidi says has been competing in a tight labor market to find talent.

“We’re facing a shortage of qualified resumes, and a storage of talent,” she says. “So why are we looking at this different? If we remove [the requirement] then we can give people opportunities to apply, interview them and see if they have the qualifications, are eager and willing to learn with a positive attitude and smart but just not set for an academic place.”

Saidi notes that candidates with different degree qualifications will still be paid differently initially – giving the company a valuable avenue of de-risking candidates.

The firm’s decision is one of just many companies in the country changing their standards to a new style of workforce. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is credited with terming the market of skilled office positions – such as those in information technology – as “new collar” jobs.

Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College, says that growing trend – which he has been observing in recent years – has more potential students eyeing two-year degrees as entry points into successful careers.

“I think what’s changing is in the old days, blue collar or white collar use to mean you went one place if you worked with your hands and one place if you worked with your brain,” he says. “That world has disappeared – everyone is working with technology. Those kinds of delineations don’t exist anymore.”

That trend is bringing more students toward community colleges, which have traditionally held a place as institutions for students looking for skills and less concerned about university pedigree – especially the cost-conscious.”

“I think it absolutely raises the value proposition,” Ralls says, noting that students however still fall into the trap of thinking more traditionally. “I think we still live with blue-collar/white-collar assumptions, but what is changing that game somewhat is the notion of underemployment and student debt coming out of college.”