Technology Leads to Rise of "Gold-Collar" Occupations

Nov 9, 2015

Iowa is facing a shortage of middle-skill workers, including those in the fields of nursing, welding, and manufacturing.

On this River to River segment, host Ben Kieffer talks with people pushing for more technical and career training from the high school level onward, including Waterloo Community School District Superintendent Jane Lindaman and Dave Bunting, a longtime educator at Kirkwood Community College.

The Waterloo school board recently announced plans to expand career and technical education for students, especially those who are prone to lose interest and drop out of high school. The $47 million recommendation of the high school reform steering committee comes after three years of studying other similar programs around the country. Schools that implemented these programs successfully have graduation rates of 92 percent on average, compared to Waterloo's 70 percent graduation rate.

Also this month, a state task force is recommending changes to improve career education programs that introduce students to middle-skill jobs. Bunting says the recommendations will help prepare young people and those seeking second-careers for jobs in Iowa's growing sectors, what the Iowa Workforce Development calls "hot jobs."

Jeff Mitchell, Dean of Industrial Technology at Kirkwood Community College, says that to get more students into these "hot jobs," society needs to rethink how certain careers are classified. For instance, welders used to be considered blue collar workers, while now, welders are expected to have a far greater knowledge and talent base.

"When I got into education in the late 70s, there were two classifications of jobs - blue collar and white collar," he says. "And because of technology, there has really been a new classification in-between that we like to call gold-collar jobs, that take increase in knowledge, where you are using both your mind and your hands every day that you go to work."

The Waterloo school board is currently planning the timeline for a referendum on their plan, which will be presented at the board's next meeting, and the initiatives from the state task force could be implemented as soon as next fall.