The Most In-Demand New Collar Job Skills

New collar opportunities are on the rise, and some of them are in jobs you might not have expected. This shift in the labor market is so new that many workers don’t quite know how to respond to it yet. We’ve offered general advice before, but today we’re taking a more specific look at one key question: What skills do workers need to be competitive for new collar jobs?

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To tackle this question, we looked at 3 million ZipRecruiter posts from this year and last. We narrowed in on new collar jobs using methods we’ve used before: We draw on O*NET, the Department of Labor’s primary database of occupational skills, to identify middle-skilled jobs. These provide good opportunities for career growth but don’t require a college degree. We further restrict to posts which don’t list educational requirements. This ensures that we’re looking at ZipRecruiter posts that are open to everyone.

Focusing on these new collar jobs, we look at how many applications they receive from workers with and without a Bachelor’s degree (or more). None of these jobs need a college education, but at the same time, college does provide skills. If a job is getting a lot more applications from college graduates than non-graduates, it suggests that the necessary skills are rare among non-graduates.

This tells us which skills tend to be under-supplied by the non-college workforce. That is, which skills show up frequently in openings that don’t require a college education, but overwhelmingly get college-educated applicants anyway. For non-college workers figuring out what skills they need in order to compete with the college educated (short of having an actual degree), this is the place to start.

Table 1 shows the results. It lists 20 skills that frequently show up in new collar posts (occupations that don’t require college, and posts that don’t list education requirements), along with the share of applicants who actually have a degree.

At the top of the list is AngularJS, a JavaScript-based open-source web development framework meant to be an alternative to HTML (don’t worry, I had to Google it, too). Although over 2,000 ZipRecruiter posts were looking for this skill and didn’t require a college degree, 92% of applicants to these jobs had a college degree anyway. This means that a bunch of employers are open to hiring non-college workers, but are having a hard time finding the skills they need among those workers.

The powerful fact that jumps out of Table 1 is that it’s dominated by computer languages (languages like Java, HTML, and their variants; Python; SQL) and computer skills (user interface design, software development, relational databases). Importantly: We didn’t focus on tech jobs in this analysis. Instead, it’s in tech where there are the most posts that don’t require college but tend to (overwhelmingly!) get college educated applicants anyway. In fact, only one skill (Six Sigma, a certification for planning and management) isn’t a tech skill.

Table 1. Key Skills Under-Supplied By Non-College Workers

RankSkillNon-college share of applicantsCollege share of applicants
5User Interface Design11.5%88.5%
7User Experience12.3%87.7%
8Design Development12.7%87.3
11Software Development13.2%86.8%
14Relational Database14.3%85.7%
15SQL Server14.6%85.4%
19Amazon Web Services19.1%80.9%
20 Six Sigma20.1%79.9%

This isn’t surprising. We’ve long noted that tech jobs provide a unique opportunity for workers to develop the skills they need outside of a traditional college education (though standards on education are changing in other sectors, too). Our analysis here is more specific. It gives workers a clear idea of which skills are the most under-supplied by non-college applicants and which skills should be their focus.

Changing standards in the workplace require everyone to get on board. HR professionals need to take non-college applications seriously, managers need to focus on skills rather than qualifications, and applicants need to figure out how to provide employers with the skills they need. We hope this post is a step in the right direction, and wish non-college workers the best of luck building up the skills that will allow them to compete with degree-holders.

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Mitch Downey is an Assistant Professor of economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies in Stockholm and a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog.

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