Conventional wisdom would say go to college and get a white collar job. But conventional wisdom doesn’t know everything.
The year is 2023, just about to move into 2024, and you are a young person trying to determine the direction of your education and career. You have your whole life ahead of you — what should you do with it?
Conventional wisdom would say go to college, finish your degree, and get a job that will fund a comfortable lifestyle. But conventional wisdom doesn’t know everything, especially in a world as rapidly changing as ours today.
Thanks to the advent of genetic artificial intelligence, the skyrocketing cost of college, and the rise of on-the-job training opportunities, the traditional college route is no longer the best option for every student. Young people should no longer be advised to attend college as a one-size-fits-all path—especially if they don’t yet know what they want to do with their lives.
White collar concerns
To further complicate the college issue, the jobs many college degrees lead to are less secure than ever with the explosion of genetic artificial intelligence. ONE new exhibition from Pearson this week highlights this trend, suggesting that around 30% of white-collar roles could be “easily replicated” by genetic AI.
Blue-collar jobs are predicted to be much less affected with less than 1% of time spent on blue-collar jobs that can be performed by genetic AI. That’s not surprising, since you’re unlikely to ask AI to fix your roof, fix your car, or any of the many other tasks robots can’t do. You still need a trained, skilled person for this type of work, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding blue-collar work still exists and may discourage many members of the Gen Z workforce from entering these high-demand fields.
Causing the freckles
For too long there has been a dichotomy between white-collar and blue-collar jobs, with white-collar roles valued more than those of their blue-collar counterparts. I believe this is unfair to all of us, but especially young people who may be turned away from these careers by an outdated stigma. Why can’t we honor work because we are work, whatever the color of the collar?
All of us rely on workers in both white-collar and blue-collar roles every day. The objects we buy, the services we use, and the buildings we live and work in are all available to us through a combination of these different types of labor. It begs the question: why do we have such a hard dividing line between white and blue collar work anyway?
Blue collar work is becoming increasingly complex and technologically advanced, while many black and white collar jobs can be done as well (or better) with the creation of artificial intelligence. This is not to promote one over the other, but to note that all industries are becoming more stringent in what they require of their human resources.
Suddenly, white and blue collar labels don’t mean as much as they used to. This is good too.
Creating a personal competitive advantage
One thing that applies to everyone in every field, white or blue, is that we all need a competitive edge. Whether your goals are to achieve something great, mediocre or loose, you need a plan to get there and a way to stand out once you do. You need to develop a personal competitive advantage—and business skills are the secret to doing so.
Every employee needs strong critical thinking and problem solving skills. Every employer wants people who can communicate effectively, behave professionally and manage their time well. Organizational skills, stress management, interpersonal skills and a host of other professional skills are essential for almost every role in every industry.
As technology advances, it’s possible that the technical skills you acquire early in your career will soon be obsolete. That’s why professional skills are so vital, because they don’t come with an expiration date. People who are consummate professionals in whatever job they do will always be in high demand.
Lifestyle over career
Ultimately, it’s your lifestyle aspirations that should determine your career choice. For Gen Z, almost every decision is based on how it will affect your lifestyle—where you want to live, how much money you want to earn, whether you want to have a family, how much free time and flexibility you want to have, and so on.
These types of questions can help you sharpen your focus and start planning for a successful future:
- What kind of lifestyle do I want to live?
- How much money do I need to make to support this lifestyle?
- What do I like to do?
- What am I doing well?
- What kinds of careers play to both my strengths and lifestyle goals?
- What kind of education/training do I need to succeed in these careers?
- What competitive advantage will I need to stand out?
Asking yourself these kinds of questions is far more helpful than the blunt and intimidating “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Because the work you do is really just a piece of the bigger picture, which is ultimately the life you dream of living.
One last word
For young people trying to make the best choices for their education and career path in the year 2024 and beyond, I would say this: don’t let a white or blue collar label define your career choice. Find what you love to do and do well, capitalize on those skills, and explore the careers that would best utilize your unique interests, talents, and abilities. Society’s outdated stigmas and labels should have nothing to do with your designs—because they are yours designs.
Think about the lifestyle you want to live, with all the factors and variables that would happen in your ideal future, and research the types of careers that would make it possible. Then make a plan to get there. College is off the table. it may well be the best route to reach your career destination. But neither is it the only path to a rewarding life and career.
Above all, hone the professional skills that make you highly employable and give you the personal competitive edge we all need in the age of artificial intelligence. The best education, career and life decisions are the ones you make for yourself, based on what you want from your work and lifestyle.