A New Kind of Tech Job Emphasizes Skills, Not a College Degree

By on June 30, 2017

From The New York Times:  A few years ago, Sean Bridges lived with his mother, Linda, in Wiley Ford, W.Va. Their only income was her monthly Social Security disability check. He applied for work at Walmart and Burger King, but they were not hiring.

Yet while Mr. Bridges had no work history, he had certain skills. He had built and sold some stripped-down personal computers, and he had studied information technology at a community college. When Mr. Bridges heard IBM was hiring at a nearby operations center in 2013, he applied and demonstrated those skills.

Now Mr. Bridges, 25, is a computer security analyst, making $45,000 a year. In a struggling Appalachian economy, that is enough to provide him with his own apartment, a car, spending money — and career ambitions.

“I got one big break,” he said. “That’s what I needed.”

Mr. Bridges represents a new but promising category in the American labor market: people working in so-called new-collar or middle-skill jobs. As the United States struggles with how to match good jobs to the two-thirds of adults who do not have a four-year college degree, his experience shows how a worker’s skills can be emphasized over traditional hiring filters like college degrees, work history and personal references. And elevating skills over pedigree creates new pathways to employment and tailored training and a gateway to the middle class.

This skills-based jobs approach matters at a time when there is a push to improve the circumstances of those left behind in the American economy, many of whom voted for President Trump.

“We desperately need to revive a second route to the middle class for people without four-year college degrees, as manufacturing once was,” said Robert Reich, a labor secretary in the Clinton administration who is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “We have to move toward a system that works.”

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