The Grey-Collar Workforce

January 23, 2020

In the United States, most discussions about the labor market sort employees into one of two categories. “White-collar” workers are those who work at their desks and never complete manual tasks. Conversely, “blue-collar” workers spend the majority of their time completing manual tasks. Yet another bucket is emerging: the “grey-collar worker” exists somewhere on the spectrum between blue-collar and white-collar. As industries like manufacturing and logistics automate their operations, many blue-collar jobs may soon become grey.

Changing Labor Market

Express Employment Professionals—a staffing firm based in Oklahoma City—released a whitepaper that uses the term “grey collar” to describe “work that combines some of the aspects of blue-collar work but also has components of white collar work.”

Education beyond high school is necessary for many grey-collar positions, including flight attendants, childcare workers, firefighters, and non-physician healthcare professionals.

In addition to aptly defining the term “grey-collar,” Express’s whitepaper seeks to measure the average grey-collar employee’s sentiments. Like white-collar and blue-collar workers, grey-collar employees are aware of America’s trend toward automation. Roughly 39% state that “using technology is a significant part of my job.” Meanwhile, 18% state that they worry about “being replaced by automation.”

In terms of their enjoyment of work, 54% find a “sense of purpose” in their jobs. In light of the fact that 61% of American workers experience burnout, this statistic may indicate an above-average optimism among grey-collar workers.

Grey-Collar Job Growth

As mentioned in Express’s whitepaper, the Society for Human Resource Management reported that the number one “top workplace trend for 2019” was “fostering the relationship between workers and robots.” The grey-collar category is expanding, and many new grey-collar employees were once blue-collar workers.

In spite of fears surrounding automation and mass unemployment, SHRM asserts that “the human element will never go away.” Express foresees a larger need for grey-collar workers, especially in sectors that traditionally rely upon blue-collar employees. Express’s survey found that 40% of grey-collar workers “expect substantial job growth in their fields over the coming years.”

Who will fill the demand for grey-collar positions? Thought leaders indicate that young blue-collar workers will bridge the widening gap between mankind and machine.

In an interview with Qlicket, Lisa Harrington—the president of a strategic research and consulting firm called LHarrington Group—stated that millennials “don’t want to work in a place where there’s old style technology, or worse, no technology. A company that invests in warehouse technology is a cooler place to work—a place they can brag about. Also, a place that probably values its employees more.”

According to Harrington, companies that fail to invest in warehouse technology will likewise fail to attract young talent. As many “blue-collar” and “white-collar” roles merge, companies will need to explore strategies to attract, retain, and engage grey-collar workers.

Learn how Qlicket can help your firm master the art and science of workforce measurement and engagement.

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