David Foster Wallace | New Collar | 3 Gaps | Work Futures Growth
Quote of the Moment
In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.
| David Foster Wallace
Word of the Day: New Collar
A job that requires specialized skills, but not necessarily a college degree, and that is becoming more important in emerging high-tech fields like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.
As the labor market reorders, more Americans are making the leap from blue-collar jobs and hourly work to “new collar” roles that often involve tech skills and come with better pay and schedules. | Vanessa Fuhrmans, Kathryn Dill, Blue-Collar Workers Make the Leap to Tech Jobs, No College Degree Necessary
Step aside, blue collar. And white collar, pink collar and green collar.
There’s a new collar in town.
“New collar” jobs are those that require advanced skills but not necessarily advanced degrees, especially in emerging high-tech fields like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, electric vehicles and robotics.
There are real fears that workers will lose jobs to technology, especially artificial intelligence, in the coming years. But “new collar” optimists (including those at companies looking to hire) frame things in a more positive light: There are also real opportunities ahead for skilled workers who know how to handle machines.
“Somebody has to program, monitor and maintain those robots,” said Sarah Boisvert, the founder of the New Collar Network, a national work force training program based in New Mexico. | Lora Kelley
A recent PWC report, Uniting a divided workforce, explores three ‘gaps’, meaning differences of opinion between managers and managees that PWC deems ‘critical to your organization’s future’. These are
Gap 1 — (Up)skills confusion — PWC believes that companies are ‘pouring money into training’, but workers still feel that the skills they need to do their jobs will ‘change significantly in the next five years’, and only 43% say they ‘strongly or moderately agree that they have a clear sense of how the skills their job requires will change’.
Gap 2 — In AI we trust? — ‘PwC’s Hopes and Fears survey found employees were more than twice as likely to see AI as clearly positive than negative—but those pure AI “cheerleaders”[28.6%] and “fear-leaders”[13.1%] only represent 40% of your workforce. The rest either have mixed views, or they are among the one in five people who aren’t convinced that AI will affect their roles at all. And if that’s not complicated enough, employees’ views tend to cut across demographics, making it hard to predict who falls into which camp.’ Strangely, this Gap wasn’t structured as a difference between managers and managees, but among different groups of workers.
Then there is Gap 3: Defensive culture, the one that towers over the other two.
Only half of managers believe that their company culture fosters experimentation, proposing new ideas, and encouraging dissent: ‘the hallmarks of innovation’. That’s a pretty tough self-assessment. But the view from managees is worse: only one-third think ‘company leaders tolerate small-scale failures or encourage dissent and debate’.
This gap can be much more than a source of disengagement. It strikes to the core of what workers are looking for in a company’s culture: the freedom to have a voice in the conduct of business, as Albert Hirschman discussed. Here’s PWC’s comments:
It’s not easy for employees to contradict a more senior team member or admit failure—especially if they fear reprisal. And this dynamic is even more challenging when they struggle with feeling included or accepted within a company—only half of employees in the Hopes and Fears survey said they can truly be themselves at work.
If you have any transformative plans for your company, this particular gap should be a red flag. As PwC’s Katzenbach Center notes, differences between what leaders say about their company’s culture and what employees actually experience can cause a sense of “cultural incoherence” that erodes trust—making it much more difficult to enact change.
I found the term cultural incoherence very apt. I looked into their earlier research from 2021 and found this [emphasis mine]:
Our survey also shows that the positive impact of culture is felt most strongly in organisations in which the entire workforce sees their leaders acting in authentic ways. Of respondents in our survey who say that their organisation’s leaders are ‘role models of value, purpose and culture,’ 83% also say that culture was a source of competitive advantage during the pandemic, and 83% say that their organisation’s culture enabled change initiatives to happen.
These findings point to an enduring challenge for leaders: how to translate the talk about culture into actions that are felt every day at all levels of the organisation.
In 2018, we highlighted a gulf between C-suite and board members’ perception of their organisation’s culture and the experience of their people. In our work with clients, we’ve seen that this incoherence between what leaders say they want the culture to be and how workers experience it has a detrimental impact on one very important emotion—trust. Without trust, it becomes much more difficult to bring about change, motivate people and encourage the right behaviours within the organisation.
This year’s survey shows that this chasm between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions persists, extending to almost every element of culture (see Exhibit 8). This gap creates a huge barrier to realising the benefits of investing in culture.
So, we’ve dug down into the third gap, and found a yawning void at the heart of company culture: cultural incoherence. They state [emphasis mine]:
There is evidence that a lack of cultural consistency in organisations is causing another fundamental problem. Our survey this year shows that employees are losing faith in the power of culture: although the number of C-suite and board members who believe that culture is more important than strategy or operating model has increased, the number of frontline workers who say the same has gone down since our 2018 survey, from 66% then to 46% this year.
I invite you to read the recent and older reports, and to see if you come away surprised that the authors do not detail any specific means to close the cultural incoherence gap, or dig into the practices at companies where these gaps are narrowist.
Instead, both reports fall flat, focusing on management’s ‘cultural priorities’ and hawking a thin call to ‘purposeful management of culture’ and ‘closing the gaps’ without any real resolution of the cultural decay that the earlier findings reveal.
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