The now of work


The constant evolutionary landscape of the American workforce has new-collar skills at its core. The significance of this “skill cornerstone” is that it is between fluid and situated economies linked to topography and demography.

To clarify, the fluid nature of work conjures up linkable dynamics due to the continued variance of what optimization and cost savings may look like for local, regional and national employers. Think distribution centers and the ties to logistics and supply chains, but also the context of any form of digitized/hybridized “work from home” options.

The situated economies are within our nurseries, dairy-beef-swine operations and other table staples grown and harvested based on location across our nation. Obviously, without mentioning the builders of our nation in the construction and paving industries, financial-tech and highly skilled tradesmen/women need to also correlate with first responders, healthcare and hospitality/tourism/culinary/spirits industries, we would be short-sighted to exclude their importance.

The new skills, situated at the nexus of technology, critical thinking and creative problem-solving, drive the next waves of economic development. This article seeks only to color the exploration of the imperative role of new-collar skills in employment, the essence of making training and learning accessible, and the ripple effects of innovation in revitalizing micro-metro and small-town rural economies.

What’s the difference

The centrality of new-collar skills contrasts with the traditional white-collar or blue-collar classifications. New-collar jobs demand a unique blend of technical aptitude and adaptive competence. At Motlow State Community College (Tennessee), we have developed specialized training programs with 128 partners over the last 18 months.

We are doing what all institutions that teach and train do, meeting the pace of the demand of our industry, business and community partners.

In partnership with learning platform providers like Microsoft and Google, or simulated training leveraging extended training tools like augmented reality and AI, we continue to innovate and develop the workforce. We have accounted for extended training of first responders in our AEMT/EMT programs, utilizing some of the latest simulated training tools. We believe that this provides our graduates with more than hands-on learning, but also proactively engages them in potentially high-stress awareness simulations that better prepare them for the field.

Simultaneously, we provide tools for them to map their way to stronger employment options. Furthering our work across the intersections of new skill environments, cyber, aviation and data-analytic conversations are on the tips of our tongues, too. Our existing and new programs enlist a capable and passionate group of faculties eager to prepare today’s workforce. For example, use of advanced teaching and learning tools, which now include AI, continues to be an organic extension in foundational areas like science and mathematics. Our Academic Resource Center, a space for faculty development, is growing and thriving. We are building upon the baselines that were before us.

Being accessible

Our growing partnerships will continue to yield impactful platforms for those we support and serve. Data analytics, dispositions, and skill alignment with current and emerging industries will remain a shared focus. We will continue to make strides in creating data-sharing platforms, which seamlessly interconnect educational institutions and employers. The phase one success of our omni-project, where students get real-time insights into the market demands for new-collar skills, positions our students for success, now and well into the future.

Accessible learning is a democratic imperative. At the heart of training for these new opportunities lies the ethical obligation to make such learning and training accessible. Motlow State has extended its partnerships to launch courses in not only emergent, but fields of need. The aim is to break down barriers that often hinder skill development among marginalized communities. Partner contributions facilitate collaborations between educational and industry leaders to customize training solutions that are inclusive and affordable. The focus, create pathways that empower every individual to access upward mobility, imagining beyond innovation towards application and amplification. The way we do anything is the way we will do everything, which rings true.

Innovation and regional economic revival do not just flourish in urban centers; it is also revitalizing smaller micro-metro and small-town rural areas. Take, for example, the town of McMinnville, Tennessee. Motlow State’s partnership with local manufacturers has led to workforce upskilling, subsequently attracting further investment in advanced manufacturing within the county and across our regional footprint.

We continue to further our investments with Tennessee State University with smart agriculture. We want to continue to empower our rural communities to leverage technology for sustainable farming. These projects contribute significantly to local economies, turning them into pockets of vibrant activity.

Tourism, as Motlow State is within the trailhead of Tennessee’s Whisky Trail, is also receiving an innovation-led boost. Motlow State has developed a micro-credential and degree pathway for distilling. Further, the partnership between Uncle Nearest, Jack Daniel’s and Motlow State, beginning in fall 2024, will garner additional opportunities for our students and entrepreneurs. Leveraging our innovation, the Uncle Nearest Distilling

Growing local opportunities

Academy will be an exemplar of our continued efforts to tailor programs to the unique needs of small-town rural economies, maturing alongside them as engines of impact.

On a similar note, our continued work with data company Brighthive will be instrumental in using data to improve the experiences of those who visit our communities. We trust that approaches like these will uplift the local and regional economic landscapes.

In conclusion, this is an era of rapid change and development for Tennesseans. The vitality of new-collar skills, the democratization of learning, training and innovation cannot be overstated. Together, they form a triad that has the potential to reshape not just individual lives, but entire communities. I believe we can scale these approaches and secure brighter futures for all invested and involved.

Our collaborative efforts at Motlow State Community College, in association with DXtera, Brighthive and the Learning Economy Foundation, are more than just institutional initiatives. They are a manifestation of our collective vision for a future where prosperity and opportunity are widespread and enduring.

As we forge ahead, let us all remember that the horizon of possibilities is as expansive as our willingness to venture into the unknown. It is a journey worth taking, for it holds the promise of a more accessible and dynamic America. We are, and always have been, stronger together!

About the Author

Michael Torrence
Dr. Michael Torrence is president of Motlow State Community College in Tennessee.