What Is a Gold-Collar Worker?

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What Is a Gold-Collar Worker?

A Higher Level of Knowledge Work. Kelley (1990) described an old distinction that divided the work force into blue-collar and white-collar workers. Blue-collar workers typically did manual labor in a factory for hourly pay, whereas white-collar workers did knowledge work in an office on salary. However, changes in the nature of work and the workplace have led to large growth in the numbers of a particular kind of knowledge worker—the gold-collar worker, whose most valuable assets are problem-solving abilities, creativity, talent, and intelligence; who performs nonrepetitive and complex work that is difficult to evaluate; and who prefers self-management. The gold-collar worker is, for example, the computer engineer as opposed to a lower-level knowledge worker such as an input operator. Kelley pointed out that even though the name is new, there have always been gold-collar workers like designers, researchers, analysts, engineers, and lawyers.

Learning, Teams, and Strategic Thinking. Wood (2001) characterized gold-collar workers in information technology (IT) similarly by focusing on qualitative matters. Gold-collar IT workers learn continually from experience. They recognize the synergy of teams and can demonstrate leadership; they are strategic thinkers who see the big picture and can change strategic directions when necessary. They have a portable, flexible skill base relevant to a variety of work environments and maintain that skill base through their own personal development, with well-connected networks of contacts at the leading edge.

Interdisciplinary Knowledge. Where business and science intersect, the basic focus of the gold-collar worker is interdisciplinary knowledge and experience (Bartlett 1998; Todaro 2001; Van Nierop and Bow 1997). This interdisciplinary focus combines scientific or other technical knowledge and skills with business literacy to result in a gold-collar worker with expertise across several areas. Gold-collar engineers, chemists, biologists, physicists, or geoscientists understand the relationship between their scientific discipline and business, have the management and financial knowledge needed for a business environment, and can "marry" science and entrepreneurship.

Other Characterizations. Roe (2001) called the gold-collar worker "a highly skilled multidisciplinarian who combines the mind of the white-collar worker with the hands of the blue-collar employee" (p. 32); examples include aircraft systems maintenance technicians, network administrators, and advanced manufacturing technicians. A similar case would be online customer service representatives (CSRs), for whom managing customer relationships now involves not only oral communication but also text-based Internet chat and e-mail about tough questions not answered in frequently asked questions or canned e-mail responses (Dicksteen 2001).

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