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What colour is your collar?

 What colour is your collar?

For as long as we can remember, we had workers classified broadly into “white collar” or “blue collar”. The white collar worker was a professional - like a lawyer, engineer, doctor, accountant, or teacher - while the blue collar worker could be working in a factory, or was a tradesman like a plumber or electrician. In our Digital world of today, lets examine how these age-old definitions work for us.

Digital technologies like Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Cognitive Solutions are blurring these definitions. Philips’ healthcare division now has systems to hook into x-ray machines, and review x-rays to determine they might indicate Tuberculosis in a patient. In India or African countries, this will be of tremendous value as we are grappling with very low doctor-to-patient ratios. Systems like these could make less qualified formerly “blue collar” workers like hospital attendants or nurses do the first level diagnosis. They would however have to be computer literate and also trained on how the system works. What colour is their collar, then? 

One of India’s leading hospital chains is using Cognitive Systems to take oncology diagnosis beyond the big urban hospitals into the outer reaches of India’s towns and villages. These are patients who would probably never have discovered their illness, because they were too poor to access large hospitals. Here too, the first level diagnosis is made accurately - and cheaply, given the volumes addressed - by the computer running a cognitive systems based solution.  

A new class of workers is emerging that can be classified as neither blue- nor white-collared. The term for them is “New Collar”. New Collar workers are required in the hundreds of millions as we move into the Digital age. Training of new collar workers cannot start after they have graduated as it is the case in IT and ITES firms now. They have to be caught early in school, and gradually taught about how to solve real life problems using new technologies like these. 

It could also work the other way! From a software development perspective, the traditional role of a “testing engineer” has not been left untouched. The Digital age brought in Devops in place of the linear waterfall model of software development. With Devops, we have very short release cycles where the testing is modular and microscopic in comparison to the old model. Does that not change the traditional role of a tester? Who do you need to simply run a battery of predefined test cases, mostly with automated tools? Would the tester’s role, while originally “white collar”, now change into “new collar”?  

Think about the colour of our collars. And how they are changing!

- Vish Mavathur

Vish Mavathur has wide-ranging leadership experience in the tech sector. He has built several emerging technology businesses. Vish has been recognised for significant contributions to TCS during his 9 years there, with a repeat nomination to the coveted Blitz group (global top 0.2% performers each year).

As a thought-leader on Technology and Business Models, Vish is a frequent invited speaker. He received his MBA from IIM Bangalore, B. Tech. from Kerala University, and has been a Rotary International Exchange scholar.