What Colour Is Your Collar? | Dr Daniel Pampuch

18 August 2022

I remember reading years ago Robert Kelly’s work centred on the emergence of a new type of worker. Previously, we knew of the “blue collar” worker involved in manual tasks, trades, farming, and construction. This was then built upon with the emergence of professional service organisations centred on desk-based work, such as accounting, banking, financial services, etc. These employees came to be known as the “white collar” worker. The next type of worker Kelly imagined was the “Gold Collar” worker. In his book, The Gold Collar Worker: Harnessing the Brainpower of the New Workforce he writes:
“The new workers are the gold collar workers, and they hold the key to the future…Perhaps the most significant difference (between them and white collar and blue collar workers) pertains to the nature of their work and freedom and flexibility with which they conduct it. They engage in complex problem solving, not bureaucratic drudgery or mechanical routine. They are imaginative and original, not docile, and obedient. Their work is challenging, not repetitious, and occurs in an uncertain environment in which results are rarely predictable or quantifiable. Many Gold Collar workers don’t know what they will do next, when they will do it, or sometimes even where.” Kelly 1985:8

It is amazing to reflect on these thoughts in the current context we are experiencing. 20 years ago, we would have classified teaching as a “white collar” job. However, with massive shifts in technology, exponential increases in knowledge, societal swings in ideology, as well as the implications of the pandemic and natural disasters, school workforce needs have changed rapidly. In fact, I would dare say that we are desperately needing our staff to be Gold Collar workers to assist in navigating these times of uncertainty and discontinuity. I share this small insight with you as a different vantage point in terms of how you may see your staff, how you might deploy them, and the types of attributes that may be useful as you seek to fill upcoming positions. The work environment has changed, perhaps forever, and we must start grappling with this new environment in fresh ways. I would love to hear your thoughts on the CSA Collective.

Loosley Coupled Organisation

Another old book from the vault, well the shelves that sit behind me during Zoom meetings, is Limerick, Cunnington and Crowther’s book, Managing the New Organisation. Where Kelly imagined what the new worker might look like, these academics imagined what form the new organisation might take. Thirty years ago, they foresaw a new world of work and organisational structures that was marked by:

  • Discontinuity – high levels of non-linear economic, technological, and social change
  • Loosley coupled systems- where formal, siloed divisions give way
  • Synergies and alliances – organisations become boundaryless with as yet unrealised alliances and initiatives undertaken both within and outside of the organisation
  • Collaborative individualism – the organisation places high value on autonomous, interdependent, proactive, empowered, collaborative individuals
  • Social Sustainability – the organisation contributes to the communities and social fabric from which it draws its strengths
  • Holism – a shared set of values, goals and beliefs represented in a common vision of the organisation and in a commonly accepted mission
  • Leadership Diversity – a high density of multiple leadership roles that together are able to sustain and transform the organisation
  • Participant-centred paradigm – that moves beyond hierarchy of the organisation and centres on the participants (1993: 43-44)

Again, many of these attributes have come to the fore through the pandemic and a range of environmental pressures and strains. Gone are the days where formal bureaucratic structures and lines of authority can bring about the change and transformation that the past three years have required of schools.  According to Limerick et al., the new organisation is less a state or structure and more a deliberate strategy, a process for dealing with complex and discontinuous environments; it is something organisations do rather than something they have (pp. 46).

Again, I hope this small insight helps you and your team reflect on the collaborations, projects, and paradigm shifts that you as a school have been required to set up and embrace during this turbulent time. Understanding the individual elements or levers at your disposal helps to navigate the current environment and to be more sustainable for the long term. I hope the above list helps you and your executive team reflect on the strategic initiatives you still need to imagine and embrace, to successfully navigate the landscape ahead.

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