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The New Shape of the Collared Economy

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James Kotecki is your typical 20-something. His day starts with a shower, a bowl of cereal and a few minutes catching up with his favorite blogs. But it's here where his morning routine departs from many of his friends who work for big consulting firms, large banks and news syndicates. Instead of donning slacks and a tie -- typical of America's white-collar, service-oriented workforce that has emerged since World War II -- James opts for a black t-shirt branded with an image of Disney's Space Mountain.

James is a representative of the no collar generation, a segment of the labor force that has exploded in the last decade. This new cohort of talent is trading in starched collars for t-shirts. James in particular is a new media savant. He has been able to craft a profession at the intersection of technology, social media and humor. He is an online author and video host who blogs for The Huffington Post, combines journalism with jokes for The Not Safe For Work Corporation and hosts a political humor show for The Daily. The Economist once referred to him as "probably the world's foremost expert on YouTube videos posted by presidential candidates" -- a lofty accolade, to be sure. He's finding a professional niche at the fringe.

James is one of millions of members of the no collar generation. Like many others, his success can be directly traced to the emergence of America's knowledge economy -- where the acquisition and transfer of knowledge is key. By some estimates, knowledge workers represent between 28 and 45 percent of the U.S. labor force. This segment is expected to grow rapidly according to the Department of Labor. Within the knowledge economy there is what author Dan Pink has called free agent nation -- in which working for one employer for your entire career is a thing of the past.

More and more of the talent pool are divorcing themselves from career-for-life commitments. They are moving towards a more flexible and increasingly virtual lifestyle. By some estimates, this group already accounts for one-third of the U.S. talent pool. These entrepreneurs -- coffee-shop app developers, bloggers, consultants, and designers, among others -- have leveraged the shifting dynamics of the modern workforce. They understand that the 40-year job is becoming a thing of the past -- and have plugged-in to bypass the curve.

And yet, despite the emergence of today's knowledge-driven, plug-and-play talent pool, our current government labor policies remain focused on preserving yesteryears' labor force. The good news is that America has effectively navigated similar transitions in the past. Just look back to the 1970s when more and more females entered the workforce (pink collar generation) or the 1980s with the rapid growth of high-touch service industries like finance and consulting (gold collar generation). Today's policies should begin to focus on the no collar generation.

First, government can encourage more professional training for no collars by promoting and accrediting peer-to-peer networks. Learning from others will become increasingly important and the government may be able to play a role legitimizing this type of education.

Designing intellectual property regimes that accommodate no collars is another important next step. With the rapid spread of technology and the high velocity of information, adaptive and less constrictive IP rights may help innovators succeed in a traditionally restrictive marketplace.

Lastly, reviewing occupational licensing regulations to better understand their impact on talent development may help no collars get ahead in today's knowledge economy. While some licensing measures make sense (you wouldn't visit an unlicensed doctor), others can be obstructive and simply bad for business.

By adapting policies to the realities of the new economy, policymakers can create a more hospitable business climate for a growing and powerful segment of our society. James Kotecki and other Millennials would surely agree.

Director for Deloitte Research, Bill Eggers is responsible for research and thought leadership for Deloitte's Public Sector industry practices. He is the author of seven books, including the Washington Post best-seller 'If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government.' Owen Sanderson is a consultant with Deloitte Consulting LLP.