Majority of US Workforce Needs 30 Years On-The-Job to Earn a College Graduate’s Starting Wages

  • New insights reveal degree discrimination’s negative impact on employers and the 70+ million workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs)

Exclusionary hiring practices and an overreliance on college degrees have led to downward mobility for the largest subset of workers in the US Workforce over the last 20 years, according to research released today from social enterprise Opportunity@Work.

The report, Rise with the STARs: Building a Stronger Labor Market for STARs, Communities, and Employers, finds that workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) like community college, military service, training programs, skills bootcamps, and learning on the job rather than a bachelor’s degree face a stark opportunity gap in today’s labor market. Median wages for STARs do not equal the starting salaries of college graduates until 30 years after a STAR has entered the workforce. And, over the last 20 years, STARs were displaced from 7.4 million middle- and high-wage jobs.

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“Despite having the skills for higher-wage work, STARs have often been needlessly screened out by employers carelessly pursuing ‘hiring efficiency.’  It’s been a lose-lose bargain for both employers and the 60% of U.S. workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree,” said Byron Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work. “Amid the acute impact of the Great Resignation, smart employers can build a more resilient, diverse, and skilled talent base and unblock clogged systems of opportunity in their communities where they do business.”

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Rise with the STARs underscores the critical roles employers, workforce and education organizations, researchers, and policymakers can play in renewing talent pipelines in the face of today’s “skills gap.” By analyzing the 292 Gateway and Destination jobs that have long offered opportunity for advancement to STARs, Opportunity@Work identified 30 job roles that could reverse the downward trend facing STARs. By intentionally hiring STARs into those roles – which include computer support specialist, registered nurses, human resource managers, and sales representatives – and providing training and opportunities for career advancement, employers can help provide new pathways for STARs. The report’s “STAR Mobility Index” captures the variation in economic opportunity for STARs across the largest 50 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

“Nearly half of the 7.4 million jobs lost to STARs since the turn of the century were in 30 occupations. STARs currently comprise at least 20% of workers in each of these occupations, suggesting that by sourcing STARs for these jobs, employers can make deliberate choices to reverse the decline in economic mobility for STARs while strengthening their talent pipelines,” said Papia Debroy, Senior Vice President of Insights at Opportunity@Work. “Continued screening out of this valuable talent will exacerbate their hiring needs and ultimately hurt their bottom line.”

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Rise with the STARs builds on Opportunity@Work’s body of Workforce about workers without a bachelor’s degree, which includes two landmark reports – Reach for the STARs and Navigating with the STARs  as well as research published in the National Bureau of Economic Research – Searching for STARs: Work Experience as a Job Market Signal for Workers without Bachelor’s Degrees and Skills, Degrees and Labor Market Inequality.

“Many employers’ practices appear to assume that having no college degree means you don’t have skills, and these data refute that narrative,”  said Erica L. Groshen, Senior Economic Advisor at Cornell U-ILR, former Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner, and Chair of the STARs Insights Advisory Panel. “The term STARs has ‘skills’ in the name for a reason – so we can change our understanding of a talent category that is too often defined only by the degree that workers don’t have, as opposed to the skills and talent they do possess.”

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