The job search process was frustrating for Keith. When he read the description of open roles companies posted online, he knew he had the skills required, but without a college degree, he lacked any way to prove it. As Keith shared, “Certain jobs would automatically turn you down in the application process if you didn’t have a degree.”
Keith isn’t alone in his experience. More than 70 million workers in the United States, over half of the country’s workforce, did not complete a bachelor’s degree but instead are skilled through alternative routes, a talent category called STARs (skilled through alternative routes). These workers built their skills through a wide variety of pathways, including the military, trade professions, community college, as caregivers, and by learning on the job.
STARs hit barriers, like degree screens, at every turn in their job search. Even though STARs make up the majority of U.S. workers, the U.S. economy systematically locks them out of opportunities for economic mobility. Over 70 percent of new U.S. job postings between 2008 and 2017 required a college degree. This paper ceiling, analogous to the glass ceiling, doesn’t just impact workers—employers feel the pain as well by losing out on a huge swath of people, many of whom already have the skills to succeed in higher-wage jobs.
Consider the case of IBM’s campus in Rocket Center, West Virginia, which was having a difficult time finding skilled workers for their network administrator roles. “The IT and Security workforce is highly in demand; there are more openings than people that are able to fill them,” shares Roger, a Data Center manager. Conventional recruiting techniques would automatically screen out about 97,000 workers who do not have a college degree but already have the practical skills needed for the administrator role. That’s just one example of the way the paper ceiling of degree requirements feeds into the skills and talent shortage employers across the country are facing.