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A (work)force to be reckoned with.

STARs: Skilled Through Alternative Routes.

STARs are half the workforce

STARs are workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than through a bachelor’s degree.

They’re the 50% of the workforce that has developed valuable skills through military service, community college, training programs, partial college completion, or, most commonly, on-the-job experience.

At 70 million strong, STARs are a massive pool of skilled talent, larger than the populations of California and Texas…combined.

STARs are all around us.

Chances are you know more STARs than you may realize. STARs include people of all ages and at all life stages, from twenty-somethings just starting their career to workers with decades of on-the-job experience.

They can be found in every sector of the workforce, from retail, travel, and hospitality to health care, information technology, manufacturing, and more.

STARs also reflect our nation’s racial and cultural diversity:

61%

of Black workers

55%

of Latinx workers

50%

of white workers

66%

of rural Americans

61%

of Veterans

Skilled for Higher-wage Work

Far too many employers assume that low wage means low skill, and that a bachelor’s degree is the only way to build job-relevant skills.

However, Opportunity@Work analyzed the skills content for nearly 900 U.S. occupations and found that the skills required for low-wage jobs often overlap with those needed for higher-wage jobs. In fact, millions of STARs have demonstrated skills for roles with at least 50% higher salaries than their current jobs.

Hitting the Paper Ceiling

Despite STARs demonstrating skills for higher-wage work, research by Opportunity@Work and others has shown that the paper ceiling has severely impacted STARs’ economic mobility.

Over the last 30 years, the wage gap between STARs and workers with bachelor’s degrees has doubled. Adjusted for inflation, STARs now actually earn less on average than they did in 1976. According to a 2022 study by Opportunity@Work, it takes more than 30 years on the job for STARs to earn the same wage that college graduates earn on day one of their careers.

Stories of STARs

Get inspired by stories of STARs and companies tearing the paper ceiling, then create a custom story card to share your own story on social media. Every story matters, especially yours.

See the world beyond the paper ceiling

Whether you’re a STAR, an employer, a workforce advocate, or anyone seeking to create a more equitable future, you can help tear the paper ceiling and see the world beyond it.

Resources to Tear the Paper Ceiling

Filter By

Future of Skills

Allows users to see which skills are most relevant for industry-occupations.

LinkedIn

Tools

Future of Skills

Future of Skills

Navigate With the STARs

Reimagining the approach to our workforce to achieve an equitable recovery.

Opportunity@Work

Research Report

Navigate With the STARs

Navigate With the STARs

Actions to advance your DE&I Strategy

Research finds that 10 specific tactics are particularly effective at advancing DE&I.

Grads for Life

Research Report

Actions to advance your DE&I Strategy

Actions to advance your DE&I Strategy

Degrees of Risk

Original research on Gen Z and employers to set an important baseline.

Jobs for the Future (JFF)

Research Report

Degrees of Risk

Degrees of Risk

Job Quality Outcome Maps

Research shows that good jobs are good for workers and for business.

National Fund for Workforce Solutions

Playbooks

Job Quality Outcome Maps

Job Quality Outcome Maps

Skills-Based Talent Optimization

In this video, learn how a skills-based people strategy can help your organization.

Workday

Playbooks

Skills-Based Talent Optimization

Skills-Based Talent Optimization

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