New Analysis Identifies Hidden Talent Pool of 71 Million Skilled Workers in U.S. Without College Degrees

Groundbreaking analysis from Opportunity@Work and Accenture suggests that employer degree requirements are excluding millions of skilled workers; questions long-standing assumptions about the causes of wage inequality, skills gaps

WASHINGTON – Opportunity@Work and Accenture today, released findings from their first-of-a-kind analysis of the occupations, skills, and wages of workers in the U.S. The report reveals there are currently more than 71 million U.S. active workers who do not have college degrees, but are Skilled Through Alternative Routes – or STARs – and have the skills to succeed in higher-wage jobs.  

The report, titled, “Reach for the STARs: Realizing the Potential of America’s Hidden Talent Pool,” makes the case that the skills gap reflects, in part, the systematic discounting of the capabilities and talent held by STARs.  

“What this analysis demonstrates in great depth is that low-wage does not equal low skill, and the lack of a college degree does not mean a lack of talent,” said Opportunity@Work CEO Byron Auguste. “It shows that employers and economists are wrong to ignore skills learned on-the-job, even in low-paid work. Unexamined assumptions that only college graduates should be considered for skilled work harms employers by exacerbating the skills gap and damagingly widening the distance between economic haves and have-nots.”

According to the report, of the 16 million STARs who have the skills required to perform the high-wage, high-skill jobs that many employers struggle to fill, only 5 million (fewer than 1-in-3) are employed in high-wage jobs today. The analysis identifies 30 million “Rising STARs” with the skills for significantly higher-wage work; who, if given the chance, could transition into positions that pay on average 70 percent more than they earn today. Both findings suggest companies are overlooking millions of STARs who have the skills to meet their talent needs today and into the future.

“By recognizing the capabilities of these 71 million American STARs, we are elevating the opportunity for workforces and businesses to reach their full potential,” said Eva Sage-Gavin, senior managing director of Accenture’s Global talent & organization consulting practice. “As business leaders, we can use this compelling fact base to find better ways to bring more STARs into our talent pipelines and build the skills for those STARs already in our organizations. There is an abundance of opportunity for companies of all sizes and shapes to create ways to unlock this human potential.”

The report follows the publication of a working paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this week, which suggests that the work experience of STARs should be viewed as a compelling signal of skills to employers. The working paper is based on an analysis of the skill requirements of more than 700 occupations, as well as other data about transitions that workers make from origin to destination jobs.

“This report is as rigorous as U.S. public labor market data currently allows,” said former Bureau of Labor Statistic Commissioner Erica Groshen, who serves as Chair of the STARs Insights Advisory Panel. “These findings, in many ways, upend conventional wisdom about how we measure and quantify skills in the labor market. It should have massive implications for employers dealing with the skills gap, policy-makers – and the millions of Americans who, as it turns out, have the potential to thrive in higher-wage work.”


Opportunity@Work is a nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to increase career opportunities for working adults in the U.S. who do not have a four-year college degree. We envision a future in which employers hire people based on skills rather than their pedigree. We are uniting companies, workforce development organizations and funders in a movement to ensure that STARs can learn and earn to their full potential. Visit us at

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