New Research Reveals Limited Career Opportunities Experienced by Black Workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs)

New research by Opportunity@Work finds Black workers without bachelor’s degrees are disproportionately excluded from middle- and high-wage jobs; identifies untapped pathways to economic mobility for Black STARs

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2022  — As employers continue to struggle to implement successful Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) efforts, a new analysis from social enterprise Opportunity@Work, presented in partnership with national coalition OneTen, finds that businesses cannot diversify their talent pipelines without attention to the 11 million Black workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs), rather than through bachelor’s degrees. The report, Spotlight on Black STARs: Insights for Employers to Access the Skilled and Diverse Talent They’ve Been Missing, finds that decades of inequitable hiring practices have excluded millions of Black workers without college degrees from middle- and high-wage jobs. It also highlights specific job pathways that employers can develop to provide Black workers with opportunities to access higher earning potential.

“More companies than ever have committed to re-think and reset their goals for inclusion of Black talent throughout their organizations. Good intentions matter, but honest change begins with the facts” says Byron Auguste, CEO and Co-Founder of Opportunity@Work. “There is a huge untapped pool of Black talent in our country, but when companies put up arbitrary barriers like bachelor’s degree screens, they blind themselves to Black talent that’s Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs). We now have ‘the receipts’ on the valuable skills and overlooked potential of Black STARs, the largest segment of Black talent in the U.S.”

The report outlines both challenges and opportunities facing the growing number of Black STARs, who gained skills from routes like community college, partial college completion, military service, training programs, skills bootcamps, or learning on-the-job, rather than a bachelor’s degree. Over the past two decades, the number of Black STARs in the U.S. increased from 7.7 million to 11 million, and today, more than six in 10 Black workers are STARs – a disproportionate share given that STARs make up approximately half of the U.S. labor force overall.

Spotlight on Black STARs also found that Black STARs are overrepresented in low-wage occupations: more than half of Black STARs are concentrated in just 25 roles, including home health aides, customer service representatives, and sales supervisors. Of these 25 occupations, just two pay above median wage. And within those 25, only seven qualify as Gateway or Destination jobs — positions that open opportunities for higher wages.

“At OneTen we believe family-sustaining wages are key to unlocking Black economic mobility,” says Maurice Jones, CEO of OneTen, a coalition of leading chief executives and their companies who are coming together to upskill, hire and promote one million Black individuals who do not yet have a four-year degree into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement over the next 10 years. “Armed with insights, employers now have a compass to open up higher-wage career pathways and tap into a talent pool of millions of Black talent.”

The report also highlights the actions employers can take to reimagine their hiring and recruiting processes to accelerate economic opportunity for Black STARs. Recognizing the skills of Black workers who are already working in the 25 jobs where most Black STARs work, and expanding pathways from these jobs to higher-wage roles holds the potential to both expand employers’ talent pools and create new opportunities for economic mobility for these skilled workers.

Spotlight on Black STARs is the latest addition to Opportunity@Work’s growing body of research focused on the 70+ million STARs in the U.S. today, which includes 61% of Black workers, 55% of Hispanic workers, and 66% of rural workers of all races.

Reach for the STARs, Navigating with the STARs, and Rise with the STARs: Building a Stronger Labor Market for STARs, Communities and Employers, released over the past two years, along with two companion papers in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper series, provide practical guidance for employers to access the untapped potential of millions of skilled workers who have been displaced from middle- and high-wage jobs because of unnecessary degree requirements.

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About Opportunity@Work
Opportunity@Work is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase access to middle-wage jobs for the 70+ million U.S. workers who lack bachelor’s degrees but are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs). Opportunity@Work engages with corporate, philanthropic, and workforce partners to directly address the barriers that STARs face, recognize STARs talent and remove bachelor’s degree screens. Learn more at www.opportunityatwork.org.