Tear the Paper Ceiling Gains Momentum As It Celebrates First Anniversary

Coalition of 60 organizations, led by Opportunity@Work, is advancing the movement towards a skills-based labor market for workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs)

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 01, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — As it celebrates the first anniversary of its launch, the national movement to Tear the Paper Ceiling continues to build momentum as businesses and government leaders take action to support workers who are Skilled Through Alternatives Routes (STARs) rather than a bachelor’s degree. Through a pioneering ad campaign designed in partnership with the Ad Council, as well as the efforts of a coalition of businesses, philanthropies, and nonprofits led by Opportunity@Work, the first-of-its-kind initiative is inspiring organizations across the public and private sector to take action to break down barriers and create new pathways to opportunity for the 70+ million STARs in the United States. In the first year of the initiative, Tear the Paper Ceiling corporate partners collectively opened up more than 34,000 jobs to STARs.

“The false notion that ‘no degree means no skills’ has caused serious damage to not just STARs themselves, but to the entire U.S. labor market. The Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition is changing that narrative to empower STARs and equip employers to change hiring practices and tap into the STARs talent pool,” said Byron Auguste, CEO & co-founder of Opportunity@Work. “Smart employers are realizing that without a STARs talent strategy, they only have half a talent strategy. At a time when our economy desperately needs to innovate, compete, and adapt – we need all talents, and everyone has a role to play in helping to tear the paper ceiling.”

Tear the Paper Ceiling launched in the fall of 2022 with a pioneering national ad campaign designed in partnership with the Ad Council that called upon U.S. employers to recognize and create opportunities for STARs, who too often have the skills to do higher-wage work but are overlooked or screened out as job candidates by invisible barriers like bachelor degree requirements. A nominee for AdColor’s Ad of the Year 2023 and a finalist for the ARF David Ogilvy Awards, the campaign generated 3.3 billion impressions and nearly 1,300 media mentions over the past year. Thanks in no small part to the impact of the campaign, the idea of the paper ceiling has been highlighted as a business buzzword by Entrepreneur and Bloomberg.

“As a STAR myself, I’ve seen the way that the paper ceiling holds STARs back from pursuing career opportunities where we can thrive and support ourselves and our families. But I’m also living proof of what’s possible when STARs’ skills and potential are recognized the way they should be,” said LaShana Lewis, a sought-after business and technology consultant who serves as the chair of Opportunity@Work’s STARs Advisory Council. “The past year is only the beginning of a national effort to tear the paper ceiling. But it’s a powerful testament to the way that language, and collective action, can have a profound impact on the trajectory of the U.S. economy.”

The Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition, which brings together companies, philanthropies, and nonprofits committed to tearing down the paper ceiling by addressing the hidden barriers faced by STARs, has grown by more than 20 percent over the past year and now includes more than 60 members. As it begins its second year, the coalition is also welcoming 15 new partners who have joined, including ACT, Indeed, Trane Technologies, and Tullman Civic Ventures. In addition, a circle of philanthropic partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, New Profit, and the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation are lending their support to the national effort. Most importantly, Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition corporate partners are actively working to create more opportunities for STARs at their own companies. While removing degree requirements in the hiring process is just the first step in the broader work of supporting STARs, corporate partners have already made a collective 60% of their job postings open to STARs compared to just 47% a year ago.

“Old Navy is Gap Inc.’s largest brand, and we joined the Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition because we recognize that the scale of our business can enable opportunity and change in our communities,” says Monica Davila, Head of Brands Human Resources at Gap, Inc. “We’ve seen STARs succeed at Old Navy and value the skills they bring to our teams, which is why we removed education requirements from 99% of advertised jobs below the vice president level and have created career pathway programs for underrepresented groups through programs like This Way ONward. In store roles and beyond, we’ll continue to prioritize access to equitable workplace experiences and economic opportunity for workers in the communities we serve.”

As the movement to tear the paper ceiling takes root across the country, it is gaining traction in the public sector as well as in the business community. State efforts to tear the paper ceiling are accelerating nationwide: to date, 17 states have removed degree requirements for public-sector jobs, beginning with Maryland in 2022. Collectively, these states’ work to build stronger and more inclusive talent pipelines is opening up more than 400,000 roles to STARs across the country.

“We believe in what this movement represents: equal opportunity for all. We don’t require college degrees for our store, club, and supply chain positions and we’re in the process of making degrees optional for many of our campus jobs,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Walmart Inc. and President of Walmart Foundation. “We’re proud to be both an entry point to the workforce and a springboard for careers. Our aspiration is to move to a skills-based system that gives people credit for the holistic skill set they bring to the table, including work experience, military service, volunteerism, short-form credentials, college degrees and other life experiences.”

The success of this first year is just the first step in the ongoing work to tear the paper ceiling. In the years to come, the coalition will continue its efforts to equip public- and private-sector decision-makers with the resources and data to find, hire, and support STARs. To learn more and join the movement, visit tearthepaperceiling.org.

Achievements of Tear the Paper Ceiling Coalition partners include:

  • Chevron supported a series of workshops making the case for STARs in Houston in partnership with the Greater Houston Partnership.
  • College Board will, for the first time, offer all 3 million PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 8/9 test-takers a new score report feature, Career Insights, that lists six in-demand careers in a test taker’s state.
  • Comcast committed to continuing Project UP, a $1 billion plan to connect people to the internet, invest in access to digital skills, and strengthen pathways to economic mobility.
  • Gap continues to invest in and grow This Way ONward, a national program to prepare young people for careers in retail through one-on-one mentorship, coaching, and on-the-job skill building. Gap also committed to two talent development goals: reach 20,0000 young people through the program, while also committing that 5% of entry-level store roles are reserved for ONward graduates.
  • Google is helping tens of thousands of STARs upskill into high-growth fields—including cybersecurity, data analytics, and UX design—through its Google Career Certificates program.
  • IBM expanded SkillsBuild and committed to train 2 million workers in artificial intelligence skills over the next three years, with a focus on providing skills development opportunities to workers from underrepresented communities.
  • Jobcase, the only social platform dedicated to empowering workers, launched the STARs Job Hub, a specific home on Jobcase where STARs can find higher-wage jobs pulled from Stellarworx, Opportunity@Work’s STARs talent marketplace. Jobs that don’t require a degree are specifically flagged in the system, helping more STARs and employers connect with each other.
  • LinkedIn, which convened over 1,000 members for the campaign launch last year, has continued its investments in skills-first tools and strategies for members on the platform to build and showcase their skills. LinkedIn also continues to invest in apprenticeship programs and partnerships, like Year Up, that provide pathways to job opportunities for STARs. Most recently, LinkedIn unveiled a new LinkedIn Learning course called “The Shift to a Skills-First Mindset,” developed in partnership with Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition members Grads of Life and JFF.
  • McKinsey’s pro-bono team of expert strategists, product developers, and project managers has continued to support the development of tools and resources that can help employers move towards actions that will tear the paper ceiling, including a tech product to help companies see how their current open job searches could benefit from a STAR-focused talent strategy.
  • Opportunity@Work has released a number of resources in support of the campaign, including reports on apprenticeships and occupational segregation to enhance understanding about STARs’ experience in the labor market; a STARs Hiring Playbook for employers; the recently launched Public Sector Hub, designed to help local, state, and federal governments advance STAR mobility in their communities; and Stellarsight, a free dashboard featuring actionable insights to inform the shift to skills-first hiring and talent management.
  • SkillUp Coalition launched a job catalog for STARs who are searching for remote work opportunities. Job postings are selected based on criteria for livable wages, availability of growth opportunities, and are easy to train and upskill into.
  • SkyHive has integrated its AI-powered skills software with fellow Tear the Paper Ceiling Coalition member Workday’s Human Capital Management and Skills Cloud solutions. The company’s labor market data for skills also powers the matching algorithm of Opportunity@Work’s Stellarworx platform.
  • Walmart, in partnership with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and other funders, launched SkillsFWD, an industry-wide initiative seeking to build a more equitable skills-based hiring ecosystem by developing and leveraging learning and employment records (LERs). This year also marks the fifth anniversary of Live Better U, an education benefit that has paid for nearly 120,000 Walmart associates to earn debt-free high school diplomas, college degrees, or professional certificates – saving them nearly half a billion dollars in tuition costs and helping them move up into roles with greater responsibility and higher pay.


About Opportunity@Work
Opportunity@Work is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to rewire the labor market to enable at least 1 million working adults in America to translate their learning into earning. Opportunity@Work engages with corporate, philanthropic, and workforce partners to directly address the barriers that STARs face, recognize STARs’ talent, and eliminate unnecessary degree requirements for open roles. Their Tear the Paper Ceiling campaign with Ad Council brought together a growing coalition of more than 60 corporate and non-profit partners to share hiring insights and launch a national public services advertising campaign to raise awareness of, and support the hiring of STARs. Learn more at www.opportunityatwork.org.