STARs - Opportunity@Work

STARs are talented individuals Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than a bachelor’s degree

We envision a future in which employers hire people based on their skills rather than their pedigree. In that future, STARs can achieve upward economic mobility, and companies have access to the skilled and diverse talent they need to fill millions of open jobs.

It’s time for employers to look to STARs and see what they’re missing.

STARs have developed their skills through alternative routes

STARs are defined as individuals at least 25 years old, currently active in the workforce, and having a high school diploma, but not having a bachelor’s degree.

STARs have developed valuable skills on the job, through military service, in community college, or through other alternative routes. In fact, our research has found that millions of STARs have demonstrated skills for roles with salaries at least 50% higher than their current job.

STARs are a 70+ million strong talent pool

STARs represent a massive pool of talent, comprising half of the US workforce. If STARs were a country they would be the 20th largest nation on Earth—ahead of the UK and France.1 STARs can be found in every field and occupation across the labor market, from travel and hospitality to retail, health care, information technology, manufacturing and more.2

STARs represent our country's diversity

STARs reflect our country’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. They are represented in all regions, races, ethnicities, genders, and generations across the U.S. In fact, the majority of Black, Hispanic, rural, and veteran workers are STARs.

Without attention to STARs, corporate diversity efforts simply cannot succeed.

  • 50% of all workers in the U.S. are STARs

    That’s over 70 million workers who are learning on the job and developing skills to make transitions to higher-paying work.3

    Our work shows that STARs are well-positioned to fill middle and high-wage jobs across all sectors including in-demand roles like software developers and customer service representatives, as well as emerging roles like patient care coordinators and cybersecurity analysts.

    To learn more about promising pathways for STARs, see our report Navigating with the STARs

    See our Navigating with the STARs report
  • 62% of Black workers are STARs

    Black STARs, at 10 million strong, exceed the population of New York City, the largest city in the U.S.4 5

    Our research shows that close to half these STARs are ready for higher-wage work today, while others require additional training to move to higher-paying work.

    See the Black STARs data story
  • 54% of Hispanic workers are STARs

    13.8 million Hispanic workers are STARs, more than the population of New York City and Los Angeles combined.6 7

    Hispanic STARs are overrepresented in many essential jobs, especially in farming, construction, and transportation.

    See the Hispanic STARs data story
  • 66% of Rural workers are STARs

    10.3 million STARs live across rural America.8

    The prevalence of rural STARs underscores the importance of creating promising job pathways all across the country.

  • 61% of Veteran workers are STARs

    4.4 million of the 7.3 million veterans active in the workforce are STARs.9

    Enlisted military leave their service with many skills that can be applied to good jobs in the civilian workforce —  if employers hire for skills.

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STARs are at different places in their professional journeys

In our landmark research report, Reach for the STARs: Realizing the Potential of America’s Hidden Talent Pool, we segmented STARs into three groups based on their skills-readiness for higher-wage work. These segments help us begin to understand this large group of workers – and how best to support them in their career journeys.

Shining STARs

There are 3.1 million Shining STARs who currently work in high-wage jobs today, despite the barriers to advancement.

Shining STARs are proof of what is possible when employers recognize skills over pedigree.

Rising STARs

There are 33 million Rising STARs who currently work in low- and middle-wage jobs but have the skills for jobs in a higher-wage category.

Employers can access Rising STARs’ talent now by changing their hiring practices.

Forming STARs

There are 38.7 million Forming STARs who work in low- and middle-wage jobs and have skills for smaller wage gains through more limited pathways.

Training opportunities are important to support Forming STARs in developing additional job skills.

STARs face rising career barriers

In past decades, rising career barriers for the 60% of U.S. workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree played a large role in downward mobility for STARs.

Our research shows it takes STARs more than 30 years of work experience to earn what a college graduate earns at the beginning of their career. Adults in the U.S. who do not have a bachelor’s degree have seen their wages decline by 13% the wage gap between STARs and college graduates has nearly doubled to 38%.

These trends are driven in part by degree discrimination, the practice of employers using degree requirements to screen out otherwise qualified candidates in pursuit of hiring efficiencies.

See the STARs

The barriers STARs face are not forces of nature beyond our control. They are the sum of institutional and individual choices, choosing convenient shortcuts over consideration of skills.

When smart managers, companies, and regions remove barriers, like unnecessary degree screens, we see how STARs can shine. Listen to these STARs share their stories and join us in creating a future where every STAR can work, learn, and earn to their full potential.

See more STAR Stories that have inspired us
LaShana Lewis
Founder and CEO of L. M. Lewis Consulting

“I had tried for many years to get jobs in the tech sector, only to be told that I could not get a job because I did not finish the degree. I was never tested on my technical skills or made it past the first interview.”

Giancarlo Martinez
Senior UI Developer, Projekt202

“I was motivated to pursue tech when I wanted to build a networking platform for the National Hispanic Institute. I was driven by my desire to find a means beyond my financial limitations to connect young Latinx students and professionals.”

Wilkin Sanchez
Ground Control Support Specialist, Envision Technology Advisors

“I started to become passionate about computers at a very early age. The first time I was around a computer, I immediately wanted to figure things out and find out more about it every day; it has been non-stop since then.”

STARs represent a massive talent pool with the skills and potential to excel at in-demand jobs. Take the first step towards recognizing and investing in STARs by exploring our research and solutions for a STARs-powered economy.

Explore our STARS research now

  2. Opportunity@Work “Reach for the STARs: Realizing the Potential of America’s Hidden Talent Pool”

  3. Opportunity@Work analysis of the 2021 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.

  4. ibid


  6. Opportunity@Work analysis of the 2021 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.


  8. Opportunity@Work analysis of the 2021 Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.

  9. ibid

  10. Opportunity@Work Analysis of the 2021 1-year American Community Survey Integrated Public Use Microdata Series.