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Imagine a world...

that empowers a bus driver with tech skills to jump-start a new life, becoming a software engineer and eventually leading a team at a fast-growing startup.

a world that inspires a rural mother caring for two children to leverage years of retail customer service experience, gain sales skills, and secure a higher-paying job that brings a better life for her family.

a world that opens opportunities for an Army veteran to turn his knack for computers into a career after earning a Google IT certificate and landing a job at an IT consultancy.

In that world, employers would recognize and value the potential of people who may not hold a four-year college degree but who possess proven skills that companies desperately need. In that world, skilled workers would get a fair shot at fulfilling jobs, rewarding careers, and better lives for themselves and their families. 

We want to create that world, and it begins with STARs. STARs is a new way to describe the estimated 70+ million adults in America who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes and who represent a mostly untapped but talented labor pool.

We define STARs as individuals at least 25 years old who graduated from high school and have skills but don’t hold a four-year college degree. Many STARs enrolled in college but didn’t complete their degree due to family or financial circumstances. Others have a two-year community college degree or received technical training through workforce programs, online credentialing services, or certification programs. Still others are self-taught or developed their skills on the job or through military service.

STARs reflect our country’s racial and regional diversity. They hail from cities, suburbs, and small towns across America. STARs fill many jobs in our economy, from drivers to warehouse packers; retail clerks to caregivers; medical technicians to software developers and more. They include entrepreneurs and veterans. STARs are people of all ages and at all life stages, from 20-year-olds just starting their careers to workers with 20 years of on-the-job experience. 

We estimate that as many as 70+ million STARs have the skills to thrive in the middle- and high-wage jobs of the 21st century.

STARs are one of the greatest undervalued resources in our country. They represent a massive talent pool with the skills and potential to excel at in-demand jobs, but they never get the chance to show what they can do. They are the invisible casualties of America’s broken labor market, where employers screen for a college degree as a way to streamline their applicant pool.

When employers screen out applicants without a four-year degree, they exclude:


African Americans1




Rural Americans3


Two-thirds of America’s veterans

who don’t hold four-year degrees but gained valuable technical and soft skills during their service4

1000s of job seekers

who completed technical training through workforce programs, online credentialing services, or certification programs, acquiring valuable skills but not a college degree


At Opportunity@Work, we aim to rewire the labor market and connect the millions of STARs locked out of good jobs with employers that urgently need skilled talent. Shining a light on STARs will enable employers to fill today’s and tomorrow’s pressing workforce needs while providing opportunities for these skilled workers to earn higher wages and get on a promising career track.

Their Stories

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.”


  1. 2019 Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey.

  2. Ibid

  3. Ibid

  4. Ibid

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