A new national advertising campaign
will seek to influence employers to look beyond the four-year degree in hiring, with the message that a “paper ceiling
” holds back half the U.S. workforce.
The ads from Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council
are slated to start running in September. With slick production and some big corporate partners, including Walmart and Google, the campaign is designed to nudge hiring managers across the country to make good on the growing number of pledges from company C-suites
, state capitals
, and the White House
to drop barriers for skilled job seekers who lack bachelor’s degrees.
This group of more than 70M Americans
includes community college graduates, experienced workers, veterans of the U.S. military, and completers of job training programs or alternatives to college, according to the nonprofit Opportunity@Work. The ads will celebrate these workers, which the group says are skilled through alternative routes (STARs).
The campaign’s primary audience is employers, however. Byron Auguste
, Opportunity@Work’s CEO, says it will seek to redefine what it means to be a skilled worker.
“Companies like the ones we’re proud to call partners in this effort—and those we hope to join by this fall—can lead the way by tapping into skilled talent from a far wider range of backgrounds to do the work and solve the problems of our post-pandemic economy,” he says.
Research has found
that fewer job listings are calling for degrees. Yet the “emerging degree reset
” identified recently by the Burning Glass Institute is a complex picture
, with real but small changes beginning before the pandemic. Between 2017 and 2019, for example, the number of posted jobs for computer programmers requiring a bachelor’s dropped about 5 percent.
The unprecedented job market has upped the ante, as employers struggle to fill jobs while millions of frontline workers are finding better-paying and more stable roles.
Opportunity@Work argues that its push to drop degree requirements is about unlocking economic opportunity
for more Americans—most Black, Latino, and rural workers are STARs—and it’s not intended to steer people away from college.
“If we want to rebuild economic mobility, we must see both college and ‘alternative routes’ as viable ways to build a thriving labor force and a path to the middle class,” Kate Naranjo
, director of the STARs Policy Project for the group, wrote in a recent essay for Work Shift.
The shifting narrative around higher education and its trendy but boutique alternatives—such as apprenticeships, bootcamps, or certificates from Big Tech companies—was a central theme of discussions at JFF’s meeting
in New Orleans, where the ad campaign was announced.
Many conference attendees were both excited and daunted by the work of trying to open up pathways to good jobs for Americans from lower-income backgrounds—a wicked problem
with tentacles that reach into many of society’s challenges. The failing U.S. childcare system
, for example, contributes to educational and workforce inequity, with no fix in sight.
Most parents want their children to attend a four-year college, and people often are skeptical about alternative routes.
Likewise, big companies that are trying to improve how they hire or educate and train employees from underserved backgrounds tend to be tight-lipped about those efforts—another theme that emerged at JFF’s conference.
But it’s a safe bet that the energy around skills-based hiring and alternatives to the four-year degree will continue to build over the next couple years.
The Kicker: “We’re not telling young people to beat the odds. We’re trying to change the odds,” said one conference attendee.