New Research Finds Workers Without Four-Year Degrees Not Realizing Wage Gains Despite Having the Skills for Higher-Wage Work; Identifies 51 Job Roles that Unlock Economic Mobility

Landmark analysis of O*NET and Bureau of Labor Statistics data provides employers a way forward to inclusively hire workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs)

WASHINGTON, Dec. 03, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Workers without four-year college degrees who have the skills for higher-wage work often do not realize these higher wages, according to groundbreaking research released today by the nonprofit Opportunity@Work. 

Astonishingly, the report, “Navigating with the STARs: Reimagining Equitable Pathways to Mobility,” also identifies 51 "gateway” jobs and nearly 300 higher-wage “destination” jobs where employers in need of talent can hire the more than 70 million workers in the U.S. who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) rather than four-year college degrees.

“Today’s labor market is broken,” said Byron Auguste, CEO, Opportunity@Work. “Not that long ago, workers who developed skills on-the-job had a shot at upward mobility nearly on par with college graduates. But a decades-long drift towards screening out job seekers who lack a certain pedigree has created a fractured labor market – one that puts an arbitrary ceiling on economic mobility for over 70 million STARs, who have the skills to contribute and to thrive.” 

The analysis, which examined nearly 130 million U.S. job transitions from 2010-2019, found that 60% of transitions STARs made were stagnant or downwardly mobile, resulting in lower wages, despite it being one of the longest sustained periods of U.S. economic growth. Furthermore, the research revealed striking race and gender disparities as STARs transitioned to better-paid jobs matching their skills. For example, Black or Hispanic STARs are half as likely as white STARs to make a transition to a high-wage job. Likewise, STARs who are women are almost half as likely as those who are men to make a transition to a high-wage job. 

The study also examined the 40% of transitions where STARs earned higher wages and identified a pattern of STARs moving from lower-wage “origin” jobs to higher-wage “destination” jobs via a typically middle-wage “gateway” job. Encouragingly, it identified 292 “destination” jobs STARs transitioned to, and 51 “gateway” jobs that represent a significant opportunity for upward mobility. For example, “gateway” jobs like Customer Service Representative and Computer Support Specialist, can open the door to higher paying “destination” jobs that build on those skill sets, like Sales Representative or System Administrator.

However, STARs are often screened out from “gateway” jobs and even more “destination” jobs because they do not have a four-year degree; restricting the millions of STARs who have the skills to succeed in those positions and limiting the talent pool employers recruit from. 

“In the next year alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly 10 million jobs will turn over on these pathways,” said Erica L. Groshen, former Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner and Chair of the STARs Insights Advisory Panel. “Based on skill requirements, these positions could be filled by STARs.  As policymakers and employers work together toward an inclusive economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19, this research offers a template for how employers can rebuild their workforces.”

Additionally, the research identified emerging pathways STARs could traverse to be successful in job roles new to the labor market – for instance in information technology, healthcare, and business roles. This research provides employers a blueprint to meet their talent needs for these roles, while also enabling upward economic mobility for millions more STARs each year. 

The report also offers employers three immediate ways to more effectively identify, cultivate, and retain skilled talent for in-demand jobs:  

  • Remove degree requirements from the middle-wage “gateway” jobs that can often provide a path from low-wage work to higher-earning positions; 
  • Define and communicate job pathways, giving current and prospective STARs a clearer understanding of how they can build upon their skills to advance;  
  • Design new roles with STARs in mind – which means assessing the skills required for those roles, and understanding how they map to existing entry-level positions.

"This research offers a new approach for employers to support a more equitable labor market by removing blanket barriers like degree requirements from ‘gateway’ jobs, and promoting or upskilling existing frontline or entry-level workers,”  said Papia Debroy, Vice President of Insights, Opportunity@Work. “Doing so will enable upward mobility for talented STARs, millions of whom are prepared for the middle- and high-wage jobs that employers expect to hire for in the coming years.”

To access the full report, including the 51 “gateway” jobs and the analysis on pathways by race and gender, download “Navigating with the STARs: Reimagining Equitable Pathways to Mobility” at  

For further information, register to attend a virtual event on December 17, 2020, on this new research and other work from Opportunity@Work’s STARs Insights Initiative: Register to attend here.


Workers without four-year college degrees who have the skills for higher-wage work often do not realize these higher wages, according to groundbreaking research released today by the nonprofit Opportunity@Work.

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