Reporting on the connections between education and work

Changing the narrative on degree requirements

An ad campaign from Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council will call on employers to drop the “paper ceiling” and hire more skilled workers without four-year degrees.
Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

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-suitesstate 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.

Some advocates for lower-income workers may welcome the new ad campaign’s attempt to push back on credential inflation and employers’ long-standing focus on the academic pedigree of job seekers. But the message will feel like a broadside to some in traditional higher education, which is being buffeted by enrollment declineshostile Republican lawmakers, and criticism about its failures to improve economic mobility.

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.

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-suitesstate 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.

Some advocates for lower-income workers may welcome the new ad campaign’s attempt to push back on credential inflation and employers’ long-standing focus on the academic pedigree of job seekers. But the message will feel like a broadside to some in traditional higher education, which is being buffeted by enrollment declineshostile Republican lawmakers, and criticism about its failures to improve economic mobility.

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,” one conference attendee said.

Total
0
Shares
Related Posts
Read More

A detour through a barber shop

Millions of Americans delayed or cancelled higher education plans amid the pandemic. QuangHuy Bui, in Denver is one of them—and after spending the year working in a barber shop, he's now planning his return to education.