Black American workers are disproportionately hurt by an economy that overvalues college degrees. That’s the conclusion of a startling new report by Opportunity@Work. It shows that millions of Black workers are stuck in employment ruts that don’t utilize their full potential, but that are hard to get out of.
Workers without college degrees, no matter how skilled, are not having the same kind of economic recovery that workers with diplomas are. In total, Opportunity@Work’s research shows that there are over 70 million workers who have significant skills and experience, but not the formal credential that they need to get jobs that they are already qualified for. Opportunity@Work calls these workers STARs, for workers who are “Skilled Through Alternative Routes.”
Their new report shows that nearly 1 in 6 STARs—11 million—are Black. That’s 65% of all Black workers and 7% of the entire workforce.
“We believe companies have overlooked Black talent at every level, at a high cost to Black communities, the American economy, and companies’ bottom lines,” the report’s authors say. “Employers cannot find the diverse talent they need to meet emerging market needs without taking account of Black STARs.”
Getting Out of Jobs And Into Careers
All across the country, employers are having a hard time finding qualified workers for crucial jobs, including IT and cybersecurity roles, and the problem is only getting worse. Experts are predicting a significant labor shortage in key jobs in multiple industries. If they can’t fill these jobs, the economy could stall.
And yet, according to Opportunity@Work, Black workers are highly clustered into 25 different fields with very few opportunities for advancement. These jobs are often considered “low skilled,” but that’s a serious mistake: many so-called “low-skilled” jobs in fact require significant skills to perform. Too often, people say something is “low-skilled” when they mean “low-paying.” The two are not the same thing.
Which means that there is a significant untapped talent pool at a time when employers are desperate to fill good jobs and the economy needs more talented people to advance.
Creativity and Geography Make a Difference
Solving this problem means that employers will need to stop using a college diploma as a shorthand for “qualified” and instead find ways of evaluating the skills and capabilities of employees. Opportunity@Work has three solutions. Employers should:
- Think expansively and creatively about the skills needed for a job
- Consider geography as part of your Black STARs strategy
- Engage proactively with talent developers to shape the local talent pool
Businesses that follow those guidelines are sure to find more qualified applicants. But there’s more that can be done.
A New Kind of College Can Offer a New Kind of Solution
In California, Calbright is reinventing the community-college-to-jobs-pipeline, using Competency Based Education to offer industry valued certificates to students based on what they actually know, rather than on how much time they spend in a classroom. This means that qualified students—24% of Calbright’s student body identifies as Black—can quickly get the credentials they need to access better careers, and Calbright’s Career Services program helps them develop their resumes and make the industry contacts they’ll need to take advantage of their new education.
Having whole populations excluded from prosperity is bad for everyone. The qualified employees businesses need are right in front of them: we just need to make the connections.