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“The Paper Ceiling” Hurts Millions of Workers – But We Can Break It

The organization Opportunity@Work has identified a pervasive problem with a new name: The Paper Ceiling.

The Paper Ceiling is “the invisible barrier that comes at every turn for workers without a bachelor’s degree,” they write. It’s caused by “biased algorithms, degree screens, stereotypes, and misconceptions.”

What’s wrong with screening for degrees? According to Opportunity@Work Half the American workforce – 70 million people – doesn’t have a bachelor degree, but many of them have exactly the skills and talents that companies are looking for. These workers used to be able to provide companies with the skilled workforce they needed, and in turn companies could offer them good jobs.

But in the last few decades employers have demanded bachelors degrees without making college more accessible. Now we’re in a situation where 70% of new jobs require a bachelor’s degree, but only half the workforce has one.  That means that tens of millions of workers who have the skills companies are looking for can’t get the jobs they need, and companies are struggling to fill crucial positions in fields like IT and Cybersecurity.

According to research by Grads of Life, Accenture, and the Harvard Business School more than 60% of employers rejected otherwise qualified candidates simply because they did not have a bachelor’s degree. 

That’s The Paper Ceiling, and workers and businesses are stuck on opposite sides of it.

“By screening them out, employers are missing out on a massive pipeline of skilled workers – exacerbating their hiring needs and ultimately hurting their bottom line,” Opportunity@Work writes. Millions of American workers are STARS (Skilled Through Alternative Routes), ready and able to do the jobs companies need, and do them well, if given a chance. 

But, Opportunity@Work says:

“(T)he paper ceiling is not a force of nature beyond our control. It is the sum of institutional and individual choices that prioritized hiring shortcuts over real skills. Now, a movement has begun. Workers and companies uniting to create a new and more equitable future of work in which skills matter more than what’s on paper. A future that is back in balance, when both STARs and employers can thrive again. A future that starts by working together to tear the paper ceiling and see the STARs beyond it.”

Calbright is proud to be part of this movement, and a partner for the past year with Opportunity@Work. We offer free online college certificate programs to Californians to get them qualified for the good paying jobs companies are trying to fill. We give STARS the support in their job searches that they need to enter new fields. The nature of work is changing as more and more employers come to value skills over degrees, and we’re in the vanguard.

You can visit Opportunity@Work’s site on The Paper Ceiling, and sign up for more information.  

To get more information about Calbright’s programs, like free online cybersecurity certificates, visit

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