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Job Transitions for Skilled Workers Without Degrees

New research looks at nearly 100 million projected job openings over the next decade across 292 occupations that could be filled by skilled workers who do not hold four-year degrees.

The report from Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit group, used federal data to examine roughly 130 million U.S. job transitions over the last decade. It found that 60 percent of skilled workers without four-year degrees, or those who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs), who had job transitions during this period made stagnant or downwardly mobile changes. The research also found race and gender disparities. Black or Hispanic STARs, for example, were half as likely as their white peers to make a transition to a high-wage job.

Byron Auguste, Opportunity@Work’s CEO, said today’s labor market is broken.

“Not that long ago, workers who developed skills on-the-job had a shot at upward mobility nearly on par with college graduates,” he said in a written statement. “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 report tracked the 40 percent of transitions for workers without four-year degrees after which they earned higher wages. The 292 “destination” jobs identified by the research could be filled by more STARS in the future, the report concluded.

“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,” Erica L. Groshen, former Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioner, who leads an advisory panel for Opportunity@Work, said in a statement.

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