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As Talent Demands Increase, STARs Are The Solution

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 20, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccination rates climb and businesses navigate office reopenings, the latest employment statistics suggest the ongoing economic recovery is gaining steam. In June, U.S. employers added 850,000 new jobs — the biggest gain in at least 10 months — and raised both wages and perks. This represents real and welcome progress, especially in the wake of the unexpectedly lean jobs reports in April and May.

Yet, as the AP noted, some recent gains “fell well short of employers’ need for labor.” A New York Times subheadline stated the problem even more plainly: “Many employers report having trouble finding applicants.”

As hiring rebounds and companies add new openings, the perceived “talent shortage” and the so-called “skills gap” conversation is gaining prominence in the media. But as talent demand increases, many employers can and should look to one segment of the population, in particular, that is skilled and ready to work.

STARs – workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, other than a bachelor’s degree – are exactly what is needed to build a stronger workforce, and a more inclusive talent ecosystem, for the 21st century. These 70+ million workers comprise more than half of America’s active workforce, yet our data shows that – thanks to arbitrary bachelor’s degree requirements and other obstacles – their skills are vastly underutilized. 

Unleashing STARs’ enormous untapped potential is one among many important steps that employers can take to boost employment – and kick the economic recovery into higher gear.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, STARs faced heightened risk from advances in the workforce such as automation. According to McKinsey, workers without four-year degrees are four times more likely to work in highly automatable jobs than peers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and a staggering 14 times more likely than workers with graduate degrees.

The pandemic has only accelerated automation, magnified these threats – and exacerbated widening inequality. 

Across the workforce, even as jobs return, employment rates among Black and Hispanic women continue to lag significantly behind their white peers. As Ashley Putnam, Director of the Economic Growth & Mobility Project, explained, this suggests that these populations are “caught between automation, layoffs, childcare shortages and historic wage inequality.”

But just as STARs have been a crucial engine of our economy during COVID-19, they can – and must – play an important role in the next phase of our recovery.

Fully two thirds of the essential workers who have kept America going – even through the worst days of the pandemic – are STARs. Our data shows that today, in sectors where the perceived skills gap is particularly acute – from professional and business services, to education and healthcare services – even more STARs have the skills and are ready to work.

For example, there are around 465,000 cybersecurity roles open today. High-profile incidents like the cyberattack that shut down a major East Coast pipeline for five days in May – along with other ransomware attacks, which increased by an alarming 150% in 2020 – underscore the scale and urgency of this need.

Fortunately, STARs are ready to start filling this gap, and many already have the right skills to step directly into these opportunities –  if only employers recognized it and removed unnecessary four-year degree requirements blocking STARs.

Of the nearly 150,000 people who worked in information security last year, nearly a quarter were STARs. And our data shows that over the past decade, from 2011 to 2020, 65,000 STARs have moved into roles as information security analysts – primarily from jobs such as computer support specialists or computer system analysts, but also from roles as diverse as computer repair and insurance sales.

Our “Navigating with the STARs” report revealed that healthcare is another promising industry for STARs. Demand for Certified Nursing Assistants is particularly high, to the point where some employers are funding candidates’ certification courses, paying them salaries while they attend classes, and guaranteeing employment once they achieve certification. Home health aides, technicians, and others in healthcare administration and support roles are especially well-positioned to transition into these roles.

The key – in healthcare and other sectors – is for employers to proactively source and recruit STARs and continue investing in their existing workforce, helping them to develop the skills-based credentials that companies value.

This would better enable employers to unleash the full potential of their employees. It would empower workers to raise their earnings. And it would help ensure that our accelerating economic recovery results in a stronger, more robust, and more inclusive U.S. workforce.


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