February 5, 2024 – Future of Work

In case you missed it: Opportunity@Work on how employers can recognize non-degree holders’ contributions


Labor market data indicates that there are millions of jobs that employers cannot fill. But, according to Opportunity@Work CEO and Co-Founder Byron Auguste, there also are millions of Americans who have the skills to fill these jobs — and a unique desire to contribute.

In a recent interview with Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) Executive Director Ryan Stowers, Auguste explained who these people are, why they are so motivated, and how employers can tap into this talent pool.

Who are STARs and what contributions can they make? 

“What we bring to a job is not just skills — it’s motivation, it’s curiosity, it’s work ethic, it’s many things,” says Auguste. 

STARs, or Americans who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, have these traits, and they have marketable skills. Some went to college, but did not finish, while others honed their talents at community college, in the workforce, or through volunteering in their communities. Still others sharpened their contribution mindset through service in the military.     

According to Opportunity@Work research, there are more than 70 million STARs, about half of the U.S. workforce. 

These individuals have not only developed vital technical skills that employers need, but also are eager to keep finding new opportunities to contribute. They are resourceful, Auguste says, and quick to take advantage of lifelong learning opportunities. 

“These are the characteristics that businesses say they want in people in their companies,” Auguste points out.

How employers can develop STARs and their potential

Despite all that they have to contribute, STARs often find it difficult to find employment or advance at their current jobs. 

That is because, over the last 20 years, U.S. employers have drifted into a mindset that used a college degree as a proxy for actual skills and job qualifications. 

STARs “know what [they] can do, but no one will give [them] a chance,” Auguste says. 

Employers can fix the current system by ensuring there are advancement opportunities in their companies for people without degrees. They also can remove degree requirements from job descriptions, establish apprenticeships, and create internships for non-college goers that offer the same entry points college students enjoy.

“Of the big problems we have in society, this is one of the most solvable,” Auguste says. 

By partnering with employers, educators, the government and nonprofit sectors, and others in the talent ecosystem, Opportunity@Work helps more Americans find work that is meaningful to them. Listen to the full interview below and learn more about Opportunity@Work here.