July 11, 2022 – Future of Work

How Alternative Credentials Can Be One Answer to the Jobs Gap in the U.S.


In the United States today, 75 percent of new jobs require a bachelor’s degree, but only 40 percent of workers have one. Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit organization that aims to enable one million working U.S. adults to translate their alternative credentials into work opportunities, calls this phenomenon “The Paper Ceiling.” This fall, the organization will launch a campaign to give voice to workers and companies who are uniting to challenge the status quo of degree requirements and who are using alternative credentials to create a more equitable future of work.

According to a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) report, nearly half of U.S. workers (45 percent) have some form of alternative credential. Half (49 percent) of those who do not have considered earning one. There were 11.4 million unfilled U.S. jobs in April, and just six million unemployed workers. According to news reports, U.S. employers are looking to individuals with alternative credentials to fill open jobs. 

GM announced last month that it has dropped its four-year college degree requirement for many jobs. In April, CNBC reported Bank of America no longer requires college degrees for the majority of entry-level jobs. The same month, Business Insider reported Elon Musk said Tesla no longer requires a college degree for employment and Harvard researchers recently published a report that found that, at IBM, only 29 percent of IT jobs require a college degree. Eliminating college degree requirements even has become part of candidate platforms in the Pennsylvania governor’s race. 

“The reset that’s taking place in hiring today is vitally important,” the Harvard researchers said. “If we want to increase equity in the labor market, one important way to do it is by removing barriers to well-paying jobs.”

Employers are excited about alternative credentials. The SHRM report mentioned above found 87 percent of executives, 81 percent of supervisors, and 90 percent of HR professionals believe employees who hold alternative credentials bring value to the workplace.

One reason learners have embraced alternative credentials is affordability. The rising cost of a college degree has slammed shut the doors of higher education for too many people, especially learners from historically marginalized communities. 

“We leave behind more souls than we uplift,” said former college president and current U.S. Senator Ben Sasse in a May 2022 article in The Atlantic. “The world is changing, and we need to promote life-long learning and institutions that can provide it.” 

Want to learn more about alternative credentials? Check out: