Carver: Let’s tear the paper ceiling

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Dave Carver

In the pursuit of prosperity and financial security, the well-trodden path has long been considered a college education. For decades, the promise of a bachelor’s degree has shone like a beacon, guiding individuals toward brighter futures. But what if I told you that the key to unlocking upward mobility lies beyond the ivory towers of academia? What if the path to success is not always paved with diplomas, but rather with skills honed through alternative routes?

In September of 2022, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, including the Ad Council and Opportunity@Work, alongside numerous national organizations and companies, embarked on a groundbreaking initiative: “Tear the Paper Ceiling.” This ambitious campaign sought to dismantle the invisible barrier blocking the advancement of millions of workers in the United States—the “paper ceiling.” Unlike its glass counterpart, this ceiling is not transparent; it is the subtle but pervasive bias against those without a bachelor’s degree.

At the heart of Tear the Paper Ceiling lies a simple yet revolutionary idea: the recognition of STARs—individuals who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes. These are the workers who may lack a four-year degree but possess invaluable skills acquired through military service, community college, vocational training, or on-the-job experience. They are the unsung heroes of the workforce, often overlooked for higher-wage positions simply because their resumes do not boast a Bachelor of Arts or Science.

The statistics are staggering: more than 70 million workers in the U.S. lack a college degree, comprising half of the workforce. Yet, they represent a vast pool of untapped potential, capable of filling the ever-widening skills gap plaguing industries from coast to coast. Companies find themselves on a talent treadmill, struggling to keep pace with demand as traditional recruitment practices fall short.

Fortunately, winds of change are blowing. Major corporations like General Motors and Delta Airlines have abandoned the archaic practice of requiring a bachelor’s degree for the majority of their job openings. This shift is not confined to the private sector; state governments are leading by example, with at least 16 states eliminating degree requirements for most state jobs. Maryland blazed the trail, followed by a chorus of other states echoing the call for inclusivity and opportunity.

The tech industry has embraced the STARs paradigm as a solution to the looming talent shortage. Reports predict a global deficit of 85.2 million tech professionals by 2023—a staggering figure that underscores the urgency of reevaluating traditional hiring criteria.

Yet, beyond the numbers lies a deeper truth: STARs are not just statistics. They are real people with real dreams and aspirations. They are proof that talent knows no diploma, and ambition is not bound by parchment. By recognizing and investing in STARs, we not only tear down the paper ceiling but also build bridges to a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

As the momentum behind Tear the Paper Ceiling continues to grow, so too does the hope for a more meritocratic society. It is time to redefine success not by the letters after our names but by the skills within our hearts and minds. Let us tear down barriers, unlock potential, and pave new paths to prosperity— for STARs and for all.

Greenfield resident Dave Carver is the HR director at BLC Outdoor Services and has volunteered with many local organizations. He is currently the chairman of the board for A Better Life Brianna’s Hope.