Tearing the Paper Ceiling: Let Skills Shine

Jasmine Miller headshot

Tearing the Paper Ceiling: Let Skills Shine

Skills are powerful. In its purest form, a skill is the ability to do something well. Let’s take my son’s favorite sport into consideration: soccer. Some skills are natural, like body-balance and coordination. Others are learned, improved, and refined over time, like dribbling, trapping, and teamwork. His favorite player, Sadio Mane of Senegal, has an innate ability, but has also dedicated his focus to develop and perfect his skills over time. 

For too long, skills have been overlooked and undervalued in the American hiring process, relying on proxies for preparedness in place of proof of preparedness. That’s why I’m so proud of our friends at Opportunity@Work for their unwavering commitment to rewire the labor market so that everyone can contribute their skills, talent, and energy in pursuit of a better life, an equitable America, and a stronger economy for all. 

Tearing the Paper Ceiling and Unlocking Potential for STARs

O@W is galvanizing our nation to Tear the Paper Ceiling and recognize the untapped potential of the 70+ million American workers who are STARs – Skilled Through Alternative Routes. STARs make up half of the U.S. workforce and for decades, have been excluded from good, high-wage jobs. STARs grow skills and knowledge through community college, proven workforce training programs like Per Scholas, bootcamps, certificate programs, military service, on-the-job learning, and more.

According to a recent survey by Indeed, two thirds of job seekers across the nation believe they were overlooked for a job they were qualified for because they did not have the degree listed in the job description. We’re stifling potential instead of unlocking it, creating even greater opportunity gaps. 

Because Per Scholas is a tech and essential skills trainer, let’s examine the facts facing our nation’s technology workforce. The most recent jobs report reveals there were 234,000 tech job openings in April, far outnumbering the number of applicants. I’d surmise that many STARs didn’t even apply, seeing a college degree as a minimum requirement to put forth their credentials. It’s disheartening. 

As Chief Training Officer at Per Scholas, it’s our learners and alumni who fuel my passion. More than half of our learners are STARs, and the skills they’ve acquired during our 12 to 15 week tuition-free training stand on the shoulders of the skills they already possess: perseverance, time management, tenacity, passion, collaboration, problem-solving and beyond. Plus, they earn a variety of CompTIA certifications – industry recognized credentials that again, prove their mastery of the skills they’ve learned in their training.

Learners like Brittany, who knew a career in tech was for her, and what would provide the economic freedom for her family. Brittany brought resourcefulness, resilience and an inquisitive attitude to her IT Support training every day. She worked the overnight shift, cared for her young daughter, and always arrived to training early, ready to shine.

Hearing stories and experiences like Brittany’s – and thousands of Per Scholas STARs – motivates me in my work, advocating for skills-based hiring.

Solutions for Skills Based Hiring

A year ago, Maryland passed a bill that eliminated degree requirements from thousands of state job postings, far increasing the application pool and ultimately creating more equity. And valuing people for the skills they bring to the table, not the piece of paper. I’m hopeful many more leaders in the public sector will follow suit. I’m encouraged that many private sector companies, from Intel to Amazon and Dell to Google are removing 4-year degrees as a mandatory requirement for a variety of technical roles. This powerful action unlocks potential and creates pathways to a strong middle class.

Employers are the key change agents here, and they win by gaining a more productive and thriving workforce if they’re brave enough to activate skills based hiring. I think Henry Ford said it best: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” If we continue to exclude talent from the onset, we’ll continue to have hundreds of thousands of open tech jobs each month. 

In 12 to 15 weeks, Per Scholas learners graduate from our rigorous, tuition-free tech skills training in a variety of the most in-demand disciplines our tech sector needs: Java Development, Cybersecurity, Software Engineering, IT Support, Salesforce Administration, and more.

It’s the essential skills they refine, like professionalism, perseverance, creative problem solving, and the hard skills they learn like pen testing and networking protocols that make Per Scholas STARs tip-top applicants. Our graduates are ready to make a difference day one on the job. 

Let their proven skills training with Per Scholas serve as the proof of preparedness. Let STARs shine.


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