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Cognizant Foundation grantee Opportunity@Work is committed to researching and advancing economic opportunities and outcomes for 71 million workers without a four-year college degree who are skilled through alternative routes (STARs). These STARs make up over half the workforce, and have experienced a 13% decline in real wages over the past generation. With support from the Cognizant Foundation, Opportunity@Work’s STARs Insights Initiative created a cross-disciplinary research agenda to fully understand barriers to opportunity for STARs and the complex drivers of mobility. This resulted in two foundational reports:

  • Reach for the STARs and its companion academic NBER paper introduced the STARs concept, defined the population of over 71 million workers, and identified a segment of 36 million “rising STARs” who have the skills to do work that would pay them an average of 70% more than their current wages, if they were able to fully deploy their skills.

  • Navigating with the STARs examined how STARs transition jobs and established that while STARs have the skills for higher wage work, they do not have access to those career pathways in the numbers that they should.

Together, these two papers point to a fundamental inefficiency in our labor market that does not allow workers or employers to translate valuable skills into higher paying, higher value work. Understanding this reality—and exploring why it exists—is key to ultimately changing our systems and advancing economic mobility. The STARs Insights Initiative has served as an important analytical foundation to change the narrative around opportunity for workers without degrees. Specifically:

  • For the first time, research has clearly defined that 60% of the U.S. labor force are STARs, including 68% of Black workers, 79% of Hispanic workers, 73% of rural Americans, and 64% of veterans across the United States.

  • Research findings were translated into stories and visualizations to make the data and narrative accessible—and actionable—by employers, the workforce field, policy makers, and even the general public. This includes references in 973 total publications, with a potential reach of 1.3 billion and an ad equivalency value of $11.9 million.

Read more about Opportunity@Work

Opportunity@Work CEO and Co-founder Byron Auguste recently sat down with Cognizant Foundation Executive Director Kristen Titus to discuss how STARs can rise in a post-Covid economy, with or without degrees. Read the full discussion here.

Featuring Opportunity@Work’s research, The New York Times looks at “the potential of upward mobility for millions of Americans, who might be able to climb from low-wage jobs to middle-income occupations or higher.” Read the full article.


Header Image Photo Credit: Opportunity@Work