STARS - Skilled Through Alternative Routes - Opportunity@Work

Last Updated: Spring 2023

Relational Map coming soon. Learn more about the work we’re doing with AI and view our example prototypes here.


STARS is a national initiative created and managed by the nonprofit organization, Opportunity@Work. The organization's mission is to rewire the U.S. labor market so that all individuals "skilled through alternative routes" (STARs) can work, learn, and earn to their full potential.

The initiative is founded in the recognition that in past decades, rising career barriers for the 60% of U.S. workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree has played a large role in downward mobility for STARs. Degree discrimination — the practice of employers using degree requirements to screen out otherwise qualified candidates in pursuit of hiring efficiencies—has played a major role in the downward mobility of STARS.

STARS are described by Opportunity@Work as follows:

  • Talented individuals skilled through alternative routes, rather than a bachelor’s degree.
  • At least 25 years old, currently active in the workforce, and having a high school diploma, but not having a bachelor’s degree.
  • Comprise half of the US workforce.
  • Found in every field and occupation across the labor market, from travel and hospitality to retail, health care, information technology, manufacturing and more.
  • Reflect the nation’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity.
  • Developed valuable skills on the job, through military service, in community college, or through other alternative routes.
  • Millions of STARs have demonstrated skills for roles with salaries at least 50% higher than their current job.

In the research report, Reach for the STARs: Realizing the Potential of America’s Hidden Talent Pool, Opportunity@Work segmented STARs into three groups based on their skills-readiness for higher-wage work:

  • Shining STARs - 4 million Shining STARs currently work in high-wage jobs today, despite the barriers to advancement. Shining STARs are proof of what is possible when employers recognize skills over pedigree.
  • Rising STARs - 32 million Rising STARs currently work in low- and middle-wage jobs but have the skills for jobs in a higher-wage category. Employers can access Rising STARs’ talent now by changing their hiring practices.
  • Forming STARs - 35 million Forming STARs work in low- and middle-wage jobs and have skills for smaller wage gains through more limited pathways. Training opportunities can help this group of STARS.

Examples of STARs Projects

  • In Fall 2022, Opportunity@Work collaborated with the Ad Council and Ogilvy to bring together more than 50 corporate and nonprofit organizations to raise awareness of and champion more inclusive, skills-based hiring practices. The national public service advertising campaign — tested and designed alongside STARs — kicked off with a launch event at LinkedIn’s New York City offices. Companies such as Accenture, Chevron, and Google, among others, signed a pledge to hire STARs, and many are taking action. Stellarworx: Matching Skilled Talent to In-Demand Jobs.
  • Stellarworx, Opportunity@Work’s talent matching platform for STARs, which is powered by SkyHive’s AI technology, increased its employer enrollment from 67 to 150 employers since 2021 (124% increase). The project removed geographic restrictions and opened Stellarworx to STARs to enable employers and talent developers across the country to engage more effectively.
  • Building State & Local Partnerships – Various states and cities have announced that many governmental job openings will no longer require a four-year degree for consideration.


Opportunity@Work was founded in 2015, in part to support and grow TechHire, an Obama White House initiative launched by co-founder Byron Auguste to connect overlooked communities with technology job openings. This work was originally “incubated” as a “civic enterprise” within New America, a think tank dedicated to bringing new ideas and voices into America’s public discourse. In 2017, Opportunity@Work became an independent 501(c)(3) with two goals: (1) Develop and test platforms to provide tech-enabled solutions to solve the opportunity gap; and (2) Rally public, private, and nonprofit partners to rewire the labor market so that everyone can contribute their skills, talent, and energy in pursuit of a better life. Recognizing the learning needed to solve this problem “at scale” Opportunity@Work has actively led several initiatives and betas to expand access to career opportunities for overlooked individuals.

Request an Edit

Have something to add or refine? Your input in this work matters greatly and we look forward to reviewing your additions

Organizations (275)

Initiatives (309)

Topics (93)

Skip to content