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By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

September 21, 2022 | 6 min read

A new multiyear program and workforce coalition aims to break down undue barriers faced by workers without bachelor’s degrees.

Not-for-profit media organization Ad Council has teamed with Opportunity@Work – a not-for-profit dedicated to eliminating barriers to economic mobility – to launch a new campaign designed to spotlight the more than 70 million skilled workers in the US without bachelor’s degrees who often face undue stigmas and hurdles to finding meaningful long-term employment.

Together with a coalition of nearly 50 organizations – including industry heavyweights such as Google, Walmart, IBM, Comcast NBCUniversal, Chevron and Accenture – the new initiative centers on a public service announcement (PSA) campaign that urges both employers and workers to tear through the ‘paper ceiling.’ The paper ceiling represents all the barriers that impede upward mobility for countless workers without bachelor’s degrees.

Many such workers lack access to valuable networking resources and are subjected to biased algorithms and social stigmas in their job searches. As a result, they’re held back from reaching their full potential. While there are 4 million workers without bachelor’s degrees already serving in high-wage jobs – according to data from Opportunity@Work – 32 million more have the necessary skills to secure such jobs, but are often not fully considered. And the impact on BIPOC is outsized, as 61% of Black workers and 55% of Hispanic workers do not hold bachelor’s degrees.

At the same time, the wage gap between workers with and without bachelor’s degrees has doubled in the past four decades; adjusted for inflation, workers without bachelor’s degrees earn less on average than they did in 1976.

The new multiyear campaign, ‘Tear the Paper Ceiling,’ aims to upend these disparities.

“Across America today, millions of workers are unfairly shut out from job opportunities because of misperceptions about their skills and preparedness,” said Ad Council president and chief executive officer Lisa Sherman, in a statement shared with The Drum. With the new initiative, she hopes to “change the narrative to celebrate and affirm the skills that [talent without bachelor’s degrees] can bring to the workforce.”

The campaign – which includes an anthem spot and two shorter, supporting spots created in partnership with ad agency Ogilvy – seeks to shine a light on the value of workers who may have taken nontraditional paths to develop their professional skills, whether through trade schools, bootcamps, certificate courses, military service, community college or on-the-job development.

“College is a wonderful bridge to opportunity for millions, but it should never be a drawbridge excluding anyone who doesn’t cross it from thriving careers,” says Byron Auguste, Opportunity@Work’s chief executive officer. “Millions [of people without bachelor’s degrees] have demonstrated the skills to succeed in millions of today’s in-demand jobs and the adaptability to fill the jobs of tomorrow.”

The series of PSAs tells the stories of real workers who are skilled through alternative routes (STARs), including LaShana Lewis, who, after driving buses and eventually securing a role in systems engineering, founded her own consultancy, where she serves as chief executive officer.

“I am proud to have my story told in ‘Tear the Paper Ceiling.’ I’ve always prided myself on being a lifelong learner and early in my career had hoped that my performance would speak for itself. But unfortunately, without a college degree, I was overlooked too many times to count,” said Lewis, who now serves as STARs advisory council chair, in a statement. “Since becoming successful in tech and as a CEO, I’ve been told I’m one-in-a-million – but I’m actually one of millions. By identifying people like me as STARs, and recognizing the skills we have as opposed to the degrees we don’t, we’re changing the way we view talent in this country.” She went on to say she hopes the campaign will inspire others like her to feel represented and seen.

The new campaign will run nationwide across TV, radio, print, out-of-home (OOH), digital and social channels. The PSAs will run in placements donated by media sponsors including Comcast NBCUniversal, Google and Youtube, Meta, LinkedIn, TikTok and Reddit. Dentsu has also volunteered to source additional donated media to help augment reach.

As a part of the effort, a range of resources will be made available for both STARs and employers on There, organizations can pledge to support STARs and find tools to improve the skills-based hiring practices within their businesses. Plus, workers without bachelor’s degrees are invited to use the website to share their own stories.

‘Tear the Paper Ceiling’ kicked off today at an event held in conjunction with LinkedIn at the company’s headquarters in the Empire State Building in New York City. Representatives from participating organizations were in attendance, many of whom have vocalized their support for more inclusive hiring practices.

“Outdated and narrow views of credentials are causing otherwise innovative companies to miss out on hiring top talent like STARs,” said Jonathan Adashek, IBM’s chief communications officer and senior vice-president of marketing and communications, in a statement. “In partnership with Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council, there is an opportunity to create an inclusive future of work.”

Adashek explained that at IBM, the organization is focused on “a skills-first approach” and has introduced a number of programs to support this goal, including a free education course called IBM SkillsBuild. It’s also eliminated its four-year degree requirement for half of its US job listings. “We’re excited to build on this success through our partnership, and we encourage other companies to join us.”

Since announcing the initiative in June, the ‘Tear the Paper Ceiling’ coalition has seen impressive growth. It has plans to expand further over the course of the coming years, inviting other not-for-profit organizations and major corporations to join the movement.

“Tearing the paper ceiling is about bringing in talent based on skills, not degrees; performance, not pedigree; and inclusion, not exclusion,” said Opportunity@Work’s Auguste in a statement. “This collaborative campaign is a critical next step in our mission to create a US labor market where if you can do the job, you can get the job.”

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