Nonprofit organizations the Ad Council and Opportunity@Work, alongside nearly 50 national organizations and companies, launched Tear the Paper Ceiling. Announced at an event co-hosted with LinkedIn, the national public service advertising (PSA) campaign calls on businesses and decision makers to remove the barriers blocking 50% of workers in the U.S. from accessing upward mobility. The PSAs encourage employers and workers alike to join the movement to tear the “paper ceiling” – the invisible barrier that comes at every turn for workers without a bachelor’s degree.
The multiyear campaign aims to change the narrative around the value and potential of workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs), rather than through a bachelor’s degree. There are more than 70 million STARs in the U.S. who have developed valuable skills through community college, workforce training, bootcamps, certificate programs, military service or on-the-job learning. Currently, the lack of alumni networks, biased algorithms, degree screens, false stereotypes and misperceptions contribute to the paper ceiling, which creates barriers to upward economic mobility for STARs.
The Tear the Paper Ceiling PSAs – developed by world-renowned creative agency Ogilvy – feature the voices and stories of real STARs in various industries and career stages to raise awareness of the skills and capabilities of workers without bachelor’s degrees. One featured STAR is Justin Hutchinson, who planned to enroll in college but went straight to work when his father became ill. He developed his people skills working at a smoothie shop, which he ultimately leveraged to secure a role leading business development for a marketing firm. Another STAR is LaShana Lewis, who had an aptitude for computers but no college degree. She forged her own career path — from driving buses, to becoming a systems engineer, to founding her own consulting business, where she now serves as CEO.
According to insights from Opportunity@Work, Justin and LaShana are among the 4 million STARs already in high-wage roles, while 32 million more STARs have the skills for significantly higher-wage work (72% higher wages on average) based on their current roles. Since the turn of the century, STARs have lost access to 7.4 million higher-wage jobs. Despite that loss of access, research has found that there are still STARs still performing in those upwardly mobile roles, which makes it clear that loss isn’t due to STARs’ capabilities – it’s changes in hiring practices that are now screening them out. The paper ceiling has also suppressed STARs’ earnings for decades: over the last 40 years, the wage gap between STARs and workers with bachelor’s degrees has doubled. Adjusted for inflation, STARs now actually earn less on average than they did in 1976.
“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. Millions of STARs have demonstrated the skills to succeed in millions of today’s in-demand jobs and the adaptability to fill the jobs of tomorrow. Our partners in launching this campaign recognize the essential contributions STARs already make to our economy and believe tapping into STARs’ talent will be vital for our companies and communities to prosper in the years ahead,” said Opportunity@Work CEO Byron Auguste. “Tearing the paper ceiling is about bringing in talent based on skills, not degrees; performance, not pedigree; and inclusion, not exclusion. This collaborative campaign is a critical next step in our mission to create a U.S. labor market where if you can do the job, you can get the job.”
The integrated campaign will appear nationwide across all advertising formats: TV, radio, digital, social media, out-of-home and print. Per the Ad Council’s model, the PSAs will run in placements donated by the media – including Comcast NBCUniversal, Google/YouTube, LinkedIn, Meta, Reddit, and TikTok, among others. Volunteer media agency dentsu will also secure additional donated media support to extend the reach of the campaign.
At TearThePaperCeiling.org, the campaign provides resources for employers to expand their own STARs hiring, and invites STARs to share their own stories. Visitors to the site can also access a suite of tools that includes the “Tear the Paper Ceiling Hiring Playbook for Employers” to help businesses get started with skills-based hiring practices in their organization.
Tear the Paper Ceiling is supported by nearly 50 national organizations ranging from employers to philanthropies and workforce development organizations. Together, this coalition will broaden the impact and reach of the multiyear campaign, and includes:
- Byte Back
- Cara Plus
- Cognizant Foundation
- College Board
- Climb Hire
- Comcast NBCUniversal
- Education Design Lab
- Gap Foundation
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- General Assembly
- Generation USA
- Grads of Life
- Hire Heroes USA
- James Irvine Foundation
- McKinsey & Company
- Merit America
- National Fund for Workforce Solutions
- National Skills Coalition
- New Profit
- Northern Virginia Community College
- Per Scholas
- SkillUp Coalition
- Social Finance
- SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management)
- Strada Education Network
- Tech Impact
- Western Governors University
- Year Up
“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 CEO Lisa Sherman. “Through the Tear the Paper Ceiling campaign, we will change the narrative to celebrate and affirm the skills that STARs can bring to the workforce. Together with our powerful coalition of partners, our efforts will help more STARs access equitable job opportunities and inspire employers to discover untapped talent.”
Tearing the paper ceiling and developing new strategies to recruit, hire, and support STARs will also play a crucial role in supporting employers’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) efforts. Biases against STARs – which include erroneously identifying them as low-skill – have for years had a negative impact on diversity in the workforce, as 61% of Black workers, 55% of Hispanic workers and 66% of rural workers of all races are STARs. By removing degree screens and intentionally including STARs during the hiring process, employers can take steps toward building a more inclusive workforce while also addressing talent gaps.
”The fact that 70 million workers in the country are not valued adequately by employers today is a massive challenge, but also one that creates profound opportunity to build a better system,” said Devika Bulchandani, Global CEO of Ogilvy. “Ogilvy is thrilled to play a role in helping STARs rip through the paper ceiling, so they can reach their full potential and have a fair chance at economic mobility. This campaign is an example of creativity at its best — helping impact peoples’ lives for the better and strengthen the fabric of our society.”
“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 STARs Advisory Council Chair LaShana Lewis. “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. I truly hope that with this campaign, millions more STARs will feel seen like I have and join the movement.”
Today’s news follows June’s announcement from Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council about the campaign and initial coalition partners. Since June, the Tear the Paper Ceiling coalition has grown significantly – with plans for further expansion during the next few years. Organizations, employers, STARs and other individuals can join the movement by visiting TearThePaperCeiling.org to share their stories, sign a pledge to support STARs and learn more about skills-based hiring practices.