In the pandemic economy, labor experts have called for increased government funding for skills training programs, especially to expand ones that have proved to help lift workers into middle-class careers. It is lower-wage workers, disproportionately Black and Latino, who have been hardest hit by the current slump. And there is concern that the economic recovery, when it comes, may only widen income gaps among workers.
Government must play a role, the researchers said. But they point out that the private sector, which is by far the largest employer, must alter its perceptions, hiring habits and career development programs to increase opportunity for workers without college degrees.
“Companies have to see this talent pool and mainstream it,” said Byron Auguste, chief executive of Opportunity@Work. “Systems change in the labor market has as much to do with employers practices as public policy.”
There are signs of progress in the business community. For example, the Rework America Business Network, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, is a group of major companies that has pledged to adopt skills-based hiring for many jobs, often dropping a college degree requirement. The companies include AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft and Walmart.
But they are the exception. For 74 percent of new jobs in America, employers frequently require four-year college degrees, according to a recent study. Screening by college degree excludes roughly two-thirds of American workers. But the impact is most pronounced on minorities, eliminating 76 percent of Blacks and 83 percent of Latinos.
The college-degree filter, Mr. Auguste said, is “self-harm for the economy, and racially and ethically.”