Dive Brief: 

  • Roughly 63 million U.S. workers without a bachelor’s degree have skills they could use in jobs paying at least $7 more per hour than what they currently earn, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 
  • The problem, the report’s authors wrote, is that hiring managers don’t have an easy way to assess these workers’ skills, especially if they are trying to switch from “seemingly unrelated” fields. 
  • Using federal data, the researchers mapped potential pathways workers could take to move into higher-paying jobs with similar skill requirements to their current roles.  

Dive Insight: 

Workers who don’t have a college degree lack an easy way to signal their skills to employers, the researchers note. Yet they often pick up knowledge on the job that higher-paying occupations require. 

Of the 68 million workers without a bachelor’s degree, the researchers estimate 30 million have skills compatible with jobs paying $11 an hour on average more than what they currently make. Another 33 million workers could carry their skills over to jobs paying an average of $7 an hour more. The remaining 5 million workers already have high-wage jobs. 

“[F]irms filling more high-wage jobs with experienced non-BA workers has the potential to reshape the historical pattern of earnings inequality between workers with and without college degrees,” the researchers write. 

In 2018, workers with bachelor’s degrees had median weekly wages that were $468 higher than those of workers who only completed high school, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The new report’s researchers aren’t the only ones considering new ways for workers to signal their skills to employers. 

A workforce policy advisory board established by the Trump administration recently outlined the steps needed to successfully implement universal transcripts, which compile workers’ traditional education and hands-on learning experiences. Its members recommended the U.S. adopt a common language for classifying skills and standardizing how occupations are characterized. 

Meanwhile, colleges are baking more certifications and other short-term credentials into their curriculum to address demand for more workforce-oriented learning. And a growing number of companies are awarding digital badges to their employees to recognize the skills they learn on the job. 

IBM gives out badges to workers who demonstrate knowledge in several areas, including cybersecurity, data and analytics, and customer engagement. Employees who complete certain project management badges can use them to earn credit toward several master’s degrees at Northeastern University. 

Other technology companies are partnering with colleges to recognize students who complete courses that teach how to use their products and services. 

Last summer, Salesforce announced users of its online learning platform, Trailhead, can roll some of their badges into credit toward a degree at Southern New Hampshire University.

Credential Engine, a nonprofit that tracks the U.S. credential marketplace, estimates there are roughly 315,000 nonacademic credentials, such as badges and online course completion certificates. 

The organization is leading a charge to help education providers translate data about their programs in a common language — another effort meant to help workers and employers determine the skills and experiences related to each credential. 

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