Overheard

ASU+GSV Summit 2021: Shad Ahmed on paving the way for STARs

Leaders in workforce, education, and tech gather to share innovative ideas about access for all
By Laura Aka
August 11, 2021

Opportunity@Work is a workforce development, social enterprise nonprofit focused on the 70 million workers in America who do not have a four-year degree who are skilled through alternative routes. We call them STARs—Skilled Through Alternative Routes,” explains Shad Ahmed, COO of Opportunity@Work.

Ahmed continues, “We are an interesting nonprofit in that we don’t do direct service provision, but really our focus is on supporting the many other partners, organizations, and companies interested in STARs and STARs’ talent, and finding ways for them to invest in pathways for STARs so that more STARs get onto pathways for great middle-wage jobs of the 21st century.”

Degree requirements often deny access to those without them. “So, the case a generation ago, you could have an entry-level job in sales and that could be your gateway to a great middle-wage job today. Those entry-level jobs in sales are called sales account representative roles, and 80% of those have a degree requirement. So, we’re putting up structural barriers that are shutting out many workers from giving getting into those first entry level jobs,” says Ahmed.

Employers need to realize the depth of the talent pool of those with high school diplomas, but without college degrees. “We’re cautiously optimistic. This is hard stuff. No one knows the answers. And so, we’re anticipating over the next several years a lot of experimentation, trying to get to the structural hard parts to solve this so that STARs are seen as a talent pool—just as college grads are seen as a talent pool that companies are resourcing in the same way,” says Ahmed.

Click here to learn more about Opportunity@Work.

WorkingNation—a collaborating partner of the ASU+GSV Summit—sat down with Ahmed in San Diego as part of our #WorkingNationOverheard social media series.

Hear from more innovators in education and tech in the public, private, and nonprofit spheres attending the ASU+GSV Summit 2021 here.