In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, I am joined by Kelcey Reed, the new chief technology officer for the nonprofit Opportunity@Work.

Opportunity@Work’s mission is to rewire the U.S. labor market so that individuals Skilled Through Alternative Routes—workers and job seekers they call STARs—can work, learn, and earn to their full potential.

“You shouldn’t have to have a college degree to acquire a good-paying job. You should have the acumen to gain skills and utilize those skills to your fullest potential,” explains Reed.

“I don’t want to ever tell anyone college isn’t important, but college isn’t for everyone. We have to remember that—we see the numbers—70-plus million folks out there do not finish a four-year degree.”

In the podcast, Reed and discuss how these STARs who don’t go to a four-year school obtain their skills. “They go into military service, just like I did. They go into community colleges and do two years. You got that working mom that is trying to put food on her kid’s table, and she’s a single mother that can’t.”

“Should I penalize you because you don’t have a college diploma, you shouldn’t come work?” he asks. “No, we shouldn’t do that. We should really find ways to reward them for trying to get the skills that they need in order to be competent in their job and proficient in their job, right? That is key.”

To that end, in his role as Chief Technology Officer, Reed will oversee and expand the organization’s Stellarworx hiring platform which highlights and matches a job seeker’s skills to employers with open jobs.

“Stellarworx actually levels the playing field for STARs who otherwise are overlooked in recruiting channels that cater to college graduates—and are dominated by employers who rely specifically on pedigree as a proxy for skill—by allowing them to showcase the skills they have for a job,” he explains.

Reed’s passion to help STARs find a pathway to a good job comes from his own life experiences. “I didn’t have all of the resources to go into college, so I decided to go into the military where I could actually get money to go to college later, so I basically was postponing college.”

“When I went in the military, my job was fire direction control for artillery. It is a computer operations/computer programming type of role in which I learned a lot of skills in how to program computers, how to plot on a map, how to read a map.”

After eight years in the military, Reed says he “hit a brick wall. A lot of employers look for you to have a four-year degree before they let you come in and get higher-paying jobs like a management type of job. Although I was managing troops, the employers was not looking at my military experience or the skills that I gained in the military.”

Reed was able to find employers who valued the skills he learned in the military and later in the civilian workforce. He doesn’t want it to be as hard for others as it was for him.

“People shouldn’t be faced with the same challenges that I was faced with, especially if you’ve gained real hard skills that can translate for you to be very productive inside of an organization. That’s what we need today.”

You can listen to more of Reed’s personal journey and his plans for the @Opportunity@Work’s Stellarworx platform here, or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 197: Kelcey Reed, chief technology officer, Opportunity@Work
Host and Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, editor-in-chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

Download the transcript for this podcast here.
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