In today’s rapidly evolving job market, where the demand for skills often outpaces traditional degree-based qualifications, skilled credentials have emerged as a game-changer. Merit America is a partner of Opportunity@Work, whose transformative movement, Tear the Paper Ceiling, is empowering STARs— individuals above the age of 25 who don’t possess a bachelor’s degree and are Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs). In this blog post, we will explore what skilled credentials are, why they work, and how Merit America and other partners of Opportunity@Work are doing their part to “tear the paper ceiling,” making way for a more inclusive and prosperous workforce.

What are Skilled Credentials?

Skilled credentials are certificates, certifications, licenses, and badges that validate an individual’s competency and proficiency in a specific skill or field. Unlike traditional degrees, which require several years of formal education, skilled credentials focus on practical skills, knowledge, and experience. They provide targeted training and enable individuals to gain expertise quickly and efficiently, opening doors to job opportunities in high-demand sectors.

Skilled credentials have gained prominence due to several reasons:

Industry Relevance: Skilled credentials align closely with the needs of today’s job market. Employers increasingly prioritize relevant skills and experience over formal degrees. By focusing on specific competencies, skilled credentials address the demand for qualified professionals in rapidly evolving industries like technology, healthcare and skilled trades.

Time and Cost Efficiency: Skilled credentials offer a more efficient alternative to traditional degrees. Instead of spending years in classrooms, individuals can acquire specialized skills through focused training programs. This not only saves time, but also reduces the financial burden associated with higher education.

Practical Application: Skilled credentials emphasize practical, hands-on training, enabling learners to develop job-ready skills. The emphasis on real-world application equips individuals with the necessary tools to succeed in their chosen fields from day one.

The Importance of Skilled Credentials

Skilled credentials play a crucial role in expanding economic mobility and creating a level playing field for talented individuals who may not have pursued a bachelor’s degree. 

Here’s why they are important:

Diverse Talent Pool: By valuing skilled credentials, employers can tap into a more diverse talent pool that includes individuals with varied backgrounds and life experiences. This promotes inclusivity and unlocks the potential of talented individuals who may have been overlooked due to the paper ceiling.

Career Advancement Opportunities: Skilled credentials offer a pathway to upward mobility and increased earning potential. With the right skills and certifications, individuals can enter new industries, gain promotions, and access higher-paying jobs, as showcased by the stories of these STARs—Amy and Brandon.

Amy, a Merit America alum, transitioned from a physically demanding job to a rewarding career in the IT sector. 

“I was really in a time of uncertainty in my life, and I knew I needed to find an out, another career path,” shared Amy. “I saw a poster for Merit America who was offering a career pathway to get into the IT sector….and the best part of that is they said you didn’t need a bachelor’s degree.”

After completing Merit America’s program, Amy serves as a supervisor for TEKsystems, working under contract with the San Diego school system. 

For me, Merit America was everything. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to make bachelor’s degree money. Many people would’ve counted me out, but Merit America looked past me and saw me as a human who needed a chance.

—Amy, Merit America IT Support Alum

Brandon’s journey from gig-economy work to a stable, fulfilling career in tech also exemplifies the transformative power of skilled credentials. 

“Before Merit America, and throughout the pandemic, I was doing gig-econ work like Doordash and Instacart,” he shared. “One day, I received a promotional e-mail from Merit America and something told me to just take a chance and jump on it.”

Brandon completed Merit America’s IT Support program at no upfront cost and received peer support and best-in-class coaching as he earned a Google IT Support Certificate.

After completing the program, he secured a job under a government contract with Aerojet Rocketdyne, a remote position that he loves and offers opportunities for career advancement.

According to Brandon, this shift enabled him to enjoy financial stability and improved mental well-being.

“I went from basically working seven days a week, 24 hours a day with constant uncertainty about making ends meet to now living more comfortably and improved mental health,” he said. 

The success stories of Amy and Brandon are just a glimpse of the incredible impact skilled credentials provide.

Merit America and other Opportunity@Work partners are making a significant impact in tearing down barriers and creating opportunities for talented individuals who may not possess a bachelor’s degree. 

By valuing skills and providing targeted training, we can create a more inclusive and prosperous workforce, where talent and determination are valued above the constraints of the paper ceiling.