From now on, the subcontractor avoids customer dinners. “They think ‘inclusion’ is a message that backfires and want to be judged purely on contractual / technical performance,” Auguste wrote in a follow-up email.

There are solutions, says Augustus, and the first is to do less. That is, less selection of candidates simply because they do not have a bachelor’s degree. Then look for other signals of a candidate’s qualities. For example, give the candidate a test of the skills that the job really requires. Accept a certificate of completion from a training program or an associate’s degree instead of a diploma from a four-year school. If someone is applying for a programming position, ask to see their portfolio on GitHub, a web service that allows programmers to store and manage their code. “There is not just one way,” said Auguste.

Opportunity @ Work has identified 51 “bridging” jobs that give workers without a university degree a good chance to progress. For example, being successful as a customer service representative often leads to a high paying job as a sales representative, and thriving as an IT support specialist often opens the door to working as a system administrator. Employers should remove the degree requirements for these bridge jobs, the organization says.

STARs – people “qualified through alternative routes” – live in all parts of the country and are of all ages, according to research from Opportunity @ Work. The group is about 70 million adults and includes 62% of African Americans, 55% of Hispanics, and 50% of non-Hispanic whites.

Augustus is of course not the only one to blow this trumpet. Every month, it seems, I hear about another organization trying to help people develop skills and enter the middle class. Academics are also active. In my old job at Bloomberg Businessweek, I interviewed Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School for a story titled “Requiring a bachelor’s degree for a mid-level job is just plain stupid.”

Fuller has new research. Many companies automatically screen people with hits like six months or more of unemployment, he told me. “The whole process is designed to be hyper-efficient. The great irony is that less than half of employers say, “We’re pretty happy with the skills of the people we hire. “

Alicia Sasser Modestino, professor of economics and public policy at Northeastern University, told me her research shows that employers are the pickiest when there are a lot of people looking for jobs. But even at times when workers are scarce – as is the case now, with more than 10 million unfilled jobs reported – employers remain reluctant to hire people who don’t meet traditional criteria, she says. .