‘From a Standpoint of Equity and Inclusion, Skills First is Really Powerful’: CEO of Organization Dedicated to Assisting Black Americans Without a Bachelor’s Degree Achieve Corporate Success Outlines His Vision for Overcoming the Education Barrier
The American Dream is simple: go to college, get a good job, get married, purchase a home and start your family. Yet, for the 76 percent of Black Americans who have not earned a college degree, the ability to achieve the American Dream does not always seem likely, according to recent reports. OneTen, however, is an organization on a mission to support one million Black Americans without a four-year degree to identify viable employment opportunities over the next ten years.
“We have this mantra in our country that if you want to make something of yourself, you better go to college,” OneTen CEO Maurice Jones told Finurah recently. “If you put a four-year degree barrier or a four-year degree requirement as a means of employment, then you are really creating a systemic barrier that keeps a bunch of us from being able to literally earn our way into the middle class.”
According to a recent report published by OneTen, “State of the Black Workforce,” only 40 percent of Black Americans work full-time without a four-year degree. In addition, 26 percent are employed part-time or as gig workers, while another 21 percent are unemployed. The remaining 18 percent are out of the workforce for varied reasons. At least 64 perent are interested in obtaining additional education or a technical certification that would allow them to earn more money.
OneTen’s commitment to focusing on a skills-first approach to employment meets these needs by partnering with corporations and organizations that are committed to upskilling, hiring, and promoting Black Americans. Partnering with 70 corporations, OneTen assists an estimated 41,000 Black Americans without a college degree to find viable employment. Companies such as Merck, Nordstrom, Nike, Synchrony, IBM and Berskshire Hathaway are amongst OneTen’s partners. Western Governors University is one of the organization’s talent development partners that helps build skills-focused positions in the workplace.
“We want to make sure that the entire talent journey is one where skills are the reasons for success,” Jones said. “From a business perspective, it’s the more prudent way to hire and to promote. You get a closer alignment between the requirements of the job and the skills that the talent brings. It’s a better predictor of actual performance. If you’re looking at skills as opposed to a credential, um, you also get a higher rate of retention.”
The Birth of OneTen
Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Americans from all walks of life were identifying solutions to institutional racism while also building authentic workspaces through diversity, equity, and inclusion. For a group of retired Black executives, including CEO and current executive chairman of Merck Ken Chenault, and former American Express Chairman and CEO and former Infor CEO and Chairman Charles Philips, it meant using their influence to partner with other corporate leaders to create jobs for Black Americans without college degrees. Yet these were not just going to be mere employment opportunities. Instead, these positions would be career-advancing jobs that would allow them to sustain their families.
“From a standpoint of equity and inclusion, skills first is really powerful,” Jones said. “And it makes sense for the business.”
Supporting Strong Corporate Culture
A study conducted by Harvard Business School revealed two significant facts. First, 63 percent of employers believed that adding a degree requirement often made it difficult to fill positions. Yet even more surprising employers believed that the differences in productivity levels of employees with a degree and those without were insignificant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years for all Americans to remain in the same workspace is 4.1 years. Yet Black Americans over the age of 25 without a bachelor’s degree typically remain at a job for three years.
These reports reveal the need for inclusive workspaces that will support Americans —especially Black Americans — achieve success in the workplace.
OneTen’s goal is to not only connect companies with skills-based employees, but also be able to confront conscious and unconscious biases that may exist.
“The training only works in the context of a culture. We’re confronting biases that are, are there both consciously and unconsciously and has to be present during the entire talent journey,” Jones said. “ As long as you can focus on really scaling a culture, the notion of belonging and welcoming and, and being able to have a culture in which every talent can thrive.”