Insights Article

Shredding the Paper Ceiling

Unlocking Hidden Talent Reserves

Jesse White
March 9, 2024
March 9, 2024

The IT industry desperately needs skilled talent. Over the next decade, technology occupations are projected to grow nearly twice as fast as the overall labor market. However, 64% of IT executives already report trouble finding qualified candidates today. 

By 2030, an estimated 85 million IT jobs globally may go unfilled, representing $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue. Traditionally, employers have sought candidates with computer science degrees from four-year colleges to fill these roles. But while struggling to meet demand, they have overlooked millions of capable workers based solely on lacking a bachelor’s degree.

Navigating barriers as a new immigrant

“I came to the United States after I graduated from college in Brazil,” says Sandra Massie, a Customer Success Manager at Intact. With a communications degree and advertising experience, Sandra hoped to continue her career in America. But without strong English skills or US credentials, she resorted to nannying and restaurant work to stay afloat as a young immigrant.

After having a daughter and needing more stability, Sandra worked her way up to managing a Sweetgreen location. The work was steady but it didn’t quell the nagging thoughts she had about her limited advancement options. “I was questioning myself—at 30 years old, do I see myself retiring from this?” The long hours and high stress of the food industry drained her time with family. But unsure how to pivot fields without taking on expensive education costs, her career ambitions remained on the back burner for years.

Discovering an alternate path

When Sandra came across an article about Virginia’s investments to meet IT workforce demands, she saw IT as more accessible than her past interests. She started teaching herself basic coding but was unsure about taking on expensive training costs. That’s when she found Merit America’s free technology training program.

Merit America’s model stood out by covering the cost of technology training through donors and employer partnerships. By removing financial barriers that commonly prevent career transitions, the non-profit opens overlooked talent pools to in-demand roles. Rigorous prep courses are combined with career coaching, virtual work simulations, and interview support for traditionally left-behind groups to launch them into living-wage IT professions.

“What so many hiring managers do is they just filter out people who don’t have college degrees,” says Rebecca Taber Staehelin, co-founder and co-CEO of Merit America. “The unfortunate fact is, the majority of Black and Latinx talent in our country don’t have college degrees, they’re stuck in low wage jobs, and filtering people out for not having a college degree is essentially the same as filtering someone out because they grew up in the wrong zip code.”

Rebecca Taber Staehelin
Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Merit America

Leveraging transferable skills from past careers

Despite lacking technical experience, Sandra’s training with Merit America quickly led to a job placement at Intact Technology. After undergoing our intensive 12-week onboarding program, Sandra moved into her new role full-time, brought ingenuity from past work to creatively solve clients’ problems, empathize with frustrated users, and maintain patience handling complex business needs—talents beyond the scope of what bootcamps teach.

“In the restaurant business…when people get hungry, they get ugly,” Sandra explains. “They come in already mad.” Drawing from years of navigating similar stress working with hangry Sweetgreen customers, she handles clients’ IT headaches with similar finesse.

Three years later, Sandra now manages technical teams supporting multiple accounts as a Customer Success Manager, guiding Intact’s delivery to meet clients’ business objectives. 

“I always tell folks who want to get into IT—you can do it. Give yourself credit that it’s easier than it looks,” she urges.

The persistence of the paper ceiling

Sandra’s colleague Toya, who also graduated from Intact’s training program, also escaped confined advancement prospects by crossing to tech in mid-career. Toya had over 15 years’ expertise supporting complex banking operations. However, lacking a bachelor’s degree repeatedly blocked her from management roles, even over candidates with less experience.

“I always saw people being promoted ahead of me simply because they had that degree,” Toya explains. “That four-year degree seemed to mean more than my 15 years of experience.”

Exhausted from fighting credential bias, Toya quit after her father’s death provoked minimal compassion from employers. She reflected on her shelved aspirations from long ago and decided to study computer science. Not expecting coding alone to satisfy her, Toya searched online for open-minded IT pathways. Merit America again immediately stood out.

Within months, Toya gained Google IT certification through their flexible program while honing interview and resume skills. She highlights the “problem solving” abilities gained from financial analytical work that transfers better than technical tactical knowledge. At Intact interviews, Toya leaned into discussing her process navigating uncertainties, building stakeholder alignment, and other people-focused strengths.

More than just gaining new career opportunities, Toya has also rediscovered her voice after spending years in rigid corporate cultures. At Intact, she feels comfortable approaching even the CEO directly with questions or just to say hello.

“I even get a hug from Jesse,” Toya said, referring to Intact’s CEO. “I don’t have to change or hide parts of myself here.”

Expanding equity and opportunity to millions

Stories like Sandra and Toya’s demonstrate vast untapped potential when employers move beyond academic proxies that disproportionately filter out women, minorities, lower-income groups, and other talent. Pure technical skills can be gained through shorter-term training programs tailored to jobs. But the softer stuff—empathy, creativity, tenacity, and other social strengths that high performers carry—remain harder to instill.

Workforce development programs like Merit America and the Intact University are expanding nationally due to demonstrated Triple Bottom Line returns benefitting trainees, employers, and communities simultaneously. Early pilots reveal such models prepare competent applicants for living-wage careers in months instead of years, helping companies struggling to fill over 1 million IT job openings while steering economic mobility to more individuals. 

Sandra sums up the demand for this kind of disruption well: “It needs the compassion, it needs the empathy.” 

As more organizations wake up to realities that talent comes from everywhere, ladders of opportunity expand for millions who’ve previously been left out of tech’s prosperity. The business case shows existing assumptions only hold us all back, while creative solutions allow anyone willing to learn a chance to meaningfully contribute.