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Breaking through the paper ceiling to achieve DE&I (virtual only)

How employers can revise hiring practices that exclude non-degreed workers


Practitioner Presentation
Wednesday, Oct. 19 Location Code
9:30am-10:30am Virtual VWS/07



This session is virtual only. Learn the history of changing hiring practices, including how college lobbying influenced employer decisions. See and hear stories of workers who were hired with no degree who went on to become engineers and entrepreneurs. Understand how the paper ceiling is holding back diversity in our workplaces and discover how Opportunity@Work, which coined the term paper ceiling, is helping organizations revise hiring practices. Explore how to adopt new initiatives established in states like Colorado and Maryland, as well as in the federal government, led by the 2020 White House Task Force members Apple’s Tim Cook and IBM’s Ginny Rometty.


The world’s increasing value of college degrees over skills has created a “degree creep” in job applicant requirements. Jobs that previously were filled by candidates with certifiable skills often earned in high school or vocational trade schools, now require associate’s, bachelor’s and even master’s level degrees.

Not only has this scenario limited the number of qualified candidates from which employers can choose, it has created what Opportunity@Work calls the paper ceiling. Just as women faced the glass ceiling, minorities are being held back from meaningful, well-paying jobs for which they are fully qualified by the requirement for a piece of paper, the college degree.


New Collar Network offers education and workforce training innovation that provides alternative education pathways to well-paying, engaging "new collar" jobs utilizing 21st century technologies like 3D printing and robotics that often don't require a college degree.


Sarah Boisvert is the founder and CEO at New Collar Network. Her career spans advanced “smart” manufacturing, art and music, and innovative workforce training. Her mission as part of the Fab Lab Network is to create pathways that often do not require college degrees to well-paying, engaging “New Collar” careers, utilizing disruptive technologies like 3D printing, laser machining, robotics, VR and AI/machine learning. As co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc., which invented and manufactured the laser for LASIK eye surgery as well as laser machine tools for micro-manufacturing, she was one of the leading women in a male-dominated industry. Since selling the company, Boisvert has been dedicated to workforce training in her Santa Fe, New Mexico Fab Lab Hub.

In 2017, she interviewed 200 manufacturing companies to define the digital skills that manufacturing operators and technicians need today. The resulting book published by Photonics Media Press, "The New Collar Workforce," documents the study. Her second book, "People of the New Collar Workforce," uses augmented reality to bring worker stories to life via embedded video links.

In collaboration with America Makes, the national 3D printing institute, she recently developed a digital badge micro-certification program for 3D printing technicians. The badges are issued by the New Collar Network, an MIT Fab Lab organization that she co-founded in 2018. From 2018 to 2020, Boisvert consulted for the National Governors Association's “Future Workforce Now” project to develop a workforce policy toolkit for states.

She now works on the World Economic Forum “Augmented Worker” advisory board and most recently contributed to a white paper on the topic. In collaboration with Santa Fe Community College, Boisvert also founded the New Collar Innovation Center at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center in 2021 to foster innovation in lifelong learning, New Collar workforce training and the creation of 21st-century startups. She believes that the creativity is central to technology innovation and must be fostered throughout our lives.