Smartphones Can Change the Game in Catching Up Gen Z

Statistically speaking, one out of two of you is holding a phone right now. And if you’re not, you’re likely about to, as most mobile users check their phones 63 times a day.

Smartphone Usage: Going (and Growing) Strong

From texting to social media to streaming Netflix, the functionality of phones make it nearly impossible to put one down. Over this past year, the prowess of digital technology served as our tether to maintaining an education, connecting with loved ones, and even receiving healthcare. And if they say 21 days make a habit, try 365 of them. It’s safe to say, smartphones will remain snug in the palms of our hands.

According to techjury:
• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today
• Americans spend and average of 5.4 hours on their phone a day
• American teens spend an average of 9 hours a day in front of screens, and more than 7 of those are spent on mobile phones.

Another study reported that electronic device usage nearly doubled among U.S. kids during the pandemic.

chart on phone usage during COVID

Gaming is a Good Thing

So just what are our kids doing on their phones all day?

According financesonline, 75% of Gen Zers selected smartphones as their device of choice for everyday use, with 58% reporting playing games as their favorite pastime. That’s a lot of game time. The COVID-19 lockdown played a big part in this, of course, as mobile gaming helped serve as the universal antidote to the just-as-contagious side effect of the virus, boredom.

Games just may be the unsung hero over this past year, as they influenced our kids positively in different ways. Gaming makes us more competitive, for example, which means better problem-solvers. They can also enhance critical thinking, and expand our community beyond our four walls with those with similar interests.  

Take Pokémon GO, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit “PokéStops”. While the app may appear to play to the wanderlust, one recent study’s findings reported respondents feeling more social, and expressed more positive emotions with increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” This reflects the opposite of the stigma associated with video games, in part, because these are mobile.

Mobile games can go where parents and educators can’t: Everywhere our kids go. So with learning loss at an all-time high due to the pandemic, maybe it’s ok that our kids are looking down at their phones, if they’re playing games that can teach them something meaningful … especially the ones that encourage them to play with a hire purpose.

K-12: Much Ado About Congressional Funding

With the House’s approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, K-12 district and state education agencies were just lobbed a $126 billion pot of gold to help eradicate the negative impact of the pandemic on our kids. Most notably, for learning loss and returning to school safely, for which states are mandated to reserve 5% of their funding, and districts 20%, specifically for those Title 1 schools with a high concentration of under-resourced communities.

That’s about $520 per student for learning loss alone, but, unfortunately, researchers estimate it would cost five times that to provide the resources needed to really catch them up. This translates into intensive tutoring, summer school, extended day school and our more traditional methods (and salaries) of in-class, en-masse instruction.

But the pandemic is still here. And even for those districts who have opened, not all parents are sending their kids back full time. Here’s the other issue: For one year, school curriculum has “come to them”, on their ChromeBooks, laptops, iPads and phones, and for the most part, they got used to it. So much so,  American teens spend an average of nine hours a day in front of screens today, and more than seven of those are spent on mobile phones. Are they all spent doing homework? No. But as educators evaluate how to maximize efficiencies of catching our kids up, a case can be made for a ‘‘fish-where-the-fish-are’ strategy by continuing to leverage this teachable medium with meaningful content they care about, and will engage in.

A New, Digital Day

The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” And while under-resourced areas have suffered from limited access to WiFi over this last year, the federal government is also providing $3.2 billion to an emergency broadband connectivity fund as part of the bill, making accessibility soon to be a non-issue. 

While the value of in-person instruction and socialization should persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and our kids adapted. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the largest geographical county in the nation saw this first hand earlier this year. Hosting its annual, multi-district, STEMapalooza event virtually for the first time, engagement was a concern, as was support for their communities’ STEM-related career pathways. Enter ‘Hack Out BL4CKOUT’, a customized cybersecurity video game deployed at the event to be played from their mobile devices and Chromebooks, simulating real cyber events with a focus on critical thinking, communication, and cyber career facts. Over 3,000 hours of play were logged that day with kids’ asking for more.  Exit survey verbatims from 4th-8th graders who attended the event  ranged from, “WOW, I  had no ideaI I could be making $80,000 a year doing something I love when I grow up” to,  “Maybe I’ll go to a Cyber camp.”

Gamifying curriculum isn’t a new concept, but gamifying skills you can use toward grades, in-class rewards, and even a career – and can go wherever you go – is. This is especially important when considering reaching under-resourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.

So if other state agencies and school districts can find a sustainable way to engage Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that can entertain and educate by meeting them where they are – on their phones – that learning loss cost per student will be a lot more doable. 

And more fun.

The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast Presents: Tina Zwolinski | Skillsgapp

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On this episode of The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast: Chat and Chow Series we are joined by our guest, Tina Zwolinski of Skillsgapp.

Skillsgapp is the first in the skills-based training sector to offer customized gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the middle-skills necessary to participate in manufacturing and other technical industries.

Tina and her team at Skillsgapp are working diligently to rebuild the industry and develop the skilled workers that America needs.

Skills Gap ‘21: Opportunity Knocks

As we clamor for silver linings in the cloud of COVID-19, perhaps one is America’s skills gap, which is creeping up to a new high due to the exodus of Boomers from the workplace. While this presents many challenges for employers, it offers an abundance of opportunities for Gen Z who are in prime position to take advantage of the need to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that make up our skills-based talent shortage over the next ten years.

America’s Skills Gap Trajectory

Those who hold college degrees have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to edsurge, “When the unemployment rate spiked during the spring of 2020, jobs that required a college degree declined more than those that didn’t, and new college graduates were hit the hardest. Not only did postings for bachelor’s level jobs fall the most, but entry-level jobs also dropped farthest and fastest.”

The AAF explains, “Over the next decade, the nation as a whole could face a shortage of about 765,000 needed workers with the skills that come from an associate degree or some college.”

Here is where Gen Z can pounce, having witnessed firsthand that even during the pandemic, skills-based careers are a viable option, and could even be considered a safer career path alternative to a 4-year degree … and just as lucrative.

Optimism and Opportunities

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its final Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey of 2020 and found that “74.2% of manufacturers responding to the survey felt positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 66% last quarter.” The NAM also says, “According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 525,000 job openings in manufacturing in October, a record high.” 

Unfilled positions are not only abundant in manufacturing, but also cybersecurity. The Herjavec Group’s 2019/2020 Cybersecurity Jobs Report indicates, “The U.S. has a total employed cybersecurity workforce consisting of 715,000 people, and there are currently 314,000 unfilled positions.” 

This leaves the pathway wide open for Gen Z to take advantage of this labor shortage if paved with skills-based training. Because according to Undersecretary at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Stewart Knox, “It’s not about just who you knew or who you might have an in with to get that job. It is based on skills.”

The Future Ahead

A greater focus on skills was part of the former Trump administration’s agenda that is continuing under Biden’s. The House of Representatives recently passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 — a bill Jobs for the Future reports will bring apprenticeships into the modern era, investing $3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen these programs and bring in a new generation of skilled workers. 

It’s safe to say that while vaccines are bringing the pandemic to a close, skills-based careers just busted wide open.