Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 2 of 3

Opportunities in Advanced Manufacturing and Skilled Trades

In an independent survey conducted last month, high schoolers, college students, and recent graduates—in other words, Gen Z—have made their voices heard when it comes to careers. In the first post of this three-part series, they’ve exposed a major deficiency in the modern education system: a lack of career awareness and readiness. This second article in the series will be underscoring a different contributor to the same problem and discussing its past, present, and future as we strive to prepare our up-and-coming workforce for satisfying, successful futures.

Outdated assumptions are keeping students from meaningful careers

It turns out that students in middle school, high school, and college are still severely impacted by old industry notions and stigmas. The campaign that arose a few decades back to work smarter and not harder has actually hurt the future of the workforce. We’ve internalized the message over the years, separated “hard” work from “smart” work, and—consequently—steered too many young students away from prosperous futures. Our nation’s “overreliance on this concept” has shaped perceptions of white-collar jobs vs. blue-collar jobs, deeming the former more valuable and desirable than the latter. 

So while it’s true that many students aren’t given enough information about future careers, it’s also true that the information they are intaking about professions like advanced manufacturing and skilled trades are outdated or misguided. 

The perceptions vs. the facts 

Here’s what Gen Z had to say…

Manufacturing perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

High school students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

College students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

Manufacturing realities

  • Good pay. As of March 17th, 2022, the average salary for a worker in advanced manufacturing is $76,258.
  • Supporting our country. “Rebuilding our manufacturing economy is an essential component to strengthening our communities and creating opportunity for all Americans,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says.
  • Supporting you. “Contrary to the decades-long, ‘dirty hands’ stigma, employees come first in today’s manufacturing,” we explain in this article. “Corporations like West Virginia’s Lockheed Martin offer education assistance, paid time off, and even smoking cessation and wellness programs.”

Skilled trades perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”: 

High school students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”:

College students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

Skilled trades realities

What can we do? 

Because a staggering “75% of Americans have never had a counselor, teacher, or mentor suggest they look into attending trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career,” most high schoolers are not adequately aware of potential professions, so college seems like a necessity to them. We’re doing a disservice to the younger end of Gen Z, and we’ll continue to fail the generations after them if we don’t change the American belief of “no college, no future.” We need to help students understand their options sooner, because there are plenty out there! “Vocational education is an effective path to prosperity and self-reliance,” as Forbes explains, and it is a path that deserves to be explored by more students, parents, and advisers.

Yes, something needs to change—but it is starting to, with efforts like skillsgapp’s to educate our students on pathways and opportunities. Tina Zwolinski, founder and CEO of skillsgapp, offers three solutions to the problem of workforce development, listing greater broadband access, a reset of educational expectations, and innovations in recruitment and the workplace to reach Gen Z.  

Guidance counselors, let’s really emphasize career planning in high school. Teachers, let’s link students’ interests and talents to real-life applications. Parents, let’s move away from the bachelor’s-degree-or-fail mindset. Industry leaders, make sure you’re reaching these students. We can equip this incoming workforce with better career awareness—if we listen to the concerns and aspirations of Gen Z’s many voices. 


In the third and final part to this series, we’ll have a chance to hear directly from members of Generation Z as they ask important questions and offer advice to others of their age.

Engaging and Skilling Your Future Workforce

Your future workforce was born between 1997 – 2012, which means they will be entering your employ between 2020-2030. So if you don’t have a huge Gen Z employee contingent right now, you soon will. 

This is why there’s been a lot of talk about how to attract and skill this next group of talent, the generation born with a phone in their hand. But few industries have yet to “nail” their recruitment strategies, still reeling from lack of in-person and in-school opportunities for career awareness and pathway support. Even though it seems we’re all back to normal, we’re different, which means our recruitment strategies need to be, too.

Workforce Engagement Challenges – Reach Is at Rock Bottom

  1. Career Awareness – 53% of Gen Z cited not having access to industry programs in school
  2. Pathway Access – 59% have never had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest trade or vocational schools as viable options
  3. Generational Stigmas – Only 3 in 10 parents would guide their child into manufacturing

Here lies your pivot: Gen Z learns by doing. This may seem counterintuitive based on the last two years spent out of the classroom, but those habits formed behind a screen paradoxically opened up their worlds to meaningful experiences previously unattainable or—in workforce development’s case—overlooked. 

Workforce Engagement Opportunities – Mobile Matters  

Did you know that 96% of Gen Z has access to a cell phone, even in under-resourced areas? In fact, they expect to be able to do most things on their smartphones from wherever they happen to be. Your workforce development programs and initiatives need to be easily accessible from a mobile device and not only that but also considered “active” environments where delivery of content is flexible, collaborative, and gives them the ability to put into practice what they’ve learned. 

Tools and tactics to attract tomorrow’s talent:

  1. Video shorts – Video is second nature to Gen Z, who would generally rather watch a quick explainer video on their phone than read a thick manual
  2. Social and email – The phenomena of global engagement on social media with any generation, particularly Gen Z, is profound, but unlike most of their predecessors, they receive far fewer emails per day, making “clutter” a non-issue for outreach 
  3. Virtual events – Live events are always impactful, but they’re not scalable, and they can’t go wherever you go
  4. Gamification90% of Gen Z classifies themselves as gamers, and according to neuroscience studies, play is the most effective way to increase engagement and performance. 

Skilling your Future Workforce

The same mobile phenomena holds true with skills training. According to Emily Alonso, consultant for WorkforceReady, a mobile-accessible platform that offers self-paced, online work readiness and soft skills courses and certificates to Gen Z has been quantifiably profound over this last year. In a survey of 2,000 participants in the LA area, respondents reported a 200% increase in confidence in their critical thinking after completing a corresponding online, self-paced training module. One Gen Z-er reported after completing such virtual training, “Aside from the tasks assigned, we were able to choose other ones to help us with our future job choices and interests. I really liked that.” This is a workforce training initiative that is 100% free to the user, and 100% available anywhere at any time. 

Got 30 minutes?

To learn more about how to engage and skill your next workforce, hear directly from skillsgapp’s CEO Tina Zwolinski and Cornerstone Ondemand foundation’s Director of engagement Amy Haggarty during this free, pre-recorded webinar…to watch at any time, from wherever you are.

Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 1 of 3

Students Need More Career Support

In an independent survey conducted last month, high schoolers, college students, and recent graduates—in other words, Gen Z—have made their voices heard when it comes to careers… and the results show that our country desperately needs to better help students navigate their futures. A majority of the survey’s participants signal that they have not received the support necessary to make informed decisions about occupational choices. It’s clear that, in general, it’s as simple as students not knowing what opportunities exist.


High school responses

stats on career awareness for high school students
Takeaway:
  • High schoolers don’t feel adequately prepared to enter the workforce because most don’t know what career options are even available. This speaks to the percentage of current college students below who indicate they might have considered a vocation rather than immediate higher education.


College responses

stats on career awareness for college students
Takeaway:
  • Educational pathways need “a reset.” The problem expressed by the high schoolers of this survey (a lack of career awareness) bleeds into the responses of our Gen Z college students, suggesting that they, too, did not hear about pathways other than college.
  • Forbes Senior Contributor Robert Farrington advocates for trade schools in a recent article, begging parents to overcome the stigma that surrounds students’ skipping of a four-year education. “Trade school help[s] students land a job faster … [and] costs significantly less than traditional college,” he explains. “Plus, jobs in the trades are booming in general, whereas many other industries are oversaturated with new graduates looking for work.”


Graduate responses

stats on career awareness for high school graduates
Takeaway:
  • Few recent grads reported doing exactly what they had planned while in high school, illustrating the following recurring piece of advice that these same surveyees offered to the younger members of their generation: keep an open mind.
  • “Be flexible,” one response says. “Don’t stress, but be open to various opportunities and try things out until you find where you want to be.” Another suggested, “You can change your mind about what you want to do at any point! I’ve learned that your major doesn’t dictate what job you should pursue.”
  • With college graduates of all ages getting “hit [the] hardest by the pandemic,” the responses from the upper end of Gen Z show that they realize that higher education isn’t necessary for everyone. However, is it too little, too late?


Next steps

It’s clear that we as a society need to ensure that students are introduced to lifelong opportunities sooner. Kids want to know how they can use their interests and skills in the real world; it’s a sentiment that is all too familiar to middle- and high school teachers, who are consistently asked, “When will we use this in the real world?” Our future generations should be armed with the knowledge needed to start making decisions for themselves. 

We want students to enter the workforce confidently and passionately—not hesitantly or regretfully—having sufficiently explored their options beyond mom and dad’s advice of being a lawyer or doctor. Because there are so many high-paying “nontraditional” jobs going unfilled, Gen Z will need to branch out in many directions, but the only way they can do that is through exposure to different careers. As the next generation, their success is our success. We need to pay attention to their voices now and answer their earnest questions of, “What can my future even look like?” 

Part 2 of this series will explore opportunities for students in advanced manufacturing and skilled trades, as well as how we might best prepare Gen Z and all generations to come.