Skillsgapp finalist for Cool Tool and Trendsetter Awards: The EdTech Awards – EdTech Digest, 2023

The largest and most competitive recognition program in all of education technology.

Recognizing the biggest names in edtech – and those who soon will be.

We celebrate who’s who—and what’s next.

The EdTech Awards recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere.

Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual program shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders and innovative trendsetters across the:

  • K-12
  • Higher Education, and
  • Skills and Workforce sectors.

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Certifications v. Degrees: Experts Weigh In

According to qualifications assessor, Andrew Smith, the debate between the employable value of certifications versus diplomas is pointless, yet one that persists among industry year after year. On one hand, he argues, degrees are the foundation for a lifelong learning journey and supports career progression. Certifications, on the other hand, reflect more of a micro view of a person’s measurable aptitude within a skills-oriented domain. 

In other words:

Degrees = A good measure of a person’s long-term capability within a given discipline Certifications = a good measure of professional capability and immediate employability.

As we look at the current unfilled workforce crisis at hand, the valuation of either one is perhaps best quantified through the lens of simple math.

We don’t have a people problem in filling our workforce, but a skilled people problem, specifically within industries like healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing, where Bachelor’s Degrees are not typically required for most jobs. For a competitive advantage in today’s immediate job market, certifications should have a huge leg up on the more traditional post-secondary pathways, including the fact that those assessments adapt to the workforce landscape typically faster than academic institutions do. 

As such, many high schools have implemented hands-on CTE programs that provide students with real-world experience in those industries right around them, offering internships and other work-based learning opportunities to help students gain experience right out of high school. But the extent to which they can do this varies depending on a variety of factors, such as the location of the school, the resources available, and the preferences of the students and families. 

So as the discussion surrounding which post-secondary path to take persists, does our skills gap. Indeed the percentage of high schools promoting more diverse post-secondary pathways is increasing as educators and policymakers recognize the importance of preparing students for a variety of career paths, but is it fast enough to make an impact when we need it most?

Are you considering hiring for skills versus degrees? We’d love to hear from you below!

Tina Zwolinski on Being Mission-Driven to Reach Underserved Youth Through Gaming

This post is part of The Founder Factor, where you go behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough. The Founder Factor is brought to you by Designli (South Carolina’s top app development firm) and Word of Web

Stepping into the world of gaming to help the younger generation have a brighter future with more job opportunities, Zwolinski has broken the barriers of career awareness and access through innovative technology. Read full blog here.

In 1997, Tina Zwolinski launched a branding and marketing agency that she spent the next 23 years growing and expanding. While working with Millennials and then Gen Z in the marketing arena, she began to see the pressure put on youth to follow the high school to 4-year college path as the only solution to finding a career. Zwolinski saw this on a deeper scale as her nonprofit work took her to underserved youth who weren’t shown the opportunities out there. “I began to ask, ‘What can we do differently, and what would that look like? But I never would have thought the answer would mean exiting my company,” she says.

But in 2020, that’s exactly what she did. Exiting her business, Zwolinski was on a mission to connect youth to the millions of career opportunities that didn’t require the traditional 4-year degree path. This led her to form her startup company called skillsgapp, which produces Skillionaire Games™. “Foundationally, we are a workforce pipeline development company,” she explains. “But as our mission, we connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.” 

According to Zwolinski, students make decisions about what they “want to be” based on what they see, and in schools, they only see a select few careers like doctors, lawyers, and teachers. However, skillsgapp helps create career and pathway awareness for students through 10 different games, all of which focus on in-demand careers that are often overlooked or stigmatized. “We introduce careers to a student from entrance to exit,” she says. “They are put in environments that let them see themselves, as any gender or race, in various careers, showing them what average salaries are, what local colleges have programs for these fields, and practicing the skills needed for that career. For some students, going through a game means they are ready to sit for certification, allowing them to go straight into a job.”  Read full blog here.

UMASS Boston, Verizon, and Skillsgapp: Department of Commerce $2.97M Grant to Enhance Digital Connections in Minority Communities

UMass Boston has launched a pilot project to increase broadband access and additional services for students and anchor communities with funding from a two-year, $2.97 million grant from the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. UMass Boston is one of 12 schools to receive the NTIA funding designated for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).

Vice Provost for Research Bala Sundaram and Associate CIO Apurva Mehta conceived the UMass Boston project, Addressing Digital Access Gaps in Education (ADAGE), during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the pandemic, the university was able to pivot from traditional classroom instruction to synchronous online classes and implement a Chromebook loaner program. For segments of the student population, though, participating in online learning came with a serious obstacle: a lack of access to high-speed internet.

Sundaram explained: “As a university with majority-minority demographics, the UMass Boston community is disproportionately affected by uneven broadband access. We designed ADAGE to reduce the technology access gaps we saw growing during the pandemic.”

ADAGE’s three-pronged approach includes increasing the university’s capacity to offer hybrid/flexible courses, expanding access to high-speed internet and devices, and exposing students to technology career paths.

“We anticipate highly promising results from ADAGE. This two-year pilot study will give us the opportunity to evaluate just how much impact having access to broadband, computers, Hyflex learning, and introductions to IT career pathways has for our students and anchor communities,” said Mehta.

The university is strengthening the campus technology infrastructure by retrofitting classrooms for synchronous online courses. HyFlex is a solution for driving student success because it offers remote and in-person learning options to the diverse student community. The project goal is to convert 58 classrooms, a third of the classrooms on campus, to support the HyFlex modality. Studies have shown that students in HyFlex classrooms perform as well as their face-to-face peers academically, while also benefiting from having agency in how they learn and participate in their classes.

Through a partnership with Verizon’s Digital Inclusion Program, 200 students will receive a Verizon Jetpack (mobile hotspot device). The students will also receive a Microsoft Surface Go computer, and gamified content created by experts in fields such as app development and information literacy and security.

One hundred families from UMass Boston’s anchor communities will be enrolled in Verizon’s Digital Inclusion Program to receive Jetpacks, too. Participating families will also receive Microsoft Go computers and technical training. Families will be selected with the help of four UMass Boston centers active in the anchor communities: Institute for Asian American StudiesMauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and PolicyWilliam Monroe Trotter Institute, and Institute for New England Native American Studies.

To create workforce and career pathway awareness, ADAGE will leverage UMass Boston’s professional development courses combined with a broad range of technology skills trainings through platforms such as Skillsgapp, LinkedIn Learning, and Apple’s Everyone Can Code and SWIFT App Development.

These learning opportunities will enhance students’ skills in fields such as coding and create awareness of specific career opportunities. For example, Skillsgapp, accelerates and democratizes workforce development through engaging mobile gameplay. Skillsgapp games, which are available in English and Spanish, provide awareness about careers in cybersecurity by simulating tasks and scenarios that succeed in being informative, at least in part, because they are so entertaining. Practical details about cybersecurity careers, training, and salaries are integrated into the games.

Go to News Release.

NEXT Launches Accelerator Program – Skillsgapp Selected for Cohort #1 

NEXT kicked off its first-ever accelerator program on Monday, March 6th. This new program introduces a curated 10-week curriculum, taught with the expertise of local former founders and business leaders. The first cohort, comprised of high-growth tech companies, will work with program leaders to build a growth plan to take their startup to the next level. This accelerator aims to grow and scale some of the region’s high-potential startups by providing dedicated resources to their specific challenges and needs. 

“We saw a gap in the ecosystem and decided to develop this program to coach and lead in the specific areas where we know founders need the most help,” says Scott Millwood, cofounder of an early-stage seed fund in Greenville and a two-time startup founder himself. 

This program leads to a presentation in late May and the content is focused on leadership development, team building, business planning and funding. 

The 11 companies participating are:

  • Bottle Titan
  • Custom Donations
  • Mapsheet
  • North 7th
  • RAAMP
  • Ruffian Software
  • Safe Helipad
  • Skillsgapp
  • TestedHQ
  • Vicinity Capital
  • WAVS Custom

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