“STEMINISM”: Women play a key role in filling the STEM Gap

According to Italian experimental particle physicist and first-ever woman General Director of CERN, Fabiola Gianotto, “Science has no passport, no gender, no race, no political party…science is universal and unifying.”  However, according to the American Association of University Women, women still make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with a particularly high gender gap in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.

Gender Stereotypes

STEM fields are typically viewed as masculine, yet the concept of a “math brain” shows no cognitive biological differences between men and women. According to a study conducted by Stanford, boys from higher-income and predominantly white areas did perform significantly higher in math, even compared to girls attending those same schools. However, girls score higher than boys in math in lower-income, predominantly African American areas, which account for 25% of our school districts. Why the disparity? One administrator from a predominantly white district observes, “Teachers, who are predominantly women, may have math anxiety from their own childhood stigmas, and they assume girls need to work harder to achieve the same level as boys.” The response was different when the same question was asked of a predominantly African American elementary school. “We know that STEM fields tend to perpetuate male-dominated cultures that may not support women and minorities, but my students don’t yet. They just do their math.”

Underrepresentation in the Workforce

Girls have fewer role models to inspire their interest in STEM fields, seeing limited examples of female scientists and engineers in books, media and popular culture. There are even fewer Black women role models in math and science. Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields reports, “The last time I watched a movie or TV show about a person of color who was a scientist, engineer, or mathematician was ‘Hidden Figures’ and that came out in 2016.” Which is in part to blame for the fact that by the time students post-secondary, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors — in fact, only around 21% of engineering majors are women and only around 19% of computer and information science majors are women.

Did You Know?

  • Nearly 80% of the healthcare workforce are women, but only about 21% of health executives and board members are women, and only about a third of doctors.
  • 38% of women who major in computers work in computer fields, and only 24% of those who majored in engineering work in the engineering field.
  • Men in STEM’s annual salaries are nearly $15,000 higher per year than women 
  • Latina and Black women in STEM earn around $33,000 less than their male counterparts.
  • 11.5% of people employed in STEM fields were women of color, making up approximately one-third of all women in these fields. 
  • Only 19 of the 616 Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2019 in Physics, Science, Medicine and Physiology were awarded to women.

The future of STEM is female.

With women representing just shy of half of today’s workforce, you don’t have to have a math brain to know that the current gender gap doesn’t add up. 

Here are a few easy ways for educators and parents to close it.

  1. Scale back focus on STEM as higher education conversation, as the journey to a career in STEM starts much younger for both genders. The early stages of education are crucial to a child’s development, and don’t always involve a book. One study found that simply having a lack of friends in a computing class can decrease the probability of a girl studying the subject by up to 33%
  1. Promote engagement in technology at a younger age, which will help allow girls’ interests to develop free of societal bias. Educational institutions and governing bodies should embrace initiatives for children to become both familiar with and gain hands-on experience with technology
  1. Highlight female industry voices. Or better yet, be one. That same study found that 73% of high school girls with inspirational teachers said they were interested in studying computing. This figure fell to 26% for those who did not have an inspiring role model. One way this can be achieved is by establishing mentorship programs to show how women navigate these industries while learning from real female experiences. By promoting female leaders within STEM of all races and cultural backgrounds, women will feel that the industry is more accessible to them, as they see women like themselves succeeding in it.

Who is your favorite female in STEM?

Winning at Workforce: Career and Pathway Awareness Starting in K-12 is the Competitive Advantage

In today’s ever-evolving labor market, there are more jobs available than ever for young adults to pick from depending on the type of career that best suits them. However, this is only possible if we start equipping young adults with the right tools earlier so they can better understand the wide range of careers available to them, and just as importantly, how they can access and prepare for them, especially careers within the in-demand fields of cybersecurity, manufacturing, and the life and health sciences. This will ensure the future workforce has the skills needed to remain competitive globally. 

The Benefits of Career Awareness and Pathway Access at an Earlier Age 

There are many benefits to starting early when it comes to career and pathway awareness. First, it helps young adults explore their passions as they understand more about the different types of jobs available. This leads to better decisions about which classes to take in high school, where to go to college or trade school, or whether college or trade school is even necessary for the desired career path.  

Additionally, it helps young adults develop confidence as they pursue their chosen field, be better prepared to answer questions about their chosen field or navigate job prospects without feeling lost or insecure. Finally, it gives students an advantage when entering the job market because employers know that these candidates have an understanding of what’s out there and are ready to hit the ground running from day one, minimizing costs associated with both training and attrition. It also leads to more diversity in the workforce since students from all backgrounds can benefit from career and pathway awareness in K-12. 

The Role of Technology in Career and Pathway Awareness 

One way to foster career and pathway awareness is by leveraging technology as part of the learning process. Technology can provide students with virtual experiences in different industries through videos, interactive games, or simulations that allow them to explore different roles from right where they are. This can help give them valuable insight into potential careers before they even enter college or join the workforce! Additionally, technology can provide teachers with resources, such as lesson plans or online courses designed to introduce students to different fields in engaging ways, while still following curriculum guidelines set out by their school district or state board of education. 

A Meaningful ROI

By introducing kids to various career paths earlier, we can create a generation of engaged learners who understand how their skills fit into the larger job market upon graduation—and employers will reap the rewards too. Utilizing technology as part of students’ learning process allows us to reach far beyond traditional methods used for teaching about careers; this helps us ensure that all students have equal access, regardless of background or location. As leaders in our organizations, it’s our duty to invest in these future generations now so that we create a well-rounded, sustainable workforce for tomorrow!

On a scale of  1 – 10, with 10 being the best, what score would you give your state, region or industry for your career and pathway awareness efforts with students in K-12?

Site Selection Magazine: 2023 Workforce Guide – featuring skillsgapp’s Skillionaire Games, Rad Lab, and South Carolina

Workforce has been cited in Site Selection Magazine’s annual survey of corporate consultants as the No. 1 factor in site selection decisions for several years in a row. The 2023 Workforce Guide is a special report providing insight into workforce development partnerships and practices across the U.S.

Skillsgapp and South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry Feature: A Workforce Gaming Initiative, Rad Lab, is having a positive impact on the future workforce: Wanna Be A Skillionaire?

Members of a South Carolina industry association say a fun online game with prizes could put young people in line for prized STEM careers.

The industry is life sciences, the fastest-growing industry among South Carolina’s knowledge economy sectors, having grown by more than 42% since 2017. The organization is SCBIO, a statewide life sciences organization representing more than 1,000 organizations statewide employing more than 87,000 professionals across the sector’s entire range of disciplines. In early November 2022, it partnered with Skillionaire GamesTM — the business-to-consumer side of Greenville-based education technology firm skillsgapp — to announce the recent launch of Rad Lab, a mobile phone game that provides organizers with trackable geographic data and customizable incentives based on a player’s location, performance and proficiencies as they compete to gain ever-higher levels of skill in various STEM-based life science areas.

Read More Here.

Value Inspiration Podcast #243: Tina Zwolinski, CEO Skillsgapp – on game-changing workforce development

A story about using technology to connect youth to life-changing careers.

This podcast interview focuses on product innovation that has the power to help manufacturing and cybersecurity businesses to attract and grow a sustainable workforce pipeline.

During this interview, you will learn four things:

  1. How to find transformative innovation opportunities by zooming out to the global picture
  2. How to create a flywheel for growth when there’s no real owner of the problem. 
  3. How you can solve a global challenge by approaching it locally.
  4. The power that unlocks when purpose and technology blend.

Listen here:

What does Gen Z want from you in 2023?

By Kamber Parker, Founder & Young Professional Expert, The YoPro Know, LLC //

The main topic on every business leader’s mind right now is this:

How does Gen Z think and how will it impact my business? From how they work to how they spend, leaders want to know: what makes them tick and will it be positive or negative for their business?

Gen Z is made up of tweens, teens, and young adults who were born between 1996 and 2015. A wide spread, the Gen Z generation will make up more than half of the U.S. workforce with their millennial counterparts by 2030 (Jason Dorsey: Center For Generational Kinetics). What does this mean for businesses? It’s your job to understand their behaviors, their goals and desires, to create a successful space for them in the workplace.

In this post, we will cover just that. You earned their interest through gamification or innovative recruiting efforts (think: social media, moving away from the age-old job fairs), but now it’s time to figure out how to keep them engaged long-term.

Here are the top 3 things Gen Z wants from you in 2023.

  1. Stability. Gen Z is likely not going to be known as the “job-hopping” generation like their millennial counterparts, but there is a higher chance of them not being engaged in a post-pandemic world.
    • Pay them what they are worth. Many Gen Z-ers have watched their families experience previous recessions and witnessed the generation before them experience significant debt. They don’t want this, so if you can’t pay them a decent salary, you will not even be in the game next to your competitors.
    • Show them opportunities to grow. While you can’t give them a leadership role on day one, outline what their career trajectory can look like from the start. Setting expectations early on with help with building trust with your employees and team members, while setting them up for success.
    • Engage them through strong communication, education/training, and professional development. There is a plethora of information on this topic, but to learn more, visit our research here.
  2. Transparency. This is important to this generation because they have witnessed a very different world than some of us reading this grew up in. Most of them came of age during the pandemic, and as a result, they have experienced tension from something unprecedented in our society. They understand when company cultures are being transparent or not and when they recognize that, they leave.
    • Set expectations from day 1. When you are in the hiring process, ensure your recruiting communication is extremely clear.
    • Clear is kind. When talking about salary, benefits, time off, and work hours, be honest! 85% of the young professionals I’ve interviewed over the past 2 years say they have left a company because one of these expectations proved to be false about 6 to 9 months in.
    • Share vision and long-termplans for the company (depending on size, this can be challenging). Give them a sense of ownership and treat them like they will be there for a long time. Most companies don’t get this part right, but you CAN!
  3. Connectivity. While many want the opportunity to work from home – some time, not all the time – they still want to be connected.
    • If you have a hybrid schedule, encourage team members to all be in the office or site on the same day one day per week. This will create consistent face-time with peers and coworkers to build trust among the team.
    • If you only offer work-from-home, ensure there is still time to connect with each other in a meaningful way. Again, the pandemic resulted in less connectivity with other people and Gen Z does not want that. Consider coordinating lunch one day or a team-building exercise (I promise: Gen Z actually wants this these days!).
    • If you offer in-person work 100% and don’t have opportunities to give an at-home work structure, it’s important to note here that you will need to create some space for your Gen Z employees to provide flexibility. This looks different for everyone, but if you don’t offer it, they are more inclined to look for places that do.

Being intentional in your process can lead to thriving and retainable outcomes in your workforce. Take time to review and adapt your plans for 2023 to engage successfully with Gen Z.

Photo of Kamber Parker

About Kamber Parker: Kamber is the founder of The YoPro Know (2018), a platform designed to be the bridge between ambitious young professionals and the companies that wish to hire them and most importantly, retain them. Kamber has spent the last 5 years interviewing nearly 1,000 young professionals identifying their key struggles, successes, and ultimately, ways to make them more successful in the workplace. Her business offers consulting services for companies looking to increase young professional recruitment, retention, and engagement. She is a 40 Under Forty Recipient (2020), the Greenville Chamber Young Professional Of The Year recipient (2021), Jefferson Award Winner (2021), and Greenville Business Magazine’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under (2022). In her free time, she volunteers for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Board, Meals on Wheels, and is involved in the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals group. You can find her at The Commons, on the Swamp Rabbit Trail running, or Soul Yoga!

Meet Workforce Development’s Secret Ingredient: The Avatar

Do you know one reason so many jobs continue to go unfilled? Kids can’t “see” themselves working in them. They don’t know what opportunities exist, as we discuss here, and even when they do, certain careers might feel unachievable, unreachable. When a student can insert a representation of themselves into environments that exemplify industries like cybersecurity or the life sciences, they understand that they can have a place there.

Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields believes it is imperative that we meet our youth where they are when it comes to career awareness, specifically in minority populations. “Where do our youth spend most of their time? Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, video games, anywhere their phone goes. However, do our youth realize that computer scientists develop the software for these platforms and that computer engineers create and design the electronics that they enjoy so much?” The overall lack of STEM role models of color in media and entertainment is in part to blame, according to Acker. “The last time I watched a movie or TV show about a person of color who was a scientist, engineer, or mathematician was ‘Hidden Figures’ and that came out in 2016. Students need to see people who look like them portrayed in these fields.”

Enter the Avatar

The Proteus Effect describes a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worlds, is changed by the characteristics of their avatar. This change is due to the individual’s knowledge about the behaviors typically associated with those characteristics. Like the adjective protean (meaning versatile or mutable), the concept’s name is an allusion to the shape-changing abilities of the Greek god Proteus. The Proteus effect was first introduced by researchers Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailens at Stanford University in June 2007, as an examination of the behavioral effects of changing a user’s embodied avatar.

In another study conducted this year, researchers “consistently found … high degrees of congruence between the respective characteristics of the avatar, the actual self, and the ideal self.” Similarly, a 2019 study found that “people balancing the motives of self-verification and self-enhancement design their avatars to be similar to their real selves.” The fact that digital avatars most often reflect the user is critical knowledge for gamified technology designed to connect kids to careers and pathways—provided with the chance to present themselves how they wish, players take on an active role and self-realize in the game, especially within a safe environment void of biases or judgment.

This agency and expression is especially important for young players in minority groups who are often underrepresented in the workforce. Kids learn by watching and mimicking, so if they never see anyone who looks like them in a particular field, the possibility of that future is not easily imagined. Equipped with a DEI-minded avatar creator like in Cyber Watchdog or Rad Lab, though, students have the ability to visualize themselves in career environments, which puts them one step closer to attaining success and narrowing the skills gap.

When you play video games, do you customize your avatar to look like you, or someone different?

Outspoken Podcast-Season 5: Collaborating, Gaming, and the STEM Talent Pipeline

Listen Here.

In this episode of The Outspoken Podcast, host Shana Cosgrove talks to Cynthia Jenkins, co-founder and CMO of Skillsgapp, maker of Skillionaire Games. Cynthia describes how her company is developing video games that school districts and industry leaders can use to teach middle and high school students about STEM careers in their local communities. Cynthia describes her training in journalism and advertising as well as her mid-career transition—together with collaborator Tina Zwolinski—from marketing to the world of gaming. Shana and Cynthia talk about the need for soft skills in every field and the increasing recognition that reaching and teaching kids earlier about opportunities in STEM is crucial to filling an anticipated 700,000 new tech jobs with industry and government employers. Cynthia says that, yes, sometimes you actually should go to bed angry, and she tells Shana a surprising story about a chance meeting with The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood.

The Unprecedented Growth of Game-Based Learning

By the end of this year, there will be 79.6 million digital gamers in the US, or more than half of our population. Industry growth is accelerating thanks to heavy engagement of younger gamers (ages 13 to 17), 90% of whom classify themselves as gamers, and prefer video games over any other form of digital media, including music, videos and social media. 

Game-based learning is expected to be one the fastest-growing gaming markets, driven by the need to improve student education post-COVID. Considered an active learning technique, students are motivated and engaged in game-based learning because it’s unique, and the immediate feedback that learners and educators receive as a result is an important feature that both learners and educators benefit from more quickly than traditional methods. 

One of digital games’ most cognitively significant features includes simulations that allow students to get a firsthand experience with material. According to research, it’s better for students to come into direct contact with the reality they’re studying, instead of just reading, talking, and listening about it. We remember up to 90% of what we say and do, provided we are actively involved in real activities related to imitating experiences.

Additional benefits of game-based learning include: 

  1. Motivation: Students are the main characters in the story and their success is rewarded with medals, extra lives, bonuses, etc, holding their interest in learning.
  1. Opportunities to practice: Students can apply the knowledge they acquire without getting into dangerous situations, ie; flight and navigation simulators
  1. Quicker response times: Researchers at Rochester University reported that games improve troubleshooting skills by posing time-sensitive problems.
  1. Teamwork: The Institute for the Future reports that games boost teamwork in problem solving.
  1. Creativity, focus and visual memory: The University of California has found that games stimulate these aspects by setting goals that require concentration, imagination and remembering details to achieve them.
  1. Strategy and leadership: According to Pittsburgh University, video games put players in command, honing their abilities to resolve disputes, interact with other players and make decisions.
  1. Critical thinking: Monterrey Institute of Technology published an article underlining the underlying ethical, philosophical and social basis of these games, and their ability to make players think and improve their critical thinking.

Bain’s analysis forecasts that global revenue for games could grow by more than 50% over the next five years, suggesting that developers are banking on evidence that gaming will take consumers’ time from other forms of media and be the foundational platform for both other media and non-media experiences. 

Additionally, advancements in game engines are making it easier to develop higher-fidelity games, becoming a key development platform for other entertainment experiences, and improvements in 3-D graphics that transfer to applications in other industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and construction.

Considering game-based learning is just in its nascent stages based on most recent, post-pandemic circumstances, this means we can expect not just schools to embrace this medium for learning and training, but industry as well.

What’s one of your favorite digital learning games? We’d love to hear from you.

Skillsgapp Co-Founder And Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Cynthia Jenkins Joins Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate

Cynthia Jenkins, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of skillsgapp, a company that develops free-to-play mobile gaming apps that help middle and high school-aged+ youth achieve life-changing career awareness and localized pathway access, as well as develop the soft skills necessary to pursue jobs in skills-based industries through game-changing play, has announced a strategic partnership with the Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program, a pilot undertaken in Orange County, California.

The Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program seeks to close the gender equity gap by supporting young women through post-secondary education and networking into the workforce, ensuring that they can achieve influential leadership positions in the process.

Project Accelerate was funded by Equality Can’t Wait, an initiative launched by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation enterprise, to expedite progress toward gender equality in the U.S. The initiative garnered additional support from Mackenzie Scott and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, awarding $40 million to the organizations or coalitions of organizations offering the most compelling proposals to help expand women’s empowerment and influence in the U.S. by 2030. Read More.

“Durable” Skills vs. Soft Skills: Is There a Difference?

The term “soft skills” has always been somewhat of an oxymoron, as these skills are arguably the hardest to attain. The most sought-after professional capabilities in just about any industry—problem-solving, leadership, critical thinking, and personal skills like teamwork, flexibility, adaptability, and creativity—are hard to measure and even harder to teach. 

That’s why this misnomer has been given a new name: durable skills. 

They’re desired everywhere. An analysis of 82 million job postings conducted last year by America Succeeds reveals that 7 of the 10 most requested skills are durable skills. The report goes on to say that “employers seek durable skills … 3.8x more frequently than the top 5 technical or hard skills” in every location, every industry sector, and every educational attainment level.

“Skills aren’t soft or hard[;] they’re durable or perishable.” –Matthew J. Daniel, Guild Education

On top of that, durable skills have staying power (as their name suggests). Research shows that the half-life of a learned skill is 5 years, while the more technical skills start to fade at half of that. Bottom line: skills like programming or digital media will never remain current. That doesn’t mean they should be avoided or relegated, but it does mean that they can’t be the only talents in a person’s career arsenal. Due to the very nature of progress, they will never be able to keep up with constant industry changes, forever requiring periodic updates to stay abreast. Meanwhile, durable skills like critical thinking, collaboration and communication will never go out of style—no matter the profession nor the year. Take the cybersecurity sector, for example—arguably one of the most consistently transformative—those particular soft skills have become known as the “Three Soft C’s” … and considered by some the best defense against cyber attacks.

America Succeeds explains that their 2021 market insights “clearly demonstrate workforce demand for durable skills.” The pandemic has underscored the importance of students’ development of soft skills in addition to academic knowledge and technical skills. An emphasis on durable skills will continue to strengthen our workforce and society, especially as technology rapidly innovates yet continually fails to emulate humanity’s dynamic capacity to feel and respond. As Forbes indicates in a recent article, machines still can’t replace “human” skills.

Now—more than ever—we need complex communication skills that enable us to work with individuals from diverse cultural and lingual backgrounds. We need acknowledgment of and appreciation for diversity in all its forms. We need awareness of talent, skills, and interests. We need the ability to find purpose, recognize talents, set goals, and proactively seek opportunities to pursue those ambitions. All of these skills represent a human-to-human aptitude, and that’s because durable skills are the skills “that technology cannot displace,” the ones that are “critical to creating positive work environments.” These are skills that are truly built to last. 

What durable skill do you value most in your employees?