South Carolina Business Review: Attracting Factory Workers with Gaming

According to some national surveys, 75% of Generation Z show little or no interest in working for manufacturers and 70% of parents discourage manufacturing as a career.  So where will a manufacturing state like ours get its workforce?  Our next guest believes that video games are the answer.

Mike Switzer interviews Tina Zwolinski, CEO and founder of skillsgapp in Greenville, SC.

Culture Counts: How to Attract Your Next Workforce Generation

Think about this: 10,000 baby boomers will be reaching retirement age each day for the next 14 years. This leaves a lot of room for Gen Z, who will soon comprise over a third of the world’s population, to potentially represent a quarter of the world’s workforce in the years to come. So while manufacturers are faced with an unprecedented amount of jobs to fill, they’d be prudent to skew their recruiting efforts younger, specifically toward Gen Z. 

This generation thinks about company culture much differently than baby boomers, however. With manufacturers competing for the same pools of talent, they’ll need to adapt their company cultures to effectively attract Gen Z, and also to keep them. 

Diversity and Mentorship Matters

Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date. Catalyst cites a Deloitte survey that says, “Gen Z respondents were more likely to stay with organizations they perceived as having a diverse and inclusive workforce. Diversity of educational background was the top area Gen Z respondents said organizations need to work on followed by age, ethnicity, and gender.”

Not only does Gen Z value diversity, but they also want mentoring. Nicholas Wyman says, “Mentoring is an important part of a successful skill building program. As a management tool, it is one of the most effective ways to transfer organizational knowledge as well as job-specific skills. Unlike more traditional supervisory management, mentoring creates a climate of support, guidance, and teaching that boosts employee engagement and productivity.”

Mobile is Their Medium 

Gen Z is made up of digital natives who have never known life without the internet, so a company culture that embraces how they use technology is essential in attracting and keeping them. This generation’s lives are centered around their smartphones and Kronos says, “they expect technology on the job to deliver that consumer grade experience.” Not only that, but the Pew Research Center says, “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and a similar share (97%) use at least one of seven major online platforms.”

Work/Life Balance is BIG

A healthy company culture must not tether Gen Z to an unnecessary level of work-related communication and connectedness, however. Even though they use technology throughout the day, Forbes explains “Today’s ever-expanding work tech—designed to increase employee connectivity and productivity in the age of remote work—is a key culprit in the stress and burnout epidemic.” 

A company culture that allows them time to detox from technology and lessen their connectedness to work every now and then could help reduce burnout, and provide them with a healthy work/life balance. According to Forbes, “Zapier’s Digital Natives Report found that a majority of Gen-Z (69%) and Millennial (73%) employees have experienced job burnout.” 

The good news is that their jobs mean a lot to this generation and they want to be given the chance to make a difference, but they also need time outside of their jobs to support more of what makes them tick. 

It’s Time To Look Within

Our beloved boomers are retiring, yes. But the generation that follows brings with them the opportunity to abandon same-ol-same-ol’ business  practices. If manufacturers can create a culture that embraces Gen Z, they, in turn, will embrace them back.

Four Reasons Why Gamification Should be Used in Skills Development

Let’s face it, job training isn’t something many people look forward to. It can be the most tedious and boring part of being hired at a company. However, there is a solution that can remove the mundane. According to continu, “Gamification in training is the process of applying gaming designs and concepts to learning or training sessions in order to make them more engaging and entertaining for your employees.” It offers a more innovative way for organizations to recruit a future workforce, as well as an opportunity to get them more excited about the career they’re about to embark on. 

Here are four ways that gamification can improve manufacturers’ skills training development, and recruitment: 

1. It allows learners to better control their own learning experiences.
It’s essential to keep recruits engaged throughout the entire process as well as develop a process that gets new candidates in the door. There’s nothing about sitting down to watch a series of videos during skills training that actively gets someone’s attention. However, by giving them some control over the progression of their training, you can make them an integral part of the process rather than just having them passively observe. 

2. Gamification offers manufacturers faster feedback that can allow them to improve training procedures in real time.
Continu notes, “With more traditional training, you learn your score, or are given advice once your session is completed. With gamification in training, users are given feedback as they progress throughout the training.” This allows for real-time adjustments to be made as the training continues, making the process more efficient and attractive to a newer, digitally-minded generation.

3. Gamification can draw in the younger generation to your training.
The manufacturing industry can take notes from construction companies’ success at this. Caterpillar is recruiting younger workers and enhancing its operator training programs with game-based simulators. This hands-on approach to learning gives students the opportunity to understand — and develop an affinity for — machine controls and operating procedures prior to entering the workforce, which makes them more qualified candidates when they come of age. 

4. Gamification can make your company or organization stronger.
Making training interesting is key for new recruits to stay with you throughout the process. Think about it — if your training process is a bore, they won’t retain as much or be excited about it. Continu explains that gamification can allow users to enjoy the process, retain more, and ultimately use these newfound skills to strengthen your company. Their success can also inspire loyalty, mitigating the ever-costly workforce attrition. 

What’s The Bottom Line?

It’s safe to say that gaming matters to manufacturers and the future workforce alike. When they’re at the top of their game, your bottom line wins.

New Ways to Skill

The pre-pandemic rules of work and school have given way to not only a more digital world, but also new opportunities. As such, education’s structure isn’t as rigid as it used to be. Schools have been forced to implement creative ways to not only bring education to students, but also bring them together safely, all without cannibalizing required curriculum.

Why shouldn’t manufacturers do the same?

New Opportunities

COVID-19 presents manufacturers the opportunity to bring their training to Gen Z, rather than Gen Z bringing themselves to manufacturers. 

Education and training structures are not likely to go back to what they once were. That’s why manufacturers will need to carve out new opportunities to engage in not only this next generation of workforce, but in content that resonates with them. After all, Gen Z is adapting to learning in their new, digital environment. Manufacturers simply need to catch up.

Take Felling Trailers in Minnesota as an example. Bonnie Radjenovich, a member of their operations team says, “We’re advertising like crazy on Facebook and Instagram, and we just can’t get enough candidates in the door.” This was a step in the right direction. But here’s the rub, it isn’t enough anymore for companies to simply advertise to Gen Z on social platforms where they don’t necessarily live.

Skilling Gen Z

One new way to skill is by bringing training to Gen Z on their mobile devices through creative gamification that interests and excites them, and on platforms that engage  them.

Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, offers an important insight. She says, “If this time of COVID has taught us anything it’s that you need to adapt to the world as it is around you and the world is changing and so you have to change with it.”

By catering to Gen Z’s current style of learning, manufacturers have the opportunity to create future talent pipelines they didn’t previously have access to. On the flip side, students who previously didn’t have access to in-person training can now get a jumpstart on a career path through training within gamified apps. This symbiotic relationship could especially thrive in America’s rural areas, where access has historically been challenging.

Manufacturers Must Seize the Opportunity

The Pew Research Center indicates that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” Not only is there a widespread network already in place to reach Gen Z, but their usage of smartphones is only likely to increase due to the switch to online learning. This opens the door for us to bring more meaningful play to users and according to appannie.com, “Spend on mobile games across all app stores projected to top $100 billion in 2020.” Reaching Gen Z at an early age and training them where they live will lay the groundwork for a reliable workforce now, and down the road.

The opportunity has never been more ripe for manufacturers to adapt to a new way of building future talent pipelines. Or more fun.

Good News Regarding Tomorrow’s Talent for Advanced Manufacturing. Rural is Ready.

Manufacturers from all over the world have discovered the benefits of setting up shop in rural America. The affordable cost of land, friendlier tax climates and a lower cost of living for their employees sit high in its appeal. Another box economic development agencies check off when recruiting big companies is the high potential for a solid talent pipeline for years to come. Non-metropolitan America offers robust, multi-generational communities that are ripe for fulfilling complex workforce needs today. And with 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day over the next several years, Gen Z has become the white cape in securing manufacturing’s future.

The trick is in reaching them. Some middle-and high schools have started to incorporate these career pathways into their post-secondary narrative, but not necessarily their curriculum. This next generation needs to know that “working in a factory” is no longer a Laverne and Shirley sit-com their parents and teachers used to watch. These skills require training, and they’re skills you get paid very well for. According to a 2018 Salary Survey report from IndustryWeek, “the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500.” But stigmas take time to reverse, and curriculum takes taxpayers’ money and bureaucratic consensus to impact. 

So how do both advanced manufacturers and state economic development agencies win in their bid to a talent pipeline that’s perpetually pumping?

By pressing play.

An App Can Zap the Skills Gap.

COVID-19 has brought our world to its knees, paralyzing entire countries. It’s also brought the U.S. a multi-state commitment to expanding broadband reach in order to serve our rural and under resourced communities. Virtual learning was not a viable proposition for hundreds of thousands just months ago. Recently in California, home of Silicon Valley, two young girls were pictured sitting in a Taco Bell parking lot because they needed WiFi to do their schoolwork. Other states are still catching up, but here lies the opportunity. According to the Pew Research Center, “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.”     

So the immediate workforce “workaround” lies in building talent pipelines by meeting kids directly where they live, on their phones. By developing mobile skills training apps and digital programs where Gen Z can engage with industry in ways that are not only relevant to them, but fun, reversing that “Plan B” career mindset will not only begin to materialize, but banks of hours toward soft- and middle-skills development within a future, qualified workforce will accrue, year over year.

It’s Game Time.

It’s time to think outside the box if we’re going to close the skills gap in America. Training our next workforce generation through mobile gamification at an early age will not only secure a leadership position on the world stage of manufacturing for decades to come, but will also provide meaningful careers and opportunities for communities that are underserved. Matt Dunne, Founder and Executive Director of the Center On Rural Innovation says, “Even in these difficult times, rural America has some exciting opportunities to build economies of the future.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

Manufacturing Day: The Day That Keeps on Giving

On Oct. 2, 2020 manufacturers around the country will open their doors so Gen Z can open their eyes to skills-based career paths. It’s not just a day of open dialogue, but also a day of opportunity. According to Creators Wanted, “MFG Day empowers manufacturers to come together to address their collective challenges so they can help their communities and future generations thrive.”

Everybody Wins

Companies benefit from Manufacturing Day because they get to showcase who they are and what they can offer the next workforce generation. This is key in eradicating the “dirty hands stigma”, which conjures up images of what manufacturing used to look like, preventing many Gen Zers from pursuing high-paying and plentiful middle-skills jobs. So Manufacturing Day serves as a compelling, ‘see-say’ platform that companies can leverage to attract Gen Z via their modernized operations.

The win for Gen Z lies in their exposure to the plethora of opportunities created by the skills gap. According to Deloitte, “It’s estimated that by 2025, 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, but 2 million of these jobs will go unfilled due to the talent shortage.” This means that Gen Z can get a jumpstart in making connections with employers in order to find inroads to successful careers. And by finding out which skills manufacturers are looking for, they can make strategic choices about which path they can take early on in their education.

Manufacturing Day During COVID-19 and Last-minute Tips For An Even Bigger Win. 

The coronavirus has changed the way that most industries, businesses and people operate. This year Manufacturing Day is different than in years past because it’s mostly gone virtual. But companies have already adapted in ways that allow Gen Z to easily participate in ways they are familiar with, and can access with ease. According to SNHU, “Generation Z employees are true digital natives in the sense that they’ve grown up with smartphones and other digital devices at their fingertips.”

Here are three last-minute tips that companies can use for a big win on manufacturing day. 

1. Companies must use visual content because it enables Gen Z to learn about them. Gen Zers are proactive learners who have grown up frequently using visual media like YouTube and Instagram. According to SNHU, “A recent Harris Poll found 60% of people between the ages of 14 and 23 look to YouTube when they want to gather information, and nearly the same percentage said the video-sharing platform contributed to their education.”

2. Companies should make their virtual or in-person experiences social for Gen Z. Gen Z has grown up with the ability to create online communities and collaborate with each other through those communities. It isn’t enough anymore for companies to simply post videos on manufacturing day, they must interact with Gen Z.

3. Use augmented reality and other mobile experiences. Gen Z is a mobile generation and they are accustomed to doing almost everything on their phones at any time of day. This means companies must meet Gen Z where they are on manufacturing day in order to reach them. 

Some companies already understand Gen Z well and have designed their experiences on Manufacturing Day to cater to their learning preferences. Allegion and Boeing are two great examples.

According to NAM, “Allegion will feature a full virtual experience planned through Microsoft Teams. It will provide a mixture of live and pre-recorded content, and will localize every event to ensure it’s most relevant to local students, said Allegion Reputation Management Leader Whitney Moorman.”

NAM also notes, “Boeing collaborated with external partners like high schools, colleges and community organizations to create an effective virtual program, said Boeing Senior Workforce Specialist Justin McCaffree. Its event will include videos of employees explaining their jobs and performing specific tasks, virtual tours of the company’s facilities, and videos from manufacturing interns and students. It will also offer students the opportunity to do virtual informational interviews with Boeing employees.

Why Not Make Every Day Manufacturing Day?

Based on the growing skills gap, combined with the increase in virtual access, everyday should be — and could be — Manufacturing Day in order to help companies fuel their talent pipeline. This would also enhance economic development, groom a more willing and qualified workforce, as well as provide a competitive edge within industry. 

Simply put, Gen Z, manufacturers and key advanced manufacturing regions need each other now more than ever in order to win at a sustainable future.