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.

The IEDC Economic Development Journal – Winter 2022 – “A Hundred-Year Event” and the Perfect Storm for U.S. Manufacturing: What’s Causing the Escalating Skills Gap and What Tools Can Economic Developers Use to Address It?

The soft skills and middle level skills gap in manufacturing is escalating due to challenges from past decades, plus the more immediate emphasis on reshaping the supply chain through re-shoring and other means. This article explores the causes and provides solutions that economic developers and other stakeholders can use in tandem, coupled with adding use of game-changing virtual training tools. Download the Winter Economic Development Journal Here – pages 34-40 article feature

Southeast Life Sciences: SCBIO gamifies STEM for future biotech professionals

SCBIO and skillsgapp in Greenville, S.C., are developing a free game app, Rad Lab, for middle-school students that helps them build math and science skills and lets them explore careers in STEM. Nephron Pharmaceuticals, the SC Power Team and the S.C. Hospital Association are supporting development of the app, and students are testing it before it launches, says Erin Ford, SCBIO’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. See the full story here on WYFF.

The Future of Video Games at Work: A New Norm for Attracting Gen Z Talent 

The last section of our recent article “It Pays to Play Video Games” touches on the utilization of gaming concepts and the emulation of video game experiences in hybrid/remote work, but there’s even more to that story. Due to the pandemic’s impact on office functionality, the aforementioned “video game experience” has been taken quite literally in some workplaces (and classrooms!) where forward-thinkers are successfully adopting video games into their culture in various ways. With about 86% of Gen Z using “mobile devices as gaming platforms,” all industries—from manufacturing to marketing—would be wise to pay attention to the trends of this up-and-coming workforce, lest they fall behind this tech-savvy generation. 

Keep reading to find out how games have helped to relieve Zoom fatigue, boost productivity, and bring professional teams together since 2020, and how they can continue to attract our country’s newest source of employees, Gen Z.

Gen Z expects digital solutions

It makes sense that modern workspaces are looking to video games for inspiration. First, more jobs have transitioned online and are already perfectly poised to utilize game-like digital spaces. Second, tech-loving Millennials—who themselves comprise a significant portion of the gamer demographic—are beginning to settle into occupations and management positions, bringing their Internet familiarity and tech expectations to the rest of their work. Third, Gen Z has grown up with computers and phones and are called “Zoomers” for good reason: much of their formative years have been moved to online platforms that will continue to grow as immersive workspaces.

Microsoft and Facebook have “both signalled [sic] that tech companies believe virtual reality is no longer just for gamers,” reads one recent article. “For some, the metaverse is the workplace of the future and the only way for colleagues to share immersive experiences with each other without physically being together.” For better or for worse, Gen Z expects a virtual future. 

Recruiters should embrace this anticipation and evolve to accommodate such a future. As this article on construction and technology shows, the “increased adoption of digital solutions has helped draw new talent.… Companies … are seeing the benefit that digital transformation brings, both in terms of productivity and recruitment.” Thus far, we have discussed recruitment of Gen Z in the ensuing workplace, so let’s briefly turn our attention to productivity in the current workplace.

Bring your own avatar

When everyone was stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, game environments became unlikely meeting locations—and even sanctuaries—for some teams. Bart Heird of WebMechanix mentions here that he and his team have “met up” in the safe space supplied by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They even matched their avatars with a custom clothing pattern that resembles their company logo.) Lewis Smithingham of MediaMonks also chills with employees and clients alike on his personal island. “My production value is now considerably better in Animal Crossing than it is on Zoom,” he says. Who knew that fishing for sharks beside someone’s avatar could lead to such positive results?

In a similar vein, author and artist Viviane Schwarz basically said, “Team meeting, but then make it cowboys.” Tired of the same-old video call setup, she started organizing meetings held in the wild landscape of Red Dead Redemption. She and her team would speak to each other over voice chat while controlling their individual characters gathered on-screen. “The main technical [hitch] we’ve had,” she explains in this Twitter post, “is that … sitting on the ground is the same button as attempting to strangle the nearest person. Still beats zoom.” It’s worked for Schwarz and her team because they enjoy games, have a sense of humor, and don’t always need to present visuals during their discussions. Schwarz jokes, “A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice, which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they’re trying to sign off.”

Executives upping their game at work

Schwarz’s teammates aren’t the only ones riding off into a sunset of pixels. One executive shares how he capitalized on the thrill of Grand Theft Auto to attract and engage an elusive analyst with whom he’d been trying to schedule a meeting for months. It worked. Soon enough, the executive and the analyst were tearing through a virtual Los Angeles for some high-speed fun (and business talk). The New York Times article that covers this story relays, “Eager for an alternative to Zoom, executives are getting together in video games to bond, brainstorm[,] or rampage”—sometimes all at once. Ben Decker, the head of Microsoft’s game services marketing, further demonstrates this sentiment. He often sets sail in the shared online world of Sea of Thieves, routinely joining a Discord executive for discussions amongst a healthy dose of piracy. 

The Times article explains that the goal of this non-traditional meeting style is to “break up a day that is crammed with that … look, sound[,] and feel identical.” What they refer to as an “outing in virtual space” is like the modern business person’s golf round or cafe meet-up: it’s an opportunity to combine work with play and either kickstart relationships with new partners or collaborate with old ones.

Business leaders who combine collaboration and video games have managed to simultaneously seal deals, train new hires, and introduce some fun directly into work. It’s true that smaller teams benefit the most from joining up in-game, but in this new world of distanced collaboration, anyone can profit from the occasional unconventional approach to collaboration and skills development. Riding through the Wild West or fishing on a tropical island probably sound like refreshing alternatives to constant calls or emails.
 

It’s manufacturing’s turn to play

Executives like Decker and team leaders like Schwarz prove that anyone can be a gamer. They also prove that the virtual spaces of games can provide much more than passive entertainment. The fact that digital environments are being used to connect employees and employers shows just how pervasive games are in everyone’s daily lives. They’re here to stay; if you want to remain relevant, and if you want to recruit Gen Z, find a way to incorporate video game technology or concepts into your modern business. 

As the manufacturing industry in particular focuses more and more on innovatively navigating the future of recruitment and workplace dynamics, the key to eradicating Gen Z’s misguided preconceived notions of certain career environments will be the leveraging of game-like technology. Right now the medium of gaming is revolutionizing the workspace of the manufacturing industry, and games are already credited with boosting key soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity. It’s time to stop viewing virtual environments as a juvenile space for mindless experiences and start realizing its exciting, immersive, and engaging potential for a tech-minded workforce.

Video games will continue to influence work spaces, sometimes through literal games and more often through the technology of them. It’s manufacturing’s time to match Gen Z’s enthusiasm for video games. It’s possible to design the workday to maximize engagement, and it’s possible to build tools for the job that match the controllers/interfaces familiar to Gen Z; this article has illustrated how both can and have been done in the modern workplace. Don’t get left behind. If you can attract Gen Z talent with digital solutions, and if you can improve your team’s remote experience, you can stay ahead of the game.

Care to share some of your strategies for keeping up with Gen Z and new tech norms?

Manufacturing Talk Radio – Episode 635: Accelerating Manufacturing Training Through Gaming

In this episode of Manufacturing Talk Radio, Tina Zwolinski, CEO and Founding Partner of skillsgapp, discusses how manufacturers can get the next workforce generation engaged with manufacturing career and pathway awareness and skills development through mobile gaming designed to meet manufacturer’s workforce needs.

Manufacturing Talk Radio blog image

How the Pandemic Shifted Gen Z’s Perception of Manufacturing Careers

According to a recent survey, there was a quantifiable uptick in Gen Z’s perception of manufacturing, revealing that of the 1,000 surveyed, 56% said their views on manufacturing changed because of the pandemic, with 77% reporting they view manufacturing as more important. The survey also showed that 54% of respondents said they had not considered a job in frontline manufacturing prior to the pandemic, but 24% are now open to the idea. 

However.

The majority (52%) still remain disinterested or neutral in frontline manufacturing work; of those, 30% are concerned it might be a “low-skilled, manual job.”

Smarter technology in manufacturing

We currently live in an age where technology in the manufacturing world is changing at rates that it never has before. Matt Kirchner, president of LAB midwest, a leading distributor of curriculum, eLearning, and hands-on training equipment for advanced manufacturing, recently shared the biggest automation need for Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture manufacturer of the world’s. The top tier competencies when hiring new team member, according to him – whether from a technical college or from a university – is understanding not just the component technologies, but how to integrate a robot with a conveyor with smart sensors and smart devices; how to integrate a robot-loaded machining center into a manufacturing operation; how to connect these systems to work together in concert; and then communicate with a computer network so that they can use that data in real time. 

As we face the mass exodus of the silver tsunami in manufacturing, whose job descriptions bore nary a robot-loaded, smart anything, it’s fair to say that the future of our couches, cars, and cancer treatments now lie in the next generation’s hands.

Talent recruitment is still a challenge

Here’s the good news: Gen Z loves technology, robots, and smart devices. They also love companies with purpose. Even better news? Advanced manufacturing categorically checks all of these boxes.

So why the aforementioned ‘meh’ from 52% of your future talent pipeline?

1. Lack of understanding. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor, according to President and CEO of L2L, Keith Barr.

2. Lack of support. According to a survey, 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.

3. Lack of exposure. Current industry recruitment efforts are difficult to scale. The National Association of Manufacturers recently took their recruitment show on the road as part of their Creators Wanted initiative, during which kids were invited to experience firsthand the innovation and opportunity behind some of manufacturing’s biggest players, but only about 20 kids at a time, one city at a time.

A new way to attract Gen Z

If you’re selling them a future in technology (you are), you need to use technology. According to techjury, 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. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the manufacturing industry to consider leveraging this medium to scale its outreach efforts in order to capitalize on Gen Z’s unique skills and interests – no matter where they are. By transforming career awareness, training pathways, and job opportunities into engaging mobile technology, states, industry, and education can revolutionize how the next generation engages in – and views – skills-based careers at an earlier age.

What is your biggest challenge in filling your talent pipeline?

Manufacturing Outlook February 2022: Three Game-Changing Factors for Expanding The Workforce Pipeline in 2022

After another year of challenges for manufacturers, from new variants to supply shortages issues, skillsgapp founder and CEO Tina Zwolinski shares three opportunities for solving perhaps industry’s most pressing issue: Workforce Development. From increased broadband to mobile gaming, relief is in sight. 

It Pays to Play Video Games

How Young Game Enthusiasts Are Already on the Job


When it comes to skills-based mobile gaming, the factors of self-measurement, competition, pacing, and flexibility listed in our previous post help to engage players and accurately measure their progress, but where can that gameplay actually get them? This post will explain the direct workforce application of video games and how they’re preparing Gen Z for a professional future.


Video games and professional technology

Did you know that single-player controls and gameplay often resemble the technology encountered by the modern professional? A student’s proficiency in tech and their familiarity with video games can actually prepare them to command the technology found in many industries, from advanced manufacturing to construction. Working robotics or operating machinery are tasks that tend to come naturally to Gen Z, who have had some kind of device in their hand for over a decade.

Construction work involves high-tech skill,” says Dr. Mittie Cannon, founder of the nonprofit Power UP Loud, a construction training program for young women. She saw the connection between games and trades skills and—for over five years now—has used video game technology to introduce women to construction. And developers are right there with her. For example, the Building Information Modeling software CtrlWiz is made to function with an Xbox controller, meaning that the commands and movements are intuitive to a gamer and the program itself is more appealing to Gen Z.

Meanwhile, Debbie Dickinson of Crane Industry Services has noticed that “people who are comfortable with video games are very comfortable with … simulation technology,” according to an article by Construction Dive. Many young users of the crane simulation system feel at home with the familiar features of joysticks and foot pedals, thanks to their past engagement with the physical components of video games.

The same can be said for students trying out the VRTEX 360 welding simulator. It familiarizes people with the skilled trade of welding through virtual reality in a game-like space. If students have used a VR headset before—or if they’re comfortable with the concept of one—then they’ve opened up an entire world of training simulation for themselves. 

In general, industries have “increased [the] adoption of digital solutions,” meaning that jobs and training are resembling video games more and more. Barbara Humpton, President and CEO of Siemens Corporation, speaks to this in a recording of the 2021 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Forward event: “The tools of engineering are becoming very interactive, … so the skills we develop as we play games today … translate directly into the kind of work that needs to be done in the engineering framework of the future.”



Professions and video game technology

Even the style of the modern workplace is trending toward a video game experience that might feel second-nature to players.

Undoubtedly, the ability to work with others—especially when they’re not in the same room as you—is a prized skill in today’s job market. A GamesBeat article by Demian Entrekin of Bluescape, solutions for hybrid teams, compares a hybrid work environment to a single-player focus in a multiplayer game. Entrekin elaborates, “The online world of video games is a shared world. While you have the ability to act independently, your actions will impact other players.” He explains that the beauty of many games is that every player works with the same information and commands in the same digital space—instead of battling the “army of disjointed tools” that many companies have mandated for use in the past.

The rise of remote work has revealed the truth: if employers want their teams to be productive and collaborative, they need to ensure that everyone has easy digital access to the same information, which is a feat made simpler when there’s a universal toolset and a dedicated virtual space for it all (just like in a video game).

“The future of work will be more like this shared virtual world where silos are a thing of the past,” Entrekin says. “The difference will be tools built with a virtual world mindset. … When access to information and the capability to share that information is instantaneous, we’re closer to a video game where sharing and collaboration is as easy as one click of a button.” Entrekin points to Minecraft as a perfect example of a game-turned-digital-tool, as it allows students and teachers to “come together” to learn and create with shared building blocks (literally). More and more will education and occupations integrate digital collaborative technologies, and while this natural development might trip up some people, those who play video games will be able to take both the style of work and the virtual tools in stride.



Ahead of the game

As the Siemens Corporation President and CEO says, “Encourage your kids to play video games!” From workforce training, to on-the-job technology, to the very nature of the workplace, video games are being emulated on every professional level. This means that players really are ahead of the game, exercising relevant skills and practicing new technologies every week.


How do you see video game technology being used in the workplace?

The Best Gameplay Style for Skills Development

Single-player? Multiplayer? …or a Bit of Both?



When it comes to gameplay, “single-player” and “multiplayer” may sound like opposing categorizations—and yet they can actually describe the same game. This post will cover the basics of both single-player and multiplayer game modes, ultimately explaining how a blended style of play is perfect for skills-based mobile gaming that gets the next generation to “lean in” to career pathways at a young age.

Before we move on to that perfect blend of game modes, let’s first take a look at what it means for a game to be single-player or multiplayer. These two terms probably sound self-explanatory, and, simply put, they are: a single-player game allows for just one player in the game environment at a time, while a multiplayer game is designed to host more than one. However, as obvious as that distinction might seem, there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to either of these categories. It turns out that the mixed space in the middle combines the best of both. 

Keep reading to find out not only how these different modes can work together but also why that’s crucial for skills development. 


Multiplayer games

A multiplayer game can look like Among Us or Fortnite, in which your experience is fully determined by the presence and activity of other players. In the cases of these two games, the term “multiplayer” makes sense for even the most uninitiated gamer: you control your character while other people control theirs, and you either work together or work against each other. Seems simple enough, right?

But not every multiplayer game sees you running around the environment with other players in real-time. A multiplayer game can also look something like Words with Friends. It relies on alternating gameplay, so Player A might make a move at 2PM, and Player B might not respond until 2AM. Even though a turn-based game like Words with Friends doesn’t guarantee the synced presence of two or more active players, it’s nevertheless considered multiplayer, because people are playing directly “against” one another.


Single-player games

Meanwhile, a single-player game can be something like digital solitaire or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although they differ drastically, they share a commonality: it’s just you, the person in control of the screen, making decisions and implementing changes in the game. Again, seems simple.

Then you get a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s primarily called a single-player game, but it also includes a feature to invite distant users to your island. When two or more players connect virtually through this feature, they’re hosted in a multiplayer function of a single-player game.


Blending a single-player focus with multiplayer features

That idea of mixed modes—specifically a single-player game with multiplayer features—hits a sweet spot for mobile games geared toward skills development and career growth. Here’s how:

1. Self-measurement. Your experience and success during a level don’t depend on other players. This independence accurately represents your skills and what you’re learning (not what your playing partner knows), which maintains the integrity of skills-based gaming.

Why this matters: The absence of direct multiplayer meddling ensures the credibility of meaningful badging, leaderboard stats, and more.

2. Competition. Regardless of the lack of real-time competitive or cooperative gameplay in single-player, players of a blended game are nevertheless connected through contest and not left entirely alone. With a single-player game that contains multiplayer features like a global leaderboard or weekly competitive challenges, players can see how they stack up against the rest of the field without actively playing with or against another person.

Why this matters: Thanks to multiplayer features, despite solitary gameplay, players can still feel connected to something beyond their own experience and be inspired and pushed by a sense of competition.

3. Pacing. The game is always right where you left it when you need it, because simultaneous play isn’t necessary. You don’t have to wait for other players to join, and you’ll never feel slowed or rushed through gameplay and content.

Why this matters: The blended approach allows players to work through levels at their own pace, which is crucial for learning (and measuring that learning).

4. Flexibility. Short on time or patience? A base game mode of single-player guarantees that you’ll never get locked into a match. The portable, versatile essence of mobile games means that sessions can be played practically any time—anywhere—and the time-agnostic nature of this single-multiplayer blend gives you further freedom to play when and how you need to.

Why this matters: For a game targeting our up-and-coming workforce (that is, an audience of middle and high schoolers), flexibility is key. When the school year gets hectic, players need to be able to pick up a game and put it down quickly, and they can do that easily with single-player rounds.



The best of both worlds for skills development

In short, playing a single-player game containing multiplayer features means that your work is your own and your enjoyment of the game doesn’t rely on strangers, yet the stimulation of outside competition isn’t lost in the absence of “live” multiplayer rounds. For games focused on developing skills and fostering careers, this combination of the independent play of single-player and the competitive environment of multiplayer really does bring together the best of both worlds.


What is your favorite game mode or style of gameplay?