Category: Gen Z

Top Three Soft Skills in Cyber/IT

The latest from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in information security are projected to grow by 31 percent by 2029. Not a surprise after a record-breaking year of cyberattacks.

“Anything with a power switch that uses an electrical current, anything that connects online, anything that touches most of our individual daily lives,” says Dr. Keith Clement, a Criminology professor at Cal State Fresno and Chair of California Cybersecurity Task Force: Workforce Development and Education. “If it turns on and off, there’s some chance that there could be some vulnerability attached to the device.”

So as the country gets creative in its allocation of resources in response, from stackable cybersecurity certification programs, K-12 cyber curriculum, and boot camps to meet the growing need for skilled cyber/IT professionals in both the public and private sector, the dire need for non-technical skills in technical careers is growing at the same rate. Soft skills, or lack thereof, are quickly becoming another, very real vulnerability for the U.S.

Three Soft C’s in Cyber:

1. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking was selected as the top required soft skill in a Tripwire survey –  the ability to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller components. This is an innate ability for some people, but you can also develop this skill by being observant, learning how things work, asking questions, and analyzing decisions. 

2. Communication

Gone are the days – and movies – of sitting in a dark room, staving off breaches to save the world. Because, according to Careers in Cyber Security, not only is the ability to see relationships between data and people key in finding ways to respond proactively against cyber risks and threats but the written and verbal ability to share such findings with stakeholders and team members is imperative in both “selling” a solution, as well as eliciting the support and resources to implement one.

3. Collaboration

According to think CSC, collaboration is the best defense against cyber attacks. Hackers attempt to breach secure networks from multiple angles, so our defenses must also leverage diverse areas of expertise. From sharing information and active listening to asking for help, the quantifiable value of collaboration is easy math: Two heads are better than one.

Adaptability, creativity, and attention to detail also rank high in the non-technical must-haves in Cyber careers, arguably catapulting soft skills into equal-billing status as the unsung heroes in keeping us all safe.

Smartphones Can Change the Game in Catching Up Gen Z

Statistically speaking, one out of two of you is holding a phone right now. And if you’re not, you’re likely about to, as most mobile users check their phones 63 times a day.

Smartphone Usage: Going (and Growing) Strong

From texting to social media to streaming Netflix, the functionality of phones make it nearly impossible to put one down. Over this past year, the prowess of digital technology served as our tether to maintaining an education, connecting with loved ones, and even receiving healthcare. And if they say 21 days make a habit, try 365 of them. It’s safe to say, smartphones will remain snug in the palms of our hands.

According to techjury:
• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today
• Americans spend and average of 5.4 hours on their phone a day
• 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.

Another study reported that electronic device usage nearly doubled among U.S. kids during the pandemic.

chart on phone usage during COVID

Gaming is a Good Thing

So just what are our kids doing on their phones all day?

According financesonline, 75% of Gen Zers selected smartphones as their device of choice for everyday use, with 58% reporting playing games as their favorite pastime. That’s a lot of game time. The COVID-19 lockdown played a big part in this, of course, as mobile gaming helped serve as the universal antidote to the just-as-contagious side effect of the virus, boredom.

Games just may be the unsung hero over this past year, as they influenced our kids positively in different ways. Gaming makes us more competitive, for example, which means better problem-solvers. They can also enhance critical thinking, and expand our community beyond our four walls with those with similar interests.  

Take Pokémon GO, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit “PokéStops”. While the app may appear to play to the wanderlust, one recent study’s findings reported respondents feeling more social, and expressed more positive emotions with increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” This reflects the opposite of the stigma associated with video games, in part, because these are mobile.

Mobile games can go where parents and educators can’t: Everywhere our kids go. So with learning loss at an all-time high due to the pandemic, maybe it’s ok that our kids are looking down at their phones, if they’re playing games that can teach them something meaningful … especially the ones that encourage them to play with a hire purpose.

K-12: Much Ado About Congressional Funding

With the House’s approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, K-12 district and state education agencies were just lobbed a $126 billion pot of gold to help eradicate the negative impact of the pandemic on our kids. Most notably, for learning loss and returning to school safely, for which states are mandated to reserve 5% of their funding, and districts 20%, specifically for those Title 1 schools with a high concentration of under-resourced communities.

That’s about $520 per student for learning loss alone, but, unfortunately, researchers estimate it would cost five times that to provide the resources needed to really catch them up. This translates into intensive tutoring, summer school, extended day school and our more traditional methods (and salaries) of in-class, en-masse instruction.

But the pandemic is still here. And even for those districts who have opened, not all parents are sending their kids back full time. Here’s the other issue: For one year, school curriculum has “come to them”, on their ChromeBooks, laptops, iPads and phones, and for the most part, they got used to it. So much so,  American teens spend an average of nine hours a day in front of screens today, and more than seven of those are spent on mobile phones. Are they all spent doing homework? No. But as educators evaluate how to maximize efficiencies of catching our kids up, a case can be made for a ‘‘fish-where-the-fish-are’ strategy by continuing to leverage this teachable medium with meaningful content they care about, and will engage in.

A New, Digital Day

The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” And while under-resourced areas have suffered from limited access to WiFi over this last year, the federal government is also providing $3.2 billion to an emergency broadband connectivity fund as part of the bill, making accessibility soon to be a non-issue. 

While the value of in-person instruction and socialization should persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and our kids adapted. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the largest geographical county in the nation saw this first hand earlier this year. Hosting its annual, multi-district, STEMapalooza event virtually for the first time, engagement was a concern, as was support for their communities’ STEM-related career pathways. Enter ‘Hack Out BL4CKOUT’, a customized cybersecurity video game deployed at the event to be played from their mobile devices and Chromebooks, simulating real cyber events with a focus on critical thinking, communication, and cyber career facts. Over 3,000 hours of play were logged that day with kids’ asking for more.  Exit survey verbatims from 4th-8th graders who attended the event  ranged from, “WOW, I  had no ideaI I could be making $80,000 a year doing something I love when I grow up” to,  “Maybe I’ll go to a Cyber camp.”

Gamifying curriculum isn’t a new concept, but gamifying skills you can use toward grades, in-class rewards, and even a career – and can go wherever you go – is. This is especially important when considering reaching under-resourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.

So if other state agencies and school districts can find a sustainable way to engage Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that can entertain and educate by meeting them where they are – on their phones – that learning loss cost per student will be a lot more doable. 

And more fun.

Skills Gap ‘21: Opportunity Knocks

As we clamor for silver linings in the cloud of COVID-19, perhaps one is America’s skills gap, which is creeping up to a new high due to the exodus of Boomers from the workplace. While this presents many challenges for employers, it offers an abundance of opportunities for Gen Z who are in prime position to take advantage of the need to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that make up our skills-based talent shortage over the next ten years.

America’s Skills Gap Trajectory

Those who hold college degrees have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to edsurge, “When the unemployment rate spiked during the spring of 2020, jobs that required a college degree declined more than those that didn’t, and new college graduates were hit the hardest. Not only did postings for bachelor’s level jobs fall the most, but entry-level jobs also dropped farthest and fastest.”

The AAF explains, “Over the next decade, the nation as a whole could face a shortage of about 765,000 needed workers with the skills that come from an associate degree or some college.”

Here is where Gen Z can pounce, having witnessed firsthand that even during the pandemic, skills-based careers are a viable option, and could even be considered a safer career path alternative to a 4-year degree … and just as lucrative.

Optimism and Opportunities

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its final Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey of 2020 and found that “74.2% of manufacturers responding to the survey felt positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 66% last quarter.” The NAM also says, “According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 525,000 job openings in manufacturing in October, a record high.” 

Unfilled positions are not only abundant in manufacturing, but also cybersecurity. The Herjavec Group’s 2019/2020 Cybersecurity Jobs Report indicates, “The U.S. has a total employed cybersecurity workforce consisting of 715,000 people, and there are currently 314,000 unfilled positions.” 

This leaves the pathway wide open for Gen Z to take advantage of this labor shortage if paved with skills-based training. Because according to Undersecretary at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Stewart Knox, “It’s not about just who you knew or who you might have an in with to get that job. It is based on skills.”

The Future Ahead

A greater focus on skills was part of the former Trump administration’s agenda that is continuing under Biden’s. The House of Representatives recently passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 — a bill Jobs for the Future reports will bring apprenticeships into the modern era, investing $3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen these programs and bring in a new generation of skilled workers. 

It’s safe to say that while vaccines are bringing the pandemic to a close, skills-based careers just busted wide open.

Youth Apprenticeship Advantage: South Carolina

With America’s ever-growing skills gap, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly more important. Below is a feature on one state that’s using apprenticeships to its advantage. The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Apprenticeship Carolina in South Carolina $4.49 million over the course of four years to expand youth apprenticeships with 800 new youth apprentices and 230 youth pre-apprentices in high-growth industries in SC. These efforts are great strides toward building a qualified workforce pipeline and with the addition of mobile technology, we will be set to reach more youth talent. 

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

Written by: Kelly Steinhilper,
Vice President, Communications, SC Technical College System

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while employers create a happy workforce where they can groom from an early age.

Apprenticeship Carolina™ helps companies in South Carolina set up successful youth apprenticeship programs. In general, here’s how it works. High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. MIS developed its cybersecurity youth apprenticeship program with two clear goals in mind: to grow a more robust information technology (IT) work base in Charleston, South Carolina, and to provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

As a service-disabled, veteran-owned and -operated IT security business, MIS looked for ways to give back to the local community soon after its founding in North Charleston in 2016. MIS saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal with the 2019 announcement that Trident Technical College (TTC) would establish a new associate degree in cybersecurity.

MIS agreed to partner with TTC and Apprenticeship Carolina to develop a registered cybersecurity youth apprenticeship, becoming the first cybersecurity company in North Charleston to have apprentices enrolled at the college. 

Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, has nothing but good things to say about apprenticeship and this dynamic partnership’s potential. When asked what inspired MIS to consider creating a youth apprenticeship program, McLeod responded, “We saw the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions, not just locally but worldwide, and we wanted to make a difference. There are 3 million openings worldwide and not nearly enough graduates to fill them. We knew that fresh, innovative approaches had to be taken to meet those workforce needs.” 

She continued, “At the same time, we looked at IT courses offered in local high schools. We saw that schools were not adequately equipping students to step out into the IT market, let alone the cybersecurity career field.” 

After speaking with Charleston County School District and Apprenticeship Carolina, MIS realized that with youth apprenticeship they could do both – grow a stronger IT work base and provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

McLeod reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

As for the youth apprentices, it allows them to learn and progress in a career field to which they are generally not exposed. For instance, high school student Arthur Gibson, one of McLeod’s youth apprentices, shared that learning code was like learning a new language, and he loves it. When asked about the benefit of apprenticeship for high school students, Gibson said, “It shows you that education is not a tunnel but a road with many paths…the hands-on learning connects all the bookwork to the real world.” 

New Day, Same Skills Gap

It’s safe to say that it’s been a year of changes. From how we interact with others to the ways in which we work, nothing looks the same as it used to. Things are set to change even more with a new administration entering the white house. 

However, one thing remains the same, the need to close America’s skills gap. 

2020: A Year of Ups and Downs

Industry Week explains that “The coronavirus has exposed the vulnerabilities of our modern economy, forcing thousands of businesses to shutter and putting millions of Americans and people around the world at financial risk.”

We couldn’t agree more. Since February of 2020, employment in manufacturing is down 621,000 and other industries are feeling the affects of the Coronavirus as well. Not only that, but manufacturing productivity has also fallen in 2020. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Manufacturing labor productivity decreased at a 15.5-percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2020, as output fell 47.0 percent and hours worked dropped 37.3 percent. These were the largest quarterly declines ever recorded (data begin in 1987).”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel and things will eventually begin to improve. Employment in manufacturing increased during October by 38,000 jobs. 

While earnings have somewhat decreased, hours for existing employees have increased. The BLS says, “Average weekly hours of all employees rose 0.3 hour in October to 40.5 hours. For production workers, the average workweek increased 0.1 hour to 41.2 hours.”

New Administration, Same Focus

Earlier last year, President Trump’s administration shifted its emphasis on hiring for the country’s biggest employer, the federal government. According to SHRM, the executive order “directs important, merit-based reforms that will replace degree-based hiring with skills- and competency-based hiring.” Trump’s move echoed what some in the industry, such as Elon Musk, are already moving toward. 

Musk doesn’t require college degrees to work at Tesla. Business Insider reports “Rather than a degree from a prestigious university, Musk said he looked for ‘evidence of exceptional ability’ in an employee.”

President-elect Biden’s administration will also share the Trump administration’s and Musk’s focus on skills. On November 9th, a new federal workforce policy agenda for President-elect Joe Biden and Congress was released by the National Skills Coalition. Training partnerships and apprenticeship will be a focus for the plan.

The National Skills Coalition says, “President-elect Biden has called for a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including investments in industry-led training partnerships and expanding apprenticeship opportunities. Biden has also proposed providing two years of tuition-free community college for recent high school graduates and adults who may need retraining to advance in their careers or transition to new industries.”

What’s Next?

Props to our government for their efforts in helping to close the skills gap. But they alone can’t wrangle the decades-old elephant in the room: How to reach the next workforce generation in ways that make advanced manufacturing careers appealing to them. The business-as-usual ways of workforce recruiting through websites and shiny brochures don’t resonate with Gen Z. If we don’t innovate now, we risk losing them forever. 

COVID-19 has given us increasing opportunities to train and reach Gen Z in their digital world, and reversing Gen Z’s ‘Plan B’ mindset regarding manufacturing careers should be no different. By leveraging their phones already in their hands, modern manufacturing can employ interactive educational technology to help Gen Z develop real-world work skills through interactive, digital experiences that will engage with industry and expose users to existing opportunities.  

The most revered workforce in the world uses gaming for training, upskilling, soft skills, and for recruitment! “America’s Army” is the official game for the US Army that lets players try out virtual missions, in some cases for real. This is augmented, tactical training with quantifiable metrics and a sophisticated interface that helps save lives, whether on the front lines or not. 

It’s a new day, America. Let the games begin.

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.

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.

Breaking Gen Z’s Misconceptions About Today’s Manufacturing … and Why it Matters.

Americans’ traditional road to the middle class cannot be traveled easily in today’s world. Gen Z is learning this all too well as they’ve seen the world around them change drastically throughout their formative years. First, they grew up watching millennials take the more conventional route of obtaining a four-year degree, only to accumulate student loan debt and struggle to pay it off with low-paying jobs. And now with COVID-19, those same kids are watching their parents get laid off or furloughed from their white collar, “stable” jobs. 

Breaking misconceptions about middle-skill careers isn’t only the key to their future…but ours as well.

The Misconceptions 

Since the end of WWII, it’s been ingrained in us that if you bypass college, a career path leading to financial stability is a pipe dream. This makes middle-skills jobs, typically requiring a two-year curriculum post secondary education, less sought after than jobs requiring a four-year degree. But here’s the rub: Middle skill careers are paying the same, or even higher wages than those other jobs do, even when starting out. Mitch DeJong, chief technology officer of Brooklyn Park manufacturer Design Ready Controls, credits this misconception to the “dirty hands stigma.”

The stigma is reminiscent of an industrial wasteland. Early 20th century manufacturing facilities still conjure up images of dirty and dangerous places where an entire skills-centric workforce is relegated to a back-breaking career in dismal conditions, simply because they didn’t go to college. But today’s advanced manufacturing facilities have revamped and revitalized their operations, not only to upgrade their AI and robotics, but to maximize the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, whom they desperately need to retain and promote in order to remain competitive in the 21st century.

Skills Gap, Meet Gen Z 

Simply defined, the skills gap is a global talent shortage of skills-based workers that could reach 85.2 million people by 2030. According to the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, “Among U.S. teens, 52% expressed little or no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why, the respondents said, “Manufacturing was a declining field, with unprofessional, dead-end jobs, dirty factories and frequent layoffs.” Industry Week also highlights the fact that parents aren’t as likely to talk to their kids about the industry because they believe manufacturing is outdated, low-paying or unchallenging. Not only that, but only 3 in 10 parents would consider guiding their child toward a career in the field according to the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute. 

This means that the skills gap isn’t driven by a shortage of people, but rather a shortage of people with skills. And this crevasse is only deepening because 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching retirement age for the next 14 years. The $1.748 trillion-in-potential-lost-revenue challenge here is for industry, government and educators to get parents and Gen Z excited about the surplus of middle-skills manufacturing positions about to become available that are as respectable as they are financially rewarding. According to a Salary Survey report from Industry Week, the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500.

Modern Manufacturing Today

It’s images like this one of Ford’s Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, that perpetuate the “dirty hands stigma”,  yet it hasn’t looked like this in years.

old and new factory photos

Ford, like most other advanced manufacturers, has transformed its facilities into environmentally-conscious workplaces with ultra-modern features, including a  “living roof” as a safeguard to preserving air and water quality. This is an example of a big win for attracting Generation Z. According to Gen Z expert Corey Seemiller, “Many of them want to work in an organization that is committed to environmental advocacy, as evidenced in their spending, products and organizational practices.”

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling the interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while their employers create a happy workforce they can groom from an early age.

In general, here’s how it works. According to Kelly Steinhilper, vice president, Communications SC Technical College System, “High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.”

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

Is Gen Z Worth Your Attention?

The short answer is yes. The skills gap will cost companies trillions of dollars in lost economic opportunity if the talent shortage continues. This has created an unprecedented demand for middle-skills jobs that is guaranteed to remain strong for years. Between 2014–2024, 48% of job openings will require middle skills.

Simply put, manufacturers need to invest in reaching Gen Z today in order to thrive tomorrow. Stigmas take time to break, so why not spend it getting to know each other a little better.