Category: Gen Z

“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?

Engaging Middle Schoolers in Career Education

By Jennie Montgomery, People Engagement & Experience Manager at skillsgapp //

Let’s do a fun exercise – take a moment to reflect back on yourself as a middle school student. What were the fashion trends at the time? Can you picture what kind of hairstyle you sported? What did you talk about with friends between classes?

While it’s fun, and even comical for us to look back at the past to the time we were in middle school, it’s not always as easy for middle schoolers to look ahead towards the future. 

So how do you get middle schoolers to think past lunch and beyond to their future careers? Here are three approaches to engaging middle schoolers in career education. 

1) Connect the “every day” to a payday

While there’s still a lot of time before a middle schooler exchanges a backpack for a briefcase, there are many opportunities to connect what they like right now to what they can do with it in a future career.

For example, if a student enjoys playing video games – discuss how they can one day have a career someday coding the next Minecraft, or, just as globally relevant, decoding the next cyber attack. If a student loves make-up, connect the dots to the chemistry behind it. Encouraging career discussions early on will help them form their own connections to the resources and pathways to their passions later. Even if they change a million times. 

2) Meet them where they are – on their phones

It’s no secret that technology has drastically altered the world we live in. While the older generation is still navigating the ever-changing trends of modern technology, young people have fully embraced them. In fact, statistics show that roughly 95% of 13-18-year-olds have access to a smartphone. 

This makes the smartphone a no-brainer platform to engage them in career tips and tactics right where they are– on their phones. 

There are many incredible digital resources available to enhance career education. Our mission at skillsgapp is to connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play. Career One Stop is a one-stop hub of career resources from videos, programs and apprenticeships for individuals to explore. Aeseducation provides career curriculum and digital projects for educators to use in their classrooms. As we look to fill our talent pipelines, no industry, state or educational institution should discount the power of technology as a meaningful and scalable tool to connect kids to the careers that connect with them. 

3) Connect industry and schools….earlier.

Networking is essential in making connections for a future job, but why limit it to post-secondary? Bridging the gap between what students are learning in school and what others do as careers in the real world is important at any age. As educators, inviting local business professionals to visit your classroom to teach students about their industry can leave a lasting impression, even if it’s to cross off something a student doesn’t like to do, which is just as important. Incorporating interdisciplinary projects that interact with real companies and simulating real job assignments is another big win. When industry and educators collaborate, the former gets a potentially more qualified applicant later, and kids get a sense of real-world application immediately.

Meet them in the middle

As we reflect back to our own ‘teacher/doctor/lawyer’ middle school career education, I think we can all agree that unearthing the plethora of future job possibilities available at a younger age will help students navigate the life they want to build, not the ones we want them to build. 

What was your dream career in middle school?

Jennie Montgomery’s mission at skillsgapp is to create meaningful experiences, tell inspiring stories, and rally teams around a common vision: To connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.

Gen Z Trends for the Workforce WIN

By John Zwolinski, Chief Experience Officer at skillsgapp //

Gen Z, the topic of countless musings and a multitude of opinions, is coming to the workplace in large numbers – what will that mean for the future of work? When considering how they will impact the workforce, three big questions come to mind:

How do you attract them?

How do you motivate and inspire them?

How do you retain them?

In order to answer these questions well, it’s worth spending some time digging in and getting to know them. Below you will find a recent Gen Z trends survey from PIPER|SANDLER. Take a look and test yourself by asking how many of these responses you would have predicted. What surprised you? What does it mean, and how could it help you create more engaging conversations and experiences for your younger workforce?

Gen Z video consumption stats
Gen Z top clothing brands stats
Gen Z top restaurants stats
Gen Z top celebrity stats

Learn more stats on Gen Z here.

While the trends in this survey provide some general generational insight, remember that they are individuals first and not a monolith. Like any generation, they can’t all be lumped together and assumed to share the exact same attributes. Was EVERYONE in the ’60s a hippie? Did EVERY high schooler in the ’80s wear a Members Only jacket? Of course not, and there are a variety of intentional initiatives to consider to gain better individual insight and input from your Gen Z team members, such as forming “shadow boards.” 

“A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.”

Gen Z is on the rise, and companies who make the effort to more fully understand their context and motivations will be the winners in employee attraction, productivity, and retention – with profits likely to follow!

What surprised you most about Gen Z from the survey? 

John Zwolinski is a team builder and culture champion with a thirty-year track record in branding, marketing, and education. He spent five years in the public school system as a history teacher and coach and over twenty as a mentor for high-school-age youth. As skillsgapp’s CXO, John is focused on creating exceptional experiences for our people, players, and partners to fulfill our mission of connecting youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.

The Stigma of “Skilled” Careers and the 2022 Reset

The former president of Beltone Hearing Aids used to say that kids aren’t born with the idea that wearing hearing aids is embarrassing or a sign of weakness; they’re taught it by society—us. This stigma keeps millions from utilizing state-of-the-art technology that would help connect them to the very society whose (mis)perceptions disconnect them.

Such is the power of stigma, and it’s the major offender in another societal injustice poised to cost us $1 trillion by 2030: the advanced manufacturing skills gap.

Students aren’t hearing the truth

When misguided assumptions are allowed to persist and worsen, people suffer as a result, because a certain audience never hears what they need to hear. In the case of skilled careers, decades-long stigmas against the manufacturing industry and “nontraditional” schooling practically ensure that students are gated from meaningful careers.

A survey we recently conducted amongst high school students illustrates what outdated perceptions still dominate young opinions of the industry: when asked what words they associate with manufacturing, they responded with phrases like “machines,” “dirty,” “blue-collar,” “hard work,” and “factories.” While these connotations might have held true in the early 1900s, the high-tech manufacturing industry has since progressed far past such a picture. As we explain in this article, the modern reality is that—“contrary to the … ‘dirty hands’ stigma”—technology drives the scene and employee livelihood comes first in today’s manufacturing. 

Thanks in part to false industry beliefs, “6 out of 10 positions in manufacturing remain unfilled.” And these are financially attractive positions. The average wage is around $30 an hour, with a manager’s average annual salary stacking up to be $118,500. (Can you guess what 50% of surveyed Americans assumed it to be? $60,000—almost $60,000 short of the actual salary.)  

It’s hard to fill a position that the workforce pipeline doesn’t know exists. This is because the stigma of “skilled” careers has consequently enforced a four-year college degree as the norm, and it’s limited the career choices suggested by high school guidance counselors. One student explains how they’re only presented with “a narrow range of career opportunities” in school, so “many students don’t know about other options.” Reinforcing this sentiment with statistics, the Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index shares that a staggering 75% of Americans surveyed in 2019 said they “never had a counselor, teacher, and mentor suggest … trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career.” The bottom line is this: students are being kept from successful, fulfilling careers because of outdated images, ignorant bias, and a lack of support. 

The degree reset

There’s some good news, though. Gen Z is “more likely to consider working in manufacturing than prior generations.” Slowly, perceptions are changing. Even employers are reconsidering the value and necessity of a traditional degree. It’s evidence of the “Emerging Degree Reset,” a trend named by Professor Joseph Fuller of Harvard Business School in his recent study of the same title:

Employers are resetting degree requirements in a wide range of roles, dropping the requirement for a bachelor’s degree in many middle-skill and even some higher-skill roles. … Based on these trends, we project that an additional 1.4 million jobs could open to workers without college degrees over the next five years.

Professor Joseph Fuller of Harvard Business School

This shift in focus has the potential to better individuals and businesses alike, as a bachelor’s degree is not the best path for everyone—nor does it guarantee certain skills. Most students in the US would still tell you that a four-year degree is critical to their success even if they’ll be thousands of dollars in debt by the end of their schooling, but it’s just not true, and more and more Americans are realizing this. 

Tesla, the world’s 6th most valuable company, finds it critical to evaluate future employees according to their experience, ability, and potential, not allowing a “degree from a prestigious university” do all the talking. Business Insider shares the hiring process of Tesla and what CEO Elon Musk values, saying, “Musk said he looked for ‘evidence of exceptional ability’ in an employee. ‘If there’s a track record of exceptional achievement, then it’s likely that that will continue into the future.’” When asked, “Do you still stand firmly on not requiring college degrees?” Musk answered with an emphatic “yes.”

A precedent from the president

The nation’s largest employer—the federal government—has also made a stand to help erase persistent stigmas: the Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates from June 26th 2020 supports the sentiment of “skills first” for the hiring of government positions in which a degree is not legally mandated. This order has directed the federal government to “replace outdated degree-based hiring with skills-based hiring,” as noted in the administration achievements archive here.  

“Degree-based hiring is especially likely to exclude qualified candidates for jobs related to emerging technologies and those with weak connections between educational attainment and the skills or competencies required to perform them.  Moreover, unnecessary obstacles to opportunity disproportionately burden low-income Americans and decrease economic mobility.”

Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment
and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates

Policies and practices like this order will narrow (and have already narrowed) the skills gap in industries like advanced manufacturing. 

It’s an important precedent for the government to set. The U.S. Department of Labor website promises that the federal government will “model effective employment policies and practices that advance America’s ideal of equal opportunity for all,” so if they are recruiting with a skills-first mindset alongside other leaders—like Tesla, Accenture, and IBM—more and more companies are sure to follow suit upon seeing the rise in qualified candidates. Essentially, when an employer is forced to consider what skills are truly necessary for a certain position rather than relying on a blanket degree requirement, their specified posting is sure to attract candidates who excel in the requested skillset, because—let’s face it—a college degree is not inherent proof of qualification.

Chauncy Lennon, the vice president for the future of learning and work at the Lumina Foundation, gives his thoughts in an EdSurge article examining industry reactions to the executive order. “Look,” he says, “a BA is a good thing to get, but we shouldn’t design a labor market that says it’s BA or bust. The labor market should allow different pathways. … What’s good about this kind of executive order, it’s helping to get rid of that distortion.” 

Parents, teachers, industry leaders, the days of being tone deaf to the increasingly quantifiable pros of pursuing a skilled-based career isn’t sustainable for a lot of reasons. 1 trillion of them.

Are your company’s hiring practices shifting from degrees to skills? We’re all ears.

Innovating Workforce Development

When Apple’s “Think Different” campaign launched in 1997, the company had no new product to announce, no promotions to offer, only hemorrhaging sales. It featured images of time-honored visionaries like Einstein, Edison and Ghandi, referred to as the “The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.” They were the ones to shirk the status quo and move the human race forward. The folks crazy enough to think they could change the world … and did.

The subtext here is that innovation is risky, radical, and also essential. Without it we’d have no lights to turn on, cars to drive, antidotes that cure. Advanced manufacturing industries know this all too well, whose sole raison d’etre is to propel the human race forward, innovating not just how we do things, but how we can do them better.

Which is why it’s profoundly counterintuitive how, year after year, our industry innovators haven’t been able to successfully extend that same production and manufacturing approach to their workforce development practices in order to fill their talent pipeline. American manufacturing is still reported to suffer from 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028, causing a potential economic loss of $2.5 trillion, despite the fact they have innovated their operations to include AI and robotics, state-of-the-art systems to maximize the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, and the average yearly salary is $76,258.

Is this next generation simply a lost cause? No. Traditional workforce development tactics are. 

Traditional workforce development methods graphic

(Sources: Job fairs: 600 attendees, pre-pandemic; Website: Conversion under 3%.)


Digital Transformation

While it’s been said before, it’s worth repeating. We don’t have a people problem when it comes to filling our talent pipeline, we have an awareness problem. Therefore, scaling our outreach efforts requires the same kind of digital transformation manufacturers have already operationalized, having proven that converting manual and analog processes into digitized processes creates better outcomes by connecting people, places, and things.

But thinking differently is hard. It’s rebellious. It’s risky. It’s also, according to Steve Jobs, “the only way to win.”

A digitally transformed approach to workforce development = high impact. Look for ways to use the very innovation created under Steve Jobs – the smartphone. It’s where your future workforce is at all times and engages through multiple channels more than 7+ hours a day.

This digital tool provides:

  • Deeper, quantifiable analytics
  • Increased scale
  • A faster, more efficient process 
  • Reduced costs
  • A preferred engagement universe for Gen Z
  • An opportunity to un-silo efforts between industry, educators and government through connectivity

That last one is worth a pause. Henry Ford, arguably auto manufacturing’s most enduring visionary in American history famously asserted, “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” In an ‘every-man-for-himself’ era, this approach was considered innovative for its time; a precursor to the team culture mindset of today. And precisely why workforce development shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of economic developers, government, educators, or industry. That crevasse of a skills gap that needs to close in the next five years? That’s on all of our heads, which, when working together and sharing data and resources, will move us all forward. States and regions will be more competitive in business recruitment when they can fill industries’ pipeline; Departments of Education can prepare more kids for meaningful futures in their own backyard; and industry can continue to change the world on American soil. This kind of collaboration in workforce development is a win-win-win.


Nothing changes if nothing changes

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.”  – Dean Kamen (Inventor of the Segway and iBOT)

So while innovation may seem risky and radical, history has already shown us that it’s also essential. Author Geoffrey A. Moore coins the perilous dynamic of this a chasm – the space between innovative visionaries and the more mainstream pragmatists, who, typically (and ironically), helm workforce development initiatives for the most innovative industries in the world. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the power of the pivot that makes or breaks a business, no matter what business you’re in.

So what would Steve Jobs do to attract a new generation of manufacturing talent to save us from off-shoring doom? After selling out of a $500+ never-seen-before mobile phone/computer in January of 2007 with zero inventory, he would innovate. 

And he would win.

Share any feedback below or ways in which you are innovating workforce development.

Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 3 of 3

Questions and Advice from Members of Generation Z

Gen Z has signaled their frustration at a lack of career support in school, and they’ve clued us in to their (mis)perceptions of manufacturing and the skilled trades. Now it’s time for them to express themselves in their own words. In this final article of the “What They Wish They Knew” series, Gen Z answers the titular question, “Regarding careers, what is something you wish someone would have told you sooner and/or will explain to you now?”

COLLEGE PATHWAY

  • “That college doesn’t help you understand what you want to do with your life.” -college student
  • “Don’t feel that you immediately need to go to college to be successful, especially if you don’t know what career path you’re going to take. College is tough and expensive and you really have to want to go to be able to make it work.” -recent graduate
  • “Would college be worth it or a good idea?” -high school student

THE JOB SEARCH

  • “I wish someone would have shown me sooner that there are so many different kinds of jobs out there. I thought I had to be a teacher, lawyer, or doctor.” -recent graduate
  • “I wish someone would explain in detail what each career is like and maybe have someone explain what it’s like to be a part of each career.” -high school student
  • “Explain the benefits and disadvantages of my future careers. Have someone walk me through what my future might look like.” -high school student
  • “I wish I was exposed to more high in demand jobs.” -college student
  • “How many options there really are no matter what degree level.” -high school student
  • “I wish someone would give me a survey of different jobs, so I can know what’s out there.” -college student
  • “I want someone to help me know what jobs I could have.” -high school student
  • “How to best look for careers.” -recent graduate

SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS

  • “I wish I had understood that I can be successful if I really have a passion and master my skills for whatever I want to do, whether traditional or not” -recent graduate
  • “As a high schooler, something that I wish someone would tell me is to do what makes you happy, and not to work on things that will only bring you success.” -high school student
  • “Don’t worry so much about doing one thing now; you can always change your job later on if you wish.” -college student
  • “I wish someone would’ve explained to me how to create my own value of time.” -college student
  • “Don’t let your career get in the way of living your life and enjoying it!” -recent graduate

If we prioritize open dialogue and listen to the generation of our up-and-coming workforce, that honest, clear discussion can help ensure a brighter tomorrow for us all.

Closing the skills gap in 2022: How is America doing?

Following the pandemic and the subsequent Great Resignation, the skills gap is as wide as it was last year (and only widening) as employers seek skill sets that much of the workforce lacks or will lack. If something doesn’t change in how we equip our next workforce generation with marketable skills in manufacturing and tech/IT careers, experts predict that by 2030 the talent shortage is expected to total a loss of $8.5 trillion in the US alone. Three industries, in particular, have seen tremendous growth in recent years and are facing high demand for workforce-ready talent: cybersecurity, aerospace, and the skilled trades. 

1. Cybersecurity

The past year has seen an alarming spike in cyberattacks, with ransomware attacks alone accounting for 623.3 million attacks worldwide, according to the widely referenced SonicWall yearly cyber threat report. As their headline for 2022’s report states, “Our future will increasingly belong to the proactive,” so cybersecurity is a field in which no one in the US can afford to fall behind; it’s not even enough to stay current anymore. 

Cybersecurity thought leader Chuck Brooks expresses in a January Forbes article that “cyber perils are the biggest concern for companies globally in 2022.” This pervasive concern means that cybersecurity professionals are in demand in every single industry across the nation. Unfortunately, though, the demand is not being met. A key witness to this cybersecurity skills gap around the country is the president and vice chairman for Microsoft, who recounts in his article from last fall, “As one person put it, ‘Every small business and start-up I know is complaining they can’t find people with cybersecurity skills.’” Although he moved from state to state, he says that the need to close the skills gap remained a constant talking point—and worry—for businesspeople.

The workforce shortage compounds the many challenges already faced in the rapidly changing landscape of cybersecurity. Microsoft’s vice president and lead of philanthropies, Kate Behncken, explains in a piece from this past March, “There simply aren’t enough people with the cybersecurity skills needed to fill open jobs.” In an effort to spread awareness of cybersecurity’s workforce needs, Microsoft recently launched a campaign in partnership with community colleges across the US, aiming to “help skill and recruit … 250,000 people by 2025, representing half of the country’s workforce shortage.”

The world needs cybersecurity professionals, and although steps are being taken to skill the newest generation of workers, America must make it a priority; “no one organization can close this gap alone,” the World Economic Forum warns, reminding us that the curbing of cyber threats “will require active and ongoing participation and partnership” from everyone. Cybersecurity still faces a critical skills gap whose worsening will deteriorate the strength of our country and compromise all of our futures. 2022 is the year to emphasize the daily impact of cyber threats and introduce cybersecurity opportunities to students so that they can enter the workforce with the skills required to defend the US.

2. Aerospace

The aerospace industry is another sector that is enjoying growth at the same time it faces a stagnation of trained employees. “A huge skills gap is emerging,” says Tech Times’s David Thompson, reporting on the 2022 Space Symposium, “now that the space industry is becoming a commercial endeavor, funding is increasing, and more startups are developing their own capabilities.” Part of the problem is that by the time traditional training methods have prepared a worker, the industry has already evolved. As Thompson points out, “the slow pace of academic teaching” and the current “time-consuming on-the-job training models” do not output “qualified space personnel fast enough, and the industry is suffering as a result.” 

The labor shortage comes at a time when aerospace is starting to soar again after the effects of the pandemic. Thompson relays, “Government organizations like the Department of Defense and NASA no longer have a monopoly on the stars.” This exciting development for the industry ensures even more growth to come—in both the “space” and the “aero” categorizations. Aerospace Manufacturing and Design says in their 2022 forecast that the demand for “business aircrafts” has quickly returned, “with utilization recently passing 2019 peak levels.” It is expected for air traffic to return to its 2019 peak early next year.

But as the aerospace industry recovers from the hits it took in 2020 and 2021, skilled professionals who possess crucial expertise are exiting the workforce and opening holes that employers struggle to fill fast enough. 

What’s the right direction for aerospace? Businesses are bridging the resulting gaps in two ways: through professional development efforts and digital solutions that “extend their teams and upskill current employees,” according to Eric Brothers, senior editor of Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. National organizations like Nova Space online and regional programs like Boeing’s DreamLearners in South Carolina hope to train and develop the next generation of aerospace experts who can close the skills gap.

3. Skilled Trades

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the skilled trades will experience a continued rise in job openings through 2030. However, as with cybersecurity and aerospace, “there’s a massive shortage of qualified tradespeople,” as Forbes expresses in an article aiming to empower vocational educators and therefore close the skills gap. Steve Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, would agree that our current approach to education is part of the problem. “The federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep,” he says on NPR. “This funding gap for career training is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline for preparing new craft and construction professionals.” However, while building support within schools is certainly valuable, it’s not enough alone to bring new professionals to the trades. 

Why do trade careers struggle to recruit Gen Z? In a virtual interview with LCPTracker, Erin Volk of the AGC Construction Education Foundation identifies the problem: misperceptions. Volk is the Vice President, Workforce & Community Development lead, and Executive Director of AGC, so she is all too well familiar with the inaccurate portrayal of construction and other skilled trades. She explains that members of Gen Z are “digital natives” who, “throughout their whole lives, [have] been marketed to,” and the messages they’ve heard from the media are that “construction is not a lucrative career” and “you have to go to college to be successful.” In fact, data collected by Stanley Black & Decker last fall reveals four main contributors to the skills gap in trade careers: the “misunderstanding of long-term financial security, incorrect knowledge of required skills, lack of exposure to those in trade skills careers, [and] observation of trades as a ‘male-dominated’ industry.” Stanley Black & Decker and Volk have witnessed this lacking education about the trades at work (or, rather, not at work) and are doing something about it.

Enter Build California, the project that Volk describes as “designed to inspire, engage, and activate the next generation of [the] construction workforce.” Build California seeks to educate Californians of all ages about the state’s construction industry, including both the short- and the long-term benefits of such a career. According to the Build California website, the initiative provides “sustainable and stable pathway[s] for millions of residents across the Golden State.” 

Volk, her team, and industry leaders like her battle every day against the stigmas that keep people from construction and other skilled trades, working to widen access to reliable information about construction and economic advancement and—ultimately—increase the numbers of professionals in the field. “It’s difficult to do,” Volk says, “because there’s decades of [misperceptions] to undo,” but it’s a struggle whose overcoming will benefit us all. 

Looking ahead

Each of the above industries boasts well-paying careers and stable futures, but it’s clear that the skills and interests of the available workforce are not aligned with industry needs. For the term ‘skills gap’ to be removed from workforce development vernacular once and for all, industry, regions and departments of education need to work together on how to communicate with, prepare and engage the next workforce generation…quickly.

What are your best practices in closing the skill gap in your industry?

Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 2 of 3

Opportunities in Advanced Manufacturing and Skilled Trades

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. In the first post of this three-part series, they’ve exposed a major deficiency in the modern education system: a lack of career awareness and readiness. This second article in the series will be underscoring a different contributor to the same problem and discussing its past, present, and future as we strive to prepare our up-and-coming workforce for satisfying, successful futures.

Outdated assumptions are keeping students from meaningful careers

It turns out that students in middle school, high school, and college are still severely impacted by old industry notions and stigmas. The campaign that arose a few decades back to work smarter and not harder has actually hurt the future of the workforce. We’ve internalized the message over the years, separated “hard” work from “smart” work, and—consequently—steered too many young students away from prosperous futures. Our nation’s “overreliance on this concept” has shaped perceptions of white-collar jobs vs. blue-collar jobs, deeming the former more valuable and desirable than the latter. 

So while it’s true that many students aren’t given enough information about future careers, it’s also true that the information they are intaking about professions like advanced manufacturing and skilled trades are outdated or misguided. 

The perceptions vs. the facts 

Here’s what Gen Z had to say…

Manufacturing perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

High school students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

College students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

Manufacturing realities

  • Good pay. As of March 17th, 2022, the average salary for a worker in advanced manufacturing is $76,258.
  • Supporting our country. “Rebuilding our manufacturing economy is an essential component to strengthening our communities and creating opportunity for all Americans,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says.
  • Supporting you. “Contrary to the decades-long, ‘dirty hands’ stigma, employees come first in today’s manufacturing,” we explain in this article. “Corporations like West Virginia’s Lockheed Martin offer education assistance, paid time off, and even smoking cessation and wellness programs.”

Skilled trades perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”: 

High school students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”:

College students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

Skilled trades realities

What can we do? 

Because a staggering “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,” most high schoolers are not adequately aware of potential professions, so college seems like a necessity to them. We’re doing a disservice to the younger end of Gen Z, and we’ll continue to fail the generations after them if we don’t change the American belief of “no college, no future.” We need to help students understand their options sooner, because there are plenty out there! “Vocational education is an effective path to prosperity and self-reliance,” as Forbes explains, and it is a path that deserves to be explored by more students, parents, and advisers.

Yes, something needs to change—but it is starting to, with efforts like skillsgapp’s to educate our students on pathways and opportunities. Tina Zwolinski, founder and CEO of skillsgapp, offers three solutions to the problem of workforce development, listing greater broadband access, a reset of educational expectations, and innovations in recruitment and the workplace to reach Gen Z.  

Guidance counselors, let’s really emphasize career planning in high school. Teachers, let’s link students’ interests and talents to real-life applications. Parents, let’s move away from the bachelor’s-degree-or-fail mindset. Industry leaders, make sure you’re reaching these students. We can equip this incoming workforce with better career awareness—if we listen to the concerns and aspirations of Gen Z’s many voices. 


In the third and final part to this series, we’ll have a chance to hear directly from members of Generation Z as they ask important questions and offer advice to others of their age.

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.