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.