A Legacy of Manufacturing Careers

By Tina Zwolinski, skillsgapp CEO and Co-Founder

When I was younger, I didn’t realize that what my dad did for a living was called aerospace or manufacturing. These terms weren’t even in my vernacular. I just knew that he lived and breathed all things jet and rocket engines and that we did too. Our vacations revolved around his passion. Plane flights turned into educational moments about the jets and their engines; he brought us along on work trips to Florida and California; we visited NASA to celebrate launches, and were frequently in attendance at the Pratt & Whitney Airshows in East Hartford Connecticut.

“I was a part of the aerospace industry transitioning from piston engines to jet engines. I love seeing the innovation happening today with jet engines and space travel. The speed of change is remarkable.”

– James Woodward

My father worked at Pratt & Whitney for his entire career and made a great living, which he’s still benefiting from today at eighty-four. He worked his way up from design and testing to management. Throughout his tenure, he taught me the importance of a strong work ethic, and to respect and care about those you work with. He would come to my school every year with a small model engine and share career opportunities within aerospace and what students should focus on in school to prepare for a career in “jet or rocket engines.” All of my science projects were centered around flight and engines, admittedly with a lot of help from my dad.

Unlike many of my peers, I spent a summer working at Pratt & Whitney as a teenager. It paid better than retail and lit a passion in me for manufacturing. I remember thinking people were paid well, had great benefits, and took pride in their work as a team. That’s what stuck with me. Manufacturing looked very different back in the late eighties than it does today, and we are working hard now to reverse the stigmas of dirty, hot plants that have recurring layoffs. 

“Still today, whenever I get on a plane I look to see what company manufactured the jet and engine on the plane. I live stream rocket launches and landings amazed at the speed of innovation, just like my dad.”

– Tina Zwolinski

Manufacturing: A Family Affair

My uncle worked in automotive manufacturing at Stanadyne for 15 years, and then with Hamilton Standard (now Collins Aerospace) in aerospace for the rest of his career. Through both, he experienced the introduction of robots into manufacturing, and like my dad, did well and enjoyed his work. He was also able to travel to train teams, and I got a front-row seat to his incredible opportunities to see the world through his work.

“A career in manufacturing provided me with an excellent quality of life, the opportunity to see the world, and life-long friendships from the years of working together.”

– James McKeough

My nephew is the next generation in our family of manufacturing disciples, following in the aerospace footsteps of his grandfather. He’s a great example of a Gen Zer who wanted to have more hands-on experience, versus spending time in a classroom. Despite a scholarship to a 4-year university in engineering, he decided to take another pathway through the technical college system where he studied aircraft maintenance and was offered a position with Lockheed Martin. He recently received his airframe license and is looking forward to a life-long career in the aerospace industry.

“I’m enjoying putting the skills I’m passionate about to work at Lockheed Martin. There are career growth opportunities and the company is very supportive of my continued learning and growth interests within the company.”

-Joshua Wallace

Carrying the Manufacturing Torch

I started my advertising career at the Greenville SC Chamber of Commerce right around the time BMW was considering coming to the Upstate. I could feel the manufacturing spark reigniting, knowing what a manufacturing plant like theirs could do for the state of South Carolina.

The next 25 years were spent running ZWO, a branding and marketing firm focused on economic and workforce development with an emphasis on industry sector recruitment and expansion support, as well as youth consumer brand and lifestyle marketing, including stigma reversal. 

Year after year we heard the same thing from both industry and states: “We need to find skilled workers to fill all the open positions”. Websites, videos, job fairs, and print materials were all being done to reach the potential workforce, but those tools and tactics weren’t getting the job done, and so the conversation ensued. 

Along came Generation Z, a generation born with a mobile phone in hand, quick to teach themselves about anything and everything. This was the catalyst that ignited the launch of skillsgapp. We began asking ourselves one question: “What if we could go directly to the students – wherever they are – and engage with them on their phones about these careers and corresponding pathways?”  They then could advocate for their own future based on their interests and learnings, not the stigmas of the generations before them. Industry could in turn recruit from a more engaged, qualified pipeline for years to come, void of the constrictive layers of traditional outreach, in school and out, especially in under-resourced communities. 

“By the time Gen Z learns about skills-based careers, many have chosen another path. Preparing and making them aware of these opportunities earlier isn’t just the key to our future, but theirs, too.”

Tina Zwolinski, Founder and CEO, skillsgapp

We dug in with passion and researched, conducted focus groups, studied trends, and decided on a skills development game model that makes learning about work fun, rewarding, and scalable. With the opportunity for credentialing a win for all.

Looking ahead, it’s game on to reach as many students as possible to create awareness and opportunity around meaningful, well-paying manufacturing jobs in automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and even the skilled trades and cybersecurity/IT fields. 

Do you have family members following the generation before into manufacturing careers? Please share in the comments below!