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.

It Pays to Play Video Games

How Young Game Enthusiasts Are Already on the Job


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


Video games and professional technology

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

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

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

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

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



Professions and video game technology

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

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

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

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



Ahead of the game

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


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

Site Selection Magazine – Fully Enrolled: Esports and Video Game Programs Power Up on Campus

By Adam Bruns The digitizing of the economy is pervasive, whether you’re performing quality control in an automated manufacturing plant; undergoing a medical procedure; operating a container crane at a backed-up West Coast port; launching fabrication of a 3D-printed prototype; or putting the finishing touches on a breakthrough architectural design.

Could using our own digits, senses and synapses in the pervasive playing of video games deliver a competitive advantage to a world hungry for IT skills, systems thinking and interdisciplinary creativity? Video game development and competitive esports programs at colleges and universities around the world are counting on it. Read More.

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 3 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video Games Teach Empathy & Other Hard-to-Teach Skills

Ready to bust some more gaming myths? The second blog in this series combats outdated and unfounded fears of video games by highlighting their universal nature, cooperative space, and potential for skills development. This third installment looks to similar positive traits in a demonstration of video games’ power over the mind and heart as a force for good. 

The incomparable firsthand experiences that video games generate can put players from any background into new circumstances, facilitating the formation of critical social-emotional skills (and global awareness, like I talk about in the last blog post). Video games allow people to interact “firsthand” with concepts, places, and times they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience, from the streets of modern Hong Kong to the rooftops of Renaissance Venice. We can see the wider world on a very personal level while moving through a story in someone else’s shoes, defying the limits of wherever our own feet can take us. Games have the power to spark conversation, induce awareness, and share a diverse range of voices. 

Social-emotional skills and gaming

It’s why educators are advocating for specially designed video games that teach empathy: “Perspective-taking through player agency drives empathetic thinking.” Games put their audiences in the driver’s seat and provide active engagement with the material, distinguishing playing video games from the more passive experience of watching a video. Because the player has an impact on the game environment to varying extents, and because the player is taking on a new point of view, they are in an ideal position to learn and empathize. 

Indeed, a game designed by University of Wisconsin-Madison for middle schoolers was found to improve empathy in young learners. In this game, Crystals of Kaydor, players assume the role of a crash-landed robot and must successfully identify the emotions of aliens in order to find a way home. Researchers discovered that the kids’ social-emotional skill development through the game actually changed neural connections in their brains. “The realization that these skills are … trainable with video games is important,” lead researcher Tammi Kral says, “because they are predictors of emotional well-being and health throughout life and can be practiced any time.”

This is a big deal. We’re finding that not only can games engage kids with each other, allow them to realize their own creative and intellectual potentials, and meet them wherever they may be; games can also prepare the next generation for the workforce by equipping them with “hard-to-teach” skills. These include soft skills like collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as social-emotional skills like the abilities to relate with others, make appropriate decisions, maintain awareness of other people’s emotions, and understand one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Professor Matthew Farber (Assistant Professor of Technology, Innovation, and Pedagogy at the University of Northern Colorado) underscores the importance of such skills in his article entitled Teaching Empathy With Video Games.” He calls them “21st-century competencies that students should possess.” Farber poses the question of whether or not playing video games can make children better aware of their own emotions and become more sensitive to the non-verbal behavior of others, and he concludes his article by saying yes, yes they can. As a result of playing games like Crystals of Kaydor and practicing social-emotional skills, students will be able to “compete and innovate in today’s interconnected, global economy,” Farber says.  

Games, empathy, and the next workforce generation

When the player has the ability to make choices in another’s shoes—when they can witness something firsthand and feel like they have a personal stake in the matter—then they can take ownership of their experience and find themself relating to different persons and places. They’re practicing empathy. In games like that, students can exercise the developing parts of their brain, thus making themselves world- and workplace-ready, prepared for tomorrow’s challenges intellectually, socially, and emotionally. 

What hard-to-teach skills do you think every student should learn before high school graduation?

How The Great Resignation is a Great Opportunity for Manufacturers Looking to Recruit

The Great Resignation. The Great Reshuffle. Whatever the phrase, COVID-19 hit the global labor force big, and few industries have been spared. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record. The exodus is being driven by Millennials and Generation Z, says an Adobe study, who are more likely to be dissatisfied with their work. In fact, more than half of Gen Z reported planning to seek a new job within the next year.

Why? Because the last eighteen months have allowed everybody to rethink their careers, work conditions, and long-term goals. The top of the list? According to Jessica Schaeffer, vice president of LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm, more money, better benefits, and flexibility.

Ray Everett, CEO of Reward Solutions, adds that the lack of a clear path in employees’ career progression is one of the most common complaints he hears. The manufacturing sector can win big with Gen Z here, as a key complement to their employee value proposition is a huge trajectory for growth. 

Good News for Manufacturers Hiring Gen Z

More Money: The average hourly wage within manufacturing is a few pennies shy of $30, with project managers averaging $47 per hour, or between $92,500 per year and almost $98,000 per year.

Better Benefits: Many manufacturers, like auto innovator Tesla, provide health insurance, life insurance and disability protection, vision and dental coverage, a retirement plan, a stock purchase plan, short-term disability pay, long-term disability pay, and general employee assistance programs.

Flexibility: Contrary to the decades-long, “dirty hands” stigma, employees come first in today’s manufacturing. For instance, corporations like West Virginia’s Lockheed Martin offer education assistance, paid time off, and even smoking cessation and wellness programs.

Trajectory for Growth: A national workforce report has shown that “firms are more likely to promote internal employees for management positions. Overall, firms promoted 8.9 percent of employees.” The Chief Scientific Officer at Nephron says that her company’s culture “values hard work and career advancement. … [It’s] a place to start, develop, and succeed in your career.”

Reaching Gen Z

Reaching Gen Z – half of whom are looking to make a career move is priority #1 for American manufacturers today in order to close the skills gap projected to reach 2.4 million unfilled jobs through 2028. 

The National Association of Manufacturers recently took their recruitment show on the road as part of their Creators Wanted initiative, during which kids were visited in key locations to hear – and experience – firsthand the behind-the-scenes innovation and opportunity behind some of the cars they drive, pharmaceuticals they use, and the everyday products that make our world go around. 

Now imagine being able to scale this effort by meeting kids wherever they are, on their phones, at any time of day. According to techjury:

• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today

• Americans spend an 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.

• Career awareness and pathways can now be gamified, per region, per industry with trackable data not only for industry to recruit from but for states to secure their competitive advantage.

How are you rethinking and innovating your workforce recruiting to reach Gen Z? Share your ideas below with us.

NBC 4 Los Angeles: BeatNic Boulevard Video Game Feature with San Bernardino County Superintendent Ted Alejandre, October 27, 2021

San Bernardino County Superintendent Ted Alejandre – NBC 4 Los Angeles – BeatNic Boulevard Feature

Video game developer Skillsgapp transforms skills and behavioral development into free-to-play mobile gaming technology designed to engage, educate, and entertain middle and high schoolers.

The Tobacco Prevention Toolkit was developed by Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Stanford REACH Lab at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Using free content from the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, the game was developed to teach students in grades 6-12 basic refusal skills, share important tobacco prevention messaging and encourage activities in their schools and communities that can foster local policy change. This approach would work to address health disparities among vulnerable populations and reduce tobacco and vape use.

Changing Behavior Through Video Games Comes Down to These Four Things

As mobile video games gain greater reach and sophistication levels that deliver more realistic, entertaining, and challenging experiences, unprecedented narrative is being incorporated into gameplay that influences players’ behavior in meaningful ways. As we leverage this preferred medium to prepare our next generation for meaningful careers in previously stigmatized industries within manufacturing, including life sciences, cyber/IT, aerospace, and auto, many behaviorists agree on incorporating these four disciplines into gameplay to affect change.

Four In-Game Disciplines that Can Change Behavior in Gen Z

1. Motivation

Self-determination theory identifies three primary psychological needs that drive most behaviors: 

• the need for competence, or a feeling of effectiveness at completing tasks

• the need for autonomy, or the sense of freedom to choose one’s own behavior

• the need for relatedness, or of feeling tied to others through relationships and shared values.

These basic needs tend to motivate behavior in an individual, independent of extrinsic rewards. By design, video games check each of these boxes via challenges that can be repurposed with increased difficulty, directly promoting and improving desired skills development, which can make workforce readiness a lot more rewarding…and fun.

2. Reinforcement

In contrast to intrinsic motivation, video games can also use extrinsic rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, including task-noncontingent rewards, and rewards of glory. The former can consist of kudos and likes from other players in the game, or by in-game mentorship from industry and educators, all of which promote feelings of relatedness and autonomy. Rewards of glory consist of points, achievements, badges, or animations, and can support competence needs by providing feedback and shareable bragging rights. 

3. Personalization

Gen Z is more likely to devote cognitive effort and attention toward an activity they perceive to be personally relevant. By tailoring game narrative to align with their values, game designers — and industry — can persuade players in a way other forms of persuasion may not. Creating game characters a player identifies with, or by casting the player themselves as the main character is one way. Another way is to incorporate desired goals into the game narrative. As an example, BeatNic Boulevard is a new simulation-style, free-to-play mobile game where students in San Bernardino County, California — in collaboration with Stanford University’s Tobacco Prevention Toolkit — learn the importance of living a tobacco-free lifestyle. As students play the video game, they learn and recognize the impact of tobacco-use, vaping and how the sale of these products negatively affect schools and communities, eradicating false perceptions perpetuated by the tobacco industry.  

4. Proteus Effect

The Proteus Effect represents the experience of embodying an avatar in a virtual environment, which affects multiple aspects of cognition and behavior of the player. Being in a virtual world allows users to control many aspects of their appearance they cannot easily change in the real world, allowing a player to “try things on” in an arena void of stereotypes. This is especially powerful in breaking down stereotypes within trade-specific careers.

Mobile Gaming is a Viable Skills-Training Medium

The number of active mobile gamers worldwide is over 2.2 billion today. As industry, states, and regions look to grow their workforce-ready talent pools, mobile gaming should be at the top of their list as a proven, customizable training and recruitment tool that can scale to reach this entire next generation.

What skills development or behavioral change would you like to see incorporated into mobile games? Comment below.

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 1 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video games build community

Dark basement. Empty chip bags. One guy staring at a bright screen, maniacally pressing buttons on a controller. I don’t know when or how this stereotype got started—much less reinforced—but at some point it came to represent the quintessential “gamer.” Nowadays that perception is changing as old fears are dismissed and more people recognize the value of video games. 

In this blog series, we’ll bust some still lingering gaming myths by exploring and correcting misperceptions about video games and the people who play them, specifically our future workforce, Gen Z. There are already plenty of articles written by professional research teams and scientists detailing how games can improve manual and mental dexterity, teach problem-solving skills and creativity, relieve stress while stimulating the brain, inspire players of all ages, introduce educational topics, and—maybe most importantly—foster community, so I’ll share something only I can: my own experience.

Family game nights: generations of memories

Video games have always been important to the members of my family, even my grandparents. 

My Papa Donald had a squeaky SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), and sometimes all six of us grandkids could be found piled in his living room squeaking away, collectively trying to beat Donkey Kong Country. It was a similar thing with my Pop Pop and the King’s Quest point-and-click adventures: for years my sister Addie and I spectated his gameplay while consulting the cheat book on his behalf. 

Then there was my dad and Luigi’s Mansion. Terrified of the ghosts, my sister and I solo-played only rooms that my dad had already cleared. But the fun for me didn’t come from saving the day as Luigi; it came from spending time with the two of them.

With my mom, our game was Animal Crossing. She’d catch bugs, I’d fulfill the American dream of paying off a mortgage. We also used to write each other in-game updates despite sitting right next to each other. There was something special about communicating through such a unique medium.

As a kid, I didn’t know that all these little moments with my family would matter—these moments that games created—and yet we were reinforcing our relationships with every press of a button.

Plugging in to stay connected

My sister and I are now 20 and 22, respectively, so we’re on the upper end of Gen Z and have grown up playing games like so many others our age: games on the TV, computer, DS, iPad, and now mobile phone. By gaming, I’ve stayed close to my sister through college to today. She and I bond over video games that champion the story. For example, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines was our Christmas break go-to, and throughout my last semester of school I played Dishonored for her via Discord’s screen-sharing feature. It’s become clear to me that games are a powerful means of making and preserving memories. They let us stay connected no matter the distance, and that’s been particularly important this past year.

Our story isn’t unique, especially not amongst the younger half of our generation who started early with mobile games. Games have always linked people together, and with the advent and popularity of online and mobile gaming, they’re now able to achieve that person-to-person connection on an even broader scale. Because 90% of Gen Z is engaging with mobile gaming, chances are high a large percentage of your future workforce is playing and connecting right now.

Games, fellowship, and friendship

Gaming isn’t a lonely hobby. I don’t think it was ever intended to be. Game nights are some of the most vivid memories I have with friends, from zooming through Mario Kart Wii in middle school to scrambling around on Overcooked! in college. Yeah, maybe at times we were in a dark basement eating chips, but we were all there with each other, laughing and shouting and building upon our friendships, practicing cooperative skills and making our time together last. Ultimately, it’s not just about the games; it’s about the communities they strengthen.


Do you have a favorite video game from childhood? If so, I would love to hear about it below
!

Beth Ann Townsend recently graduated from Washington & Lee University with a double major in English and Classics, a combination of interests she’s excited to bring to skillsgapp. She’s always loved telling stories, solving problems, studying what has been, and imagining what could be. Now a narrative designer at skillsgapp, she can puzzle out the best ways to marry the “what” and “why” of the game with the “how,” working alongside a team that’s dedicated to uplifting our next workforce generation

Career Awareness Within Manufacturing: Three Untapped Opportunities to Reach the New Workforce Generation

Held on the first Friday of October each year, the National Association of Manufacturers organizes Manufacturing Day. Its purpose? To raise awareness among students, parents, educators, and the general public about modern manufacturing and the rewarding careers available. Since its inception, both the manufacturing industry and federal agencies have gotten creative with their outreach initiatives in an effort to dispel some of the “dull and dirty” misconceptions about such jobs, from official proclamations and factory tours to mobile escape room experiences. 

Despite such efforts, and arguably accelerated by the resource shortages perpetuated by the pandemic, the skills gap in American manufacturing is reported to reach 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028, causing a potential economic loss of $2.5 trillion. As we recover, industry, educators, and government agencies are tasked to not only think differently regarding how to build career awareness but to incite action in order to help the public perceive U.S. manufacturing as the modern, vibrant, growing industry that it is today, so that it will continue to be tomorrow. 

Three opportunities for reaching manufacturing’s next workforce generation:

1. Gaming: Gen Z (those aged 9-24) grew up and teched up in 2020-21. They’re also more likely to consider working in manufacturing than previous generations. The manufacturing industry should consider developing technology that utilizes gamification to simulate vocational experiences in order to take advantage of Gen Z’s unique skills and interests – no matter where they are. Unfortunately, according to President and CEO of L2L, Keith Barr, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor.” Mobile gamification allows for scalability and reach, even in under-resourced communities.

2. Earlier Intervention: According to a survey, 75% of Americans have never had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into attending trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career. Why? In part because teachers and counselors require a four-year-degree for their careers which intrinsically feeds the stigma, whether intentional or not. Even those who do tout the benefits of an ‘alternative route’ in high school, it’s often too late. Disappearing are the days of rote physical acts performed on a factory floor. As emerging technologies displace low-skill jobs in modern manufacturing, new jobs require new skills, requiring a keen balance of art and science. The earlier a student becomes versed in these skills and is exposed to corresponding pathways in middle school, the more deliberate and prepared they can be in navigating their own hopes and dreams, not those of their predecessors.

3. Increased access to hands-on learning and apprenticeships: Preparing students for their future careers through experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom is like trying one on. If someone demonstrates proficiencies and interest that industry is looking for, corresponding educational and career pathways can be strategically offered and incentivized to an already vetted, future employee. If the opposite, investment in training in a non-viable employee is removed from a company’s bottom line. Vital Link, an example of a  non-profit organization in Southern California offers students hands-on programs that introduce them to the world of robotics, engineering, manufacturing, healthcare and medical, computer programming, digital media arts, and automotive technology enabling them to explore their interests, expand their skill sets, and develop a network to create pathways to “jumpstart” their future careers – an expedition manufacturing so desperately needs.

For the skills gap to close, more than factory doors need to open; so do our minds. Will Healy III, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, perhaps says it best. “Pick something you will do different in 2022. You have to.” 

Care to share your own ideas for closing the skills gap in 2022? Please comment below.