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.

Games That Teach vs. Games That Change

Educational gaming isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are those that teach curriculum, and then there are those that change behavior. You learn from both, but the user experience can be profoundly different from one another, and their reach arguably disparate. 

To better understand this difference, let’s first look at a game that aims to teach. 

Teaching In Gen Z’s Digital World

Gone are the days of the ‘rot-your-brain’ video game mindset, and schools have made great strides in using games such as Minecraft: Education Edition as a teachable medium. Minecraft explains that “Educators visiting the Minecraft: Education Edition community site will find existing lesson plans on pixel art, grid paper to plan student work, and even a Minecraft world set up as a blank canvas for students to engage in creative expression.” 

Kim Bennett, a teacher in Cherokee County, Georgia, uses Minecraft to teach business to her students. She says, “Students collaborate in a Minecraft world to actually build and create their businesses—restaurants, food trucks, factories, sports facilities, to name just a few.” 

This is an innovative move in finding meaningful ways to connect kids with career-centric curriculum in a classroom. And while video games in school aren’t new, they’re use has been accelerated as the pandemic persists. 

But what about outside of the classroom? 

The New World of Gaming

Gen Z is influencing the gaming world in a big way and they are vastly different in this space than their predecessors. For one, the majority of Gen Z, 98%, own a smartphone, and much of their gaming behavior is mobile, rather than tethered to a computer or console. And contrary to the stereotype of gaming as an isolating activity, Gen Z doesn’t game to be alone; they actually game to be with others. This generation has grown up in a socially broader digital world that allows them to form online communities inside of school, and out.

So as we look at those teachable skills needed outside of the traditional reading, writing, and math, like soft skills, mobile gaming opens up a new set of opportunities to reach our future generation outside of the classroom via a medium they’re already engaging in, not “having” to engage in. 

Games That Change

Curriculum and class dynamics drive the user experience in games like Minecraft: Education Edition. And while the learning experience may be more appealing than a textbook, work still comes first, fun second.

In games that change behavior, gameplay takes the lead and curriculum second. Look at the globally popular Pokémon GO, for example, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit PokéStops to gather items, battle other users’ Pokémon, and to catch Pokémon using augmented reality. And while the app may appear to lead a wild goose chase,  one recent study’s findings indicate “that the surveyed players changed their behaviors while or after playing Pokémon GO. The respondents reported being more social, expressed more positive emotions, found more meaningfulness in their routines, and had increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” Well, guess what? Those align with 21st century skills every school district is also tasked with teaching: Work Ethic, Socializing, Strengthening of Social Bonds, Better Self-Treatment, and Collaboration. And with bragging rights of over 55 million installs in 2019, the size of that “classroom” is pretty astounding.

The Future is Edutainment

Games come in all different types and categories, coining a new umbrella term,   “edutainment”, defined as “the English neologism that indicates the forms of playful communication aimed at teaching.” And while educational games like Minecraft: Education Edition are powerful in a classroom environment for math, history, science, language art, and visual art, they’re still not enough as our skills gap continues to rise to a global talent shortage that might reach 85.2 million people by 2030. Games like Pokémon GO, if intentionally designed with the right balance of fun and faculty, can accelerate the development of soft skills that educational games don’t focus on. Those, paired with academic knowledge, can propel Gen Z much further. 

With both types of games at play, it’s safe to say that edutainment adds up to a big win when it comes to preparing Gen Z to be the future workforce that ushers us into the modern era.

South Carolina Business Review: Attracting Factory Workers with Gaming

According to some national surveys, 75% of Generation Z show little or no interest in working for manufacturers and 70% of parents discourage manufacturing as a career.  So where will a manufacturing state like ours get its workforce?  Our next guest believes that video games are the answer.

Mike Switzer interviews Tina Zwolinski, CEO and founder of skillsgapp in Greenville, SC.

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.

New Ways to Skill

The pre-pandemic rules of work and school have given way to not only a more digital world, but also new opportunities. As such, education’s structure isn’t as rigid as it used to be. Schools have been forced to implement creative ways to not only bring education to students, but also bring them together safely, all without cannibalizing required curriculum.

Why shouldn’t manufacturers do the same?

New Opportunities

COVID-19 presents manufacturers the opportunity to bring their training to Gen Z, rather than Gen Z bringing themselves to manufacturers. 

Education and training structures are not likely to go back to what they once were. That’s why manufacturers will need to carve out new opportunities to engage in not only this next generation of workforce, but in content that resonates with them. After all, Gen Z is adapting to learning in their new, digital environment. Manufacturers simply need to catch up.

Take Felling Trailers in Minnesota as an example. Bonnie Radjenovich, a member of their operations team says, “We’re advertising like crazy on Facebook and Instagram, and we just can’t get enough candidates in the door.” This was a step in the right direction. But here’s the rub, it isn’t enough anymore for companies to simply advertise to Gen Z on social platforms where they don’t necessarily live.

Skilling Gen Z

One new way to skill is by bringing training to Gen Z on their mobile devices through creative gamification that interests and excites them, and on platforms that engage  them.

Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, offers an important insight. She says, “If this time of COVID has taught us anything it’s that you need to adapt to the world as it is around you and the world is changing and so you have to change with it.”

By catering to Gen Z’s current style of learning, manufacturers have the opportunity to create future talent pipelines they didn’t previously have access to. On the flip side, students who previously didn’t have access to in-person training can now get a jumpstart on a career path through training within gamified apps. This symbiotic relationship could especially thrive in America’s rural areas, where access has historically been challenging.

Manufacturers Must Seize the Opportunity

The Pew Research Center indicates that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” Not only is there a widespread network already in place to reach Gen Z, but their usage of smartphones is only likely to increase due to the switch to online learning. This opens the door for us to bring more meaningful play to users and according to appannie.com, “Spend on mobile games across all app stores projected to top $100 billion in 2020.” Reaching Gen Z at an early age and training them where they live will lay the groundwork for a reliable workforce now, and down the road.

The opportunity has never been more ripe for manufacturers to adapt to a new way of building future talent pipelines. Or more fun.

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. 

Stu News Laguna: Laguna’s Cynthia Jenkins launches skillsgapp, a company to bridge the divide in workforce skills education

Could mobile gaming hold an answer to the dearth of the U.S.’s middle-skilled workforce? Cynthia Jenkins of South Laguna thinks it does, and her new enterprise, skillsgapp, holds enormous potential to open up career opportunities for youth not on the four-year college degree track but who’ll need more than a high school diploma to earn a decent wage as they make their way. Read 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.

UBJ: skillsgapp combines video games with job training to spur rural economic development

As a mother, Tina Zwolinski doesn’t need to look at the statistics to know just how ubiquitous video games are in the lives of today’s younger generations. She need only look to her kids for that information.

But as the co-founder of the startup Skillsgapp, which uses video games to promote skills-based training, it helps to have the statistics on hand. Read more.