Beyond the Wrench Podcast: Leveraging Gamification to Promote Technician Careers-Tina Zwolinski, skillsgapp

This generation of technicians learns differently. Tina Zwolinksi, CEO & Founder, skillsgapp, shares her knowledge on how gamification can engage the younger generation and attract them to technician careers. Click here to listen.

(1:02) Guest Background
(3:12) Defining and Communicating with Gen Z
(17:12) Embracing the Digital World
(23:01) What is Gamification?
(33:29) Familiarizing Young Kids with the Industry
(52:11) skillsgapp Gamification

Value Inspiration Podcast #243: Tina Zwolinski, CEO Skillsgapp – on game-changing workforce development

A story about using technology to connect youth to life-changing careers.

This podcast interview focuses on product innovation that has the power to help manufacturing and cybersecurity businesses to attract and grow a sustainable workforce pipeline.

During this interview, you will learn four things:

  1. How to find transformative innovation opportunities by zooming out to the global picture
  2. How to create a flywheel for growth when there’s no real owner of the problem. 
  3. How you can solve a global challenge by approaching it locally.
  4. The power that unlocks when purpose and technology blend.

Listen here:

What does Gen Z want from you in 2023?

By Kamber Parker, Founder & Young Professional Expert, The YoPro Know, LLC //

The main topic on every business leader’s mind right now is this:

How does Gen Z think and how will it impact my business? From how they work to how they spend, leaders want to know: what makes them tick and will it be positive or negative for their business?

Gen Z is made up of tweens, teens, and young adults who were born between 1996 and 2015. A wide spread, the Gen Z generation will make up more than half of the U.S. workforce with their millennial counterparts by 2030 (Jason Dorsey: Center For Generational Kinetics). What does this mean for businesses? It’s your job to understand their behaviors, their goals and desires, to create a successful space for them in the workplace.

In this post, we will cover just that. You earned their interest through gamification or innovative recruiting efforts (think: social media, moving away from the age-old job fairs), but now it’s time to figure out how to keep them engaged long-term.

Here are the top 3 things Gen Z wants from you in 2023.

  1. Stability. Gen Z is likely not going to be known as the “job-hopping” generation like their millennial counterparts, but there is a higher chance of them not being engaged in a post-pandemic world.
    • Pay them what they are worth. Many Gen Z-ers have watched their families experience previous recessions and witnessed the generation before them experience significant debt. They don’t want this, so if you can’t pay them a decent salary, you will not even be in the game next to your competitors.
    • Show them opportunities to grow. While you can’t give them a leadership role on day one, outline what their career trajectory can look like from the start. Setting expectations early on with help with building trust with your employees and team members, while setting them up for success.
    • Engage them through strong communication, education/training, and professional development. There is a plethora of information on this topic, but to learn more, visit our research here.
  2. Transparency. This is important to this generation because they have witnessed a very different world than some of us reading this grew up in. Most of them came of age during the pandemic, and as a result, they have experienced tension from something unprecedented in our society. They understand when company cultures are being transparent or not and when they recognize that, they leave.
    • Set expectations from day 1. When you are in the hiring process, ensure your recruiting communication is extremely clear.
    • Clear is kind. When talking about salary, benefits, time off, and work hours, be honest! 85% of the young professionals I’ve interviewed over the past 2 years say they have left a company because one of these expectations proved to be false about 6 to 9 months in.
    • Share vision and long-termplans for the company (depending on size, this can be challenging). Give them a sense of ownership and treat them like they will be there for a long time. Most companies don’t get this part right, but you CAN!
  3. Connectivity. While many want the opportunity to work from home – some time, not all the time – they still want to be connected.
    • If you have a hybrid schedule, encourage team members to all be in the office or site on the same day one day per week. This will create consistent face-time with peers and coworkers to build trust among the team.
    • If you only offer work-from-home, ensure there is still time to connect with each other in a meaningful way. Again, the pandemic resulted in less connectivity with other people and Gen Z does not want that. Consider coordinating lunch one day or a team-building exercise (I promise: Gen Z actually wants this these days!).
    • If you offer in-person work 100% and don’t have opportunities to give an at-home work structure, it’s important to note here that you will need to create some space for your Gen Z employees to provide flexibility. This looks different for everyone, but if you don’t offer it, they are more inclined to look for places that do.

Being intentional in your process can lead to thriving and retainable outcomes in your workforce. Take time to review and adapt your plans for 2023 to engage successfully with Gen Z.

Photo of Kamber Parker

About Kamber Parker: Kamber is the founder of The YoPro Know (2018), a platform designed to be the bridge between ambitious young professionals and the companies that wish to hire them and most importantly, retain them. Kamber has spent the last 5 years interviewing nearly 1,000 young professionals identifying their key struggles, successes, and ultimately, ways to make them more successful in the workplace. Her business offers consulting services for companies looking to increase young professional recruitment, retention, and engagement. She is a 40 Under Forty Recipient (2020), the Greenville Chamber Young Professional Of The Year recipient (2021), Jefferson Award Winner (2021), and Greenville Business Magazine’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under (2022). In her free time, she volunteers for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Board, Meals on Wheels, and is involved in the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals group. You can find her at The Commons, on the Swamp Rabbit Trail running, or Soul Yoga!

Meet Workforce Development’s Secret Ingredient: The Avatar

Do you know one reason so many jobs continue to go unfilled? Kids can’t “see” themselves working in them. They don’t know what opportunities exist, as we discuss here, and even when they do, certain careers might feel unachievable, unreachable. When a student can insert a representation of themselves into environments that exemplify industries like cybersecurity or the life sciences, they understand that they can have a place there.

Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields believes it is imperative that we meet our youth where they are when it comes to career awareness, specifically in minority populations. “Where do our youth spend most of their time? Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, video games, anywhere their phone goes. However, do our youth realize that computer scientists develop the software for these platforms and that computer engineers create and design the electronics that they enjoy so much?” The overall lack of STEM role models of color in media and entertainment is in part to blame, according to Acker. “The last time I watched a movie or TV show about a person of color who was a scientist, engineer, or mathematician was ‘Hidden Figures’ and that came out in 2016. Students need to see people who look like them portrayed in these fields.”

Enter the Avatar

The Proteus Effect describes a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worlds, is changed by the characteristics of their avatar. This change is due to the individual’s knowledge about the behaviors typically associated with those characteristics. Like the adjective protean (meaning versatile or mutable), the concept’s name is an allusion to the shape-changing abilities of the Greek god Proteus. The Proteus effect was first introduced by researchers Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailens at Stanford University in June 2007, as an examination of the behavioral effects of changing a user’s embodied avatar.

In another study conducted this year, researchers “consistently found … high degrees of congruence between the respective characteristics of the avatar, the actual self, and the ideal self.” Similarly, a 2019 study found that “people balancing the motives of self-verification and self-enhancement design their avatars to be similar to their real selves.” The fact that digital avatars most often reflect the user is critical knowledge for gamified technology designed to connect kids to careers and pathways—provided with the chance to present themselves how they wish, players take on an active role and self-realize in the game, especially within a safe environment void of biases or judgment.

This agency and expression is especially important for young players in minority groups who are often underrepresented in the workforce. Kids learn by watching and mimicking, so if they never see anyone who looks like them in a particular field, the possibility of that future is not easily imagined. Equipped with a DEI-minded avatar creator like in Cyber Watchdog or Rad Lab, though, students have the ability to visualize themselves in career environments, which puts them one step closer to attaining success and narrowing the skills gap.

When you play video games, do you customize your avatar to look like you, or someone different?

The Unprecedented Growth of Game-Based Learning

By the end of this year, there will be 79.6 million digital gamers in the US, or more than half of our population. Industry growth is accelerating thanks to heavy engagement of younger gamers (ages 13 to 17), 90% of whom classify themselves as gamers, and prefer video games over any other form of digital media, including music, videos and social media. 

Game-based learning is expected to be one the fastest-growing gaming markets, driven by the need to improve student education post-COVID. Considered an active learning technique, students are motivated and engaged in game-based learning because it’s unique, and the immediate feedback that learners and educators receive as a result is an important feature that both learners and educators benefit from more quickly than traditional methods. 

One of digital games’ most cognitively significant features includes simulations that allow students to get a firsthand experience with material. According to research, it’s better for students to come into direct contact with the reality they’re studying, instead of just reading, talking, and listening about it. We remember up to 90% of what we say and do, provided we are actively involved in real activities related to imitating experiences.

Additional benefits of game-based learning include: 

  1. Motivation: Students are the main characters in the story and their success is rewarded with medals, extra lives, bonuses, etc, holding their interest in learning.
  1. Opportunities to practice: Students can apply the knowledge they acquire without getting into dangerous situations, ie; flight and navigation simulators
  1. Quicker response times: Researchers at Rochester University reported that games improve troubleshooting skills by posing time-sensitive problems.
  1. Teamwork: The Institute for the Future reports that games boost teamwork in problem solving.
  1. Creativity, focus and visual memory: The University of California has found that games stimulate these aspects by setting goals that require concentration, imagination and remembering details to achieve them.
  1. Strategy and leadership: According to Pittsburgh University, video games put players in command, honing their abilities to resolve disputes, interact with other players and make decisions.
  1. Critical thinking: Monterrey Institute of Technology published an article underlining the underlying ethical, philosophical and social basis of these games, and their ability to make players think and improve their critical thinking.

Bain’s analysis forecasts that global revenue for games could grow by more than 50% over the next five years, suggesting that developers are banking on evidence that gaming will take consumers’ time from other forms of media and be the foundational platform for both other media and non-media experiences. 

Additionally, advancements in game engines are making it easier to develop higher-fidelity games, becoming a key development platform for other entertainment experiences, and improvements in 3-D graphics that transfer to applications in other industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and construction.

Considering game-based learning is just in its nascent stages based on most recent, post-pandemic circumstances, this means we can expect not just schools to embrace this medium for learning and training, but industry as well.

What’s one of your favorite digital learning games? We’d love to hear from you.

Skillsgapp Co-Founder And Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Cynthia Jenkins Joins Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate

Cynthia Jenkins, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of skillsgapp, a company that develops free-to-play mobile gaming apps that help middle and high school-aged+ youth achieve life-changing career awareness and localized pathway access, as well as develop the soft skills necessary to pursue jobs in skills-based industries through game-changing play, has announced a strategic partnership with the Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program, a pilot undertaken in Orange County, California.

The Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program seeks to close the gender equity gap by supporting young women through post-secondary education and networking into the workforce, ensuring that they can achieve influential leadership positions in the process.

Project Accelerate was funded by Equality Can’t Wait, an initiative launched by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation enterprise, to expedite progress toward gender equality in the U.S. The initiative garnered additional support from Mackenzie Scott and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, awarding $40 million to the organizations or coalitions of organizations offering the most compelling proposals to help expand women’s empowerment and influence in the U.S. by 2030. Read More.

Engaging Middle Schoolers in Career Education

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, 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?

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.

Use Case Podcast: Storytelling about skillsgapp with Tina Zwolinski

On this episode of The Use Case Podcast with William Tincup, Tina Zwolinski from skillsgapp talks about using the gamification of workforce development and recruitment for Gen Z applicants and employees. Listen here.

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.

  • Discover ways to engage with your workforce pipeline earlier
  • Scale career awareness and pathway access, especially for the underserved
  • Gain a competitive advantage for recruitment supported by meaningful data