Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 1 of 3

Students Need More Career Support

In an independent survey conducted last month, high schoolers, college students, and recent graduates—in other words, Gen Z—have made their voices heard when it comes to careers… and the results show that our country desperately needs to better help students navigate their futures. A majority of the survey’s participants signal that they have not received the support necessary to make informed decisions about occupational choices. It’s clear that, in general, it’s as simple as students not knowing what opportunities exist.


High school responses

stats on career awareness for high school students
Takeaway:
  • High schoolers don’t feel adequately prepared to enter the workforce because most don’t know what career options are even available. This speaks to the percentage of current college students below who indicate they might have considered a vocation rather than immediate higher education.


College responses

stats on career awareness for college students
Takeaway:
  • Educational pathways need “a reset.” The problem expressed by the high schoolers of this survey (a lack of career awareness) bleeds into the responses of our Gen Z college students, suggesting that they, too, did not hear about pathways other than college.
  • Forbes Senior Contributor Robert Farrington advocates for trade schools in a recent article, begging parents to overcome the stigma that surrounds students’ skipping of a four-year education. “Trade school help[s] students land a job faster … [and] costs significantly less than traditional college,” he explains. “Plus, jobs in the trades are booming in general, whereas many other industries are oversaturated with new graduates looking for work.”


Graduate responses

stats on career awareness for high school graduates
Takeaway:
  • Few recent grads reported doing exactly what they had planned while in high school, illustrating the following recurring piece of advice that these same surveyees offered to the younger members of their generation: keep an open mind.
  • “Be flexible,” one response says. “Don’t stress, but be open to various opportunities and try things out until you find where you want to be.” Another suggested, “You can change your mind about what you want to do at any point! I’ve learned that your major doesn’t dictate what job you should pursue.”
  • With college graduates of all ages getting “hit [the] hardest by the pandemic,” the responses from the upper end of Gen Z show that they realize that higher education isn’t necessary for everyone. However, is it too little, too late?


Next steps

It’s clear that we as a society need to ensure that students are introduced to lifelong opportunities sooner. Kids want to know how they can use their interests and skills in the real world; it’s a sentiment that is all too familiar to middle- and high school teachers, who are consistently asked, “When will we use this in the real world?” Our future generations should be armed with the knowledge needed to start making decisions for themselves. 

We want students to enter the workforce confidently and passionately—not hesitantly or regretfully—having sufficiently explored their options beyond mom and dad’s advice of being a lawyer or doctor. Because there are so many high-paying “nontraditional” jobs going unfilled, Gen Z will need to branch out in many directions, but the only way they can do that is through exposure to different careers. As the next generation, their success is our success. We need to pay attention to their voices now and answer their earnest questions of, “What can my future even look like?” 

Part 2 of this series will explore opportunities for students in advanced manufacturing and skilled trades, as well as how we might best prepare Gen Z and all generations to come.

The Future of Video Games at Work: A New Norm for Attracting Gen Z Talent 

The last section of our recent article “It Pays to Play Video Games” touches on the utilization of gaming concepts and the emulation of video game experiences in hybrid/remote work, but there’s even more to that story. Due to the pandemic’s impact on office functionality, the aforementioned “video game experience” has been taken quite literally in some workplaces (and classrooms!) where forward-thinkers are successfully adopting video games into their culture in various ways. With about 86% of Gen Z using “mobile devices as gaming platforms,” all industries—from manufacturing to marketing—would be wise to pay attention to the trends of this up-and-coming workforce, lest they fall behind this tech-savvy generation. 

Keep reading to find out how games have helped to relieve Zoom fatigue, boost productivity, and bring professional teams together since 2020, and how they can continue to attract our country’s newest source of employees, Gen Z.

Gen Z expects digital solutions

It makes sense that modern workspaces are looking to video games for inspiration. First, more jobs have transitioned online and are already perfectly poised to utilize game-like digital spaces. Second, tech-loving Millennials—who themselves comprise a significant portion of the gamer demographic—are beginning to settle into occupations and management positions, bringing their Internet familiarity and tech expectations to the rest of their work. Third, Gen Z has grown up with computers and phones and are called “Zoomers” for good reason: much of their formative years have been moved to online platforms that will continue to grow as immersive workspaces.

Microsoft and Facebook have “both signalled [sic] that tech companies believe virtual reality is no longer just for gamers,” reads one recent article. “For some, the metaverse is the workplace of the future and the only way for colleagues to share immersive experiences with each other without physically being together.” For better or for worse, Gen Z expects a virtual future. 

Recruiters should embrace this anticipation and evolve to accommodate such a future. As this article on construction and technology shows, the “increased adoption of digital solutions has helped draw new talent.… Companies … are seeing the benefit that digital transformation brings, both in terms of productivity and recruitment.” Thus far, we have discussed recruitment of Gen Z in the ensuing workplace, so let’s briefly turn our attention to productivity in the current workplace.

Bring your own avatar

When everyone was stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, game environments became unlikely meeting locations—and even sanctuaries—for some teams. Bart Heird of WebMechanix mentions here that he and his team have “met up” in the safe space supplied by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They even matched their avatars with a custom clothing pattern that resembles their company logo.) Lewis Smithingham of MediaMonks also chills with employees and clients alike on his personal island. “My production value is now considerably better in Animal Crossing than it is on Zoom,” he says. Who knew that fishing for sharks beside someone’s avatar could lead to such positive results?

In a similar vein, author and artist Viviane Schwarz basically said, “Team meeting, but then make it cowboys.” Tired of the same-old video call setup, she started organizing meetings held in the wild landscape of Red Dead Redemption. She and her team would speak to each other over voice chat while controlling their individual characters gathered on-screen. “The main technical [hitch] we’ve had,” she explains in this Twitter post, “is that … sitting on the ground is the same button as attempting to strangle the nearest person. Still beats zoom.” It’s worked for Schwarz and her team because they enjoy games, have a sense of humor, and don’t always need to present visuals during their discussions. Schwarz jokes, “A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice, which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they’re trying to sign off.”

Executives upping their game at work

Schwarz’s teammates aren’t the only ones riding off into a sunset of pixels. One executive shares how he capitalized on the thrill of Grand Theft Auto to attract and engage an elusive analyst with whom he’d been trying to schedule a meeting for months. It worked. Soon enough, the executive and the analyst were tearing through a virtual Los Angeles for some high-speed fun (and business talk). The New York Times article that covers this story relays, “Eager for an alternative to Zoom, executives are getting together in video games to bond, brainstorm[,] or rampage”—sometimes all at once. Ben Decker, the head of Microsoft’s game services marketing, further demonstrates this sentiment. He often sets sail in the shared online world of Sea of Thieves, routinely joining a Discord executive for discussions amongst a healthy dose of piracy. 

The Times article explains that the goal of this non-traditional meeting style is to “break up a day that is crammed with that … look, sound[,] and feel identical.” What they refer to as an “outing in virtual space” is like the modern business person’s golf round or cafe meet-up: it’s an opportunity to combine work with play and either kickstart relationships with new partners or collaborate with old ones.

Business leaders who combine collaboration and video games have managed to simultaneously seal deals, train new hires, and introduce some fun directly into work. It’s true that smaller teams benefit the most from joining up in-game, but in this new world of distanced collaboration, anyone can profit from the occasional unconventional approach to collaboration and skills development. Riding through the Wild West or fishing on a tropical island probably sound like refreshing alternatives to constant calls or emails.
 

It’s manufacturing’s turn to play

Executives like Decker and team leaders like Schwarz prove that anyone can be a gamer. They also prove that the virtual spaces of games can provide much more than passive entertainment. The fact that digital environments are being used to connect employees and employers shows just how pervasive games are in everyone’s daily lives. They’re here to stay; if you want to remain relevant, and if you want to recruit Gen Z, find a way to incorporate video game technology or concepts into your modern business. 

As the manufacturing industry in particular focuses more and more on innovatively navigating the future of recruitment and workplace dynamics, the key to eradicating Gen Z’s misguided preconceived notions of certain career environments will be the leveraging of game-like technology. Right now the medium of gaming is revolutionizing the workspace of the manufacturing industry, and games are already credited with boosting key soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity. It’s time to stop viewing virtual environments as a juvenile space for mindless experiences and start realizing its exciting, immersive, and engaging potential for a tech-minded workforce.

Video games will continue to influence work spaces, sometimes through literal games and more often through the technology of them. It’s manufacturing’s time to match Gen Z’s enthusiasm for video games. It’s possible to design the workday to maximize engagement, and it’s possible to build tools for the job that match the controllers/interfaces familiar to Gen Z; this article has illustrated how both can and have been done in the modern workplace. Don’t get left behind. If you can attract Gen Z talent with digital solutions, and if you can improve your team’s remote experience, you can stay ahead of the game.

Care to share some of your strategies for keeping up with Gen Z and new tech norms?

How the Pandemic Shifted Gen Z’s Perception of Manufacturing Careers

According to a recent survey, there was a quantifiable uptick in Gen Z’s perception of manufacturing, revealing that of the 1,000 surveyed, 56% said their views on manufacturing changed because of the pandemic, with 77% reporting they view manufacturing as more important. The survey also showed that 54% of respondents said they had not considered a job in frontline manufacturing prior to the pandemic, but 24% are now open to the idea. 

However.

The majority (52%) still remain disinterested or neutral in frontline manufacturing work; of those, 30% are concerned it might be a “low-skilled, manual job.”

Smarter technology in manufacturing

We currently live in an age where technology in the manufacturing world is changing at rates that it never has before. Matt Kirchner, president of LAB midwest, a leading distributor of curriculum, eLearning, and hands-on training equipment for advanced manufacturing, recently shared the biggest automation need for Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture manufacturer of the world’s. The top tier competencies when hiring new team member, according to him – whether from a technical college or from a university – is understanding not just the component technologies, but how to integrate a robot with a conveyor with smart sensors and smart devices; how to integrate a robot-loaded machining center into a manufacturing operation; how to connect these systems to work together in concert; and then communicate with a computer network so that they can use that data in real time. 

As we face the mass exodus of the silver tsunami in manufacturing, whose job descriptions bore nary a robot-loaded, smart anything, it’s fair to say that the future of our couches, cars, and cancer treatments now lie in the next generation’s hands.

Talent recruitment is still a challenge

Here’s the good news: Gen Z loves technology, robots, and smart devices. They also love companies with purpose. Even better news? Advanced manufacturing categorically checks all of these boxes.

So why the aforementioned ‘meh’ from 52% of your future talent pipeline?

1. Lack of understanding. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor, according to President and CEO of L2L, Keith Barr.

2. Lack of support. 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.

3. Lack of exposure. Current industry recruitment efforts are difficult to scale. The National Association of Manufacturers recently took their recruitment show on the road as part of their Creators Wanted initiative, during which kids were invited to experience firsthand the innovation and opportunity behind some of manufacturing’s biggest players, but only about 20 kids at a time, one city at a time.

A new way to attract Gen Z

If you’re selling them a future in technology (you are), you need to use technology. According to techjury, 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. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the manufacturing industry to consider leveraging this medium to scale its outreach efforts in order to capitalize on Gen Z’s unique skills and interests – no matter where they are. By transforming career awareness, training pathways, and job opportunities into engaging mobile technology, states, industry, and education can revolutionize how the next generation engages in – and views – skills-based careers at an earlier age.

What is your biggest challenge in filling your talent pipeline?

Smartphones Can Change the Game in Catching Up Gen Z

Statistically speaking, one out of two of you is holding a phone right now. And if you’re not, you’re likely about to, as most mobile users check their phones 63 times a day.

Smartphone Usage: Going (and Growing) Strong

From texting to social media to streaming Netflix, the functionality of phones make it nearly impossible to put one down. Over this past year, the prowess of digital technology served as our tether to maintaining an education, connecting with loved ones, and even receiving healthcare. And if they say 21 days make a habit, try 365 of them. It’s safe to say, smartphones will remain snug in the palms of our hands.

According to techjury:
• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today
• Americans spend and 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.

Another study reported that electronic device usage nearly doubled among U.S. kids during the pandemic.

chart on phone usage during COVID

Gaming is a Good Thing

So just what are our kids doing on their phones all day?

According financesonline, 75% of Gen Zers selected smartphones as their device of choice for everyday use, with 58% reporting playing games as their favorite pastime. That’s a lot of game time. The COVID-19 lockdown played a big part in this, of course, as mobile gaming helped serve as the universal antidote to the just-as-contagious side effect of the virus, boredom.

Games just may be the unsung hero over this past year, as they influenced our kids positively in different ways. Gaming makes us more competitive, for example, which means better problem-solvers. They can also enhance critical thinking, and expand our community beyond our four walls with those with similar interests.  

Take Pokémon GO, where users navigate the real world using an in-game map that allows them to visit “PokéStops”. While the app may appear to play to the wanderlust, one recent study’s findings reported respondents feeling more social, and expressed more positive emotions with increased motivation to explore their surroundings.” This reflects the opposite of the stigma associated with video games, in part, because these are mobile.

Mobile games can go where parents and educators can’t: Everywhere our kids go. So with learning loss at an all-time high due to the pandemic, maybe it’s ok that our kids are looking down at their phones, if they’re playing games that can teach them something meaningful … especially the ones that encourage them to play with a hire purpose.

Youth Apprenticeship Advantage: South Carolina

With America’s ever-growing skills gap, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly more important. Below is a feature on one state that’s using apprenticeships to its advantage. The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Apprenticeship Carolina in South Carolina $4.49 million over the course of four years to expand youth apprenticeships with 800 new youth apprentices and 230 youth pre-apprentices in high-growth industries in SC. These efforts are great strides toward building a qualified workforce pipeline and with the addition of mobile technology, we will be set to reach more youth talent. 

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

Written by: Kelly Steinhilper,
Vice President, Communications, SC Technical College System

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while employers create a happy workforce where they can groom from an early age.

Apprenticeship Carolina™ helps companies in South Carolina set up successful youth apprenticeship programs. In general, here’s how it works. High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. MIS developed its cybersecurity youth apprenticeship program with two clear goals in mind: to grow a more robust information technology (IT) work base in Charleston, South Carolina, and to provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

As a service-disabled, veteran-owned and -operated IT security business, MIS looked for ways to give back to the local community soon after its founding in North Charleston in 2016. MIS saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal with the 2019 announcement that Trident Technical College (TTC) would establish a new associate degree in cybersecurity.

MIS agreed to partner with TTC and Apprenticeship Carolina to develop a registered cybersecurity youth apprenticeship, becoming the first cybersecurity company in North Charleston to have apprentices enrolled at the college. 

Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, has nothing but good things to say about apprenticeship and this dynamic partnership’s potential. When asked what inspired MIS to consider creating a youth apprenticeship program, McLeod responded, “We saw the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions, not just locally but worldwide, and we wanted to make a difference. There are 3 million openings worldwide and not nearly enough graduates to fill them. We knew that fresh, innovative approaches had to be taken to meet those workforce needs.” 

She continued, “At the same time, we looked at IT courses offered in local high schools. We saw that schools were not adequately equipping students to step out into the IT market, let alone the cybersecurity career field.” 

After speaking with Charleston County School District and Apprenticeship Carolina, MIS realized that with youth apprenticeship they could do both – grow a stronger IT work base and provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

McLeod reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

As for the youth apprentices, it allows them to learn and progress in a career field to which they are generally not exposed. For instance, high school student Arthur Gibson, one of McLeod’s youth apprentices, shared that learning code was like learning a new language, and he loves it. When asked about the benefit of apprenticeship for high school students, Gibson said, “It shows you that education is not a tunnel but a road with many paths…the hands-on learning connects all the bookwork to the real world.” 

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.