How to Compete in Workforce Readiness…and Win.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent for skills-based careers, we don’t have a people problem, we have a skilled people problem. From aerospace and automotive to life sciences and cybersecurity/IT, this isn’t a new issue, even post-pandemic. In fact, US manufacturing activity surged to a 37-year high in March, with more than half a million jobs to fill.

This skills gap makes the ability for states to compete in industry recruitment fierce because on the top of every prospect’s list before they make their selection is: CAN YOU MEET MY WORKFORCE NEEDS

Companies want to know:

1. How did your state support workforce readiness for companies before them?

2. What skill sets are available in your state?

3. How are you addressing workforce development in K-12 to keep their pipeline going?

4. How are your business and education communities working together?


For most states, the answer to most of the above is, ‘not enough’. According to a study just published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, there will still be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030, costing our economy up to $1 trillion.  

“During my 30-year-career in economic and workforce development, there’s never been a more critical time to re-evaluate how we approach career awareness, skills development, and recruitment for America’s labor workforce. Doing more of what we did yesterday simply won’t work for the labor force of today…or tomorrow.” 

–Jerry Howard, President, InSite Consulting
Past President and CEO, Greenville Area Development Corporation

Innovate for tomorrow’s workforce, today.

A move for a company is risky if the workforce can’t scale quickly or be sustainable for the long haul. Today’s workforce also commands diversity, which means rural reach also has to be cracked finally. So as those at the helm of economic and workforce development efforts are tasked with more questions on how to attract and retain workforce-ready talent today and for years to come, they need to look for those answers from the 67.17 million talent pool they’re trying to recruit: Gen Z.

According to a study published in Forbes, 33% of kids who play video games say it inspired future careers, including science. Carnegie Mellon goes on to report that interactive activities are 6x more likely to help students learn. This means there’s a real opportunity here to collide career awareness and preparedness with gaming. And while educational gaming isn’t a new concept, games kids want to play with real word incentives for a better future, is.

chart of gen z stats


It’s a numbers game.

Today, 95% of 13-17-year-olds have access to a cell phone, even in rural areas. Ninety percent classify themselves as gamers, and 63% are concerned about jobs and unemployment. On top of all that, a majority feel their education should not be limited to the classroom, and that business should be stepping up to offer new forms of learning

By transforming skills development, career awareness, and job opportunities into mobile gaming technology, states, industry, and education can revolutionize how the next generation engages in – and views – skills-based careers at an earlier age.

A community has to have a skilled workforce to sustain a thriving community where people can live, work, and play. And according to a recent Site Selectors Guild’s conference, those states who lead the way, win.  

Game on.

K-12: Much Ado About Congressional Funding

With the House’s approval of the American Rescue Plan Act, K-12 district and state education agencies were just lobbed a $126 billion pot of gold to help eradicate the negative impact of the pandemic on our kids. Most notably, for learning loss and returning to school safely, for which states are mandated to reserve 5% of their funding, and districts 20%, specifically for those Title 1 schools with a high concentration of under-resourced communities.

That’s about $520 per student for learning loss alone, but, unfortunately, researchers estimate it would cost five times that to provide the resources needed to really catch them up. This translates into intensive tutoring, summer school, extended day school and our more traditional methods (and salaries) of in-class, en-masse instruction.

But the pandemic is still here. And even for those districts who have opened, not all parents are sending their kids back full time. Here’s the other issue: For one year, school curriculum has “come to them”, on their ChromeBooks, laptops, iPads and phones, and for the most part, they got used to it. So much so,  American teens spend an average of nine hours a day in front of screens today, and more than seven of those are spent on mobile phones. Are they all spent doing homework? No. But as educators evaluate how to maximize efficiencies of catching our kids up, a case can be made for a ‘‘fish-where-the-fish-are’ strategy by continuing to leverage this teachable medium with meaningful content they care about, and will engage in.

A New, Digital Day

The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” And while under-resourced areas have suffered from limited access to WiFi over this last year, the federal government is also providing $3.2 billion to an emergency broadband connectivity fund as part of the bill, making accessibility soon to be a non-issue. 

While the value of in-person instruction and socialization should persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and our kids adapted. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, the largest geographical county in the nation saw this first hand earlier this year. Hosting its annual, multi-district, STEMapalooza event virtually for the first time, engagement was a concern, as was support for their communities’ STEM-related career pathways. Enter ‘Hack Out BL4CKOUT’, a customized cybersecurity video game deployed at the event to be played from their mobile devices and Chromebooks, simulating real cyber events with a focus on critical thinking, communication, and cyber career facts. Over 3,000 hours of play were logged that day with kids’ asking for more.  Exit survey verbatims from 4th-8th graders who attended the event  ranged from, “WOW, I  had no ideaI I could be making $80,000 a year doing something I love when I grow up” to,  “Maybe I’ll go to a Cyber camp.”

Gamifying curriculum isn’t a new concept, but gamifying skills you can use toward grades, in-class rewards, and even a career – and can go wherever you go – is. This is especially important when considering reaching under-resourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard during the pandemic.

So if other state agencies and school districts can find a sustainable way to engage Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that can entertain and educate by meeting them where they are – on their phones – that learning loss cost per student will be a lot more doable. 

And more fun.