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A survey we recently conducted amongst high school students illustrates what outdated perceptions still dominate young opinions of the industry: when asked what words they associate with manufacturing, they responded with phrases like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.

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.

International Business Times: Gaming Your Way To Well-Paying Jobs

By Duggan Flanakin  // For at least 2,500 years, recreational gaming has been blamed by some for the moral and intellectual decline of societies. The Buddha himself is reported to have said that “some recluses…while living on food provided by the faithful, continue addicted to games and recreations; that is to say…games on boards with eight or with 10 rows of squares.”

However recently, many have come to see great opportunities for turning video gaming into a positive activity, even one that brings real-world benefits. Adam Uzialko writes that while video games are often seen as a parent’s worst nightmare, an avid gamer can turn the “nightmare” into a lucrative career. Uzialko’s focus was limited largely to jobs in the gaming industry, though he did suggest that top gamers often do well in information technology.

Today, half of the four million who quit jobs during the “great resignation” are millennials and Generation Z.

Many of them are looking for jobs with better benefits, higher pay, flexibility, and fulfillment, but all too often in the wrong places. Only three in 10 parents, for example, consider manufacturing as a good career path for their children. Lack of knowledge and misconceptions about the trades can lead parents to steer their kids away from these programs, when vocational training might be a surer path to a stable job. Read More.

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.

Closing the skills gap in 2022: How is America doing?

Following the pandemic and the subsequent Great Resignation, the skills gap is as wide as it was last year (and only widening) as employers seek skill sets that much of the workforce lacks or will lack. If something doesn’t change in how we equip our next workforce generation with marketable skills in manufacturing and tech/IT careers, experts predict that by 2030 the talent shortage is expected to total a loss of $8.5 trillion in the US alone. Three industries, in particular, have seen tremendous growth in recent years and are facing high demand for workforce-ready talent: cybersecurity, aerospace, and the skilled trades. 

1. Cybersecurity

The past year has seen an alarming spike in cyberattacks, with ransomware attacks alone accounting for 623.3 million attacks worldwide, according to the widely referenced SonicWall yearly cyber threat report. As their headline for 2022’s report states, “Our future will increasingly belong to the proactive,” so cybersecurity is a field in which no one in the US can afford to fall behind; it’s not even enough to stay current anymore. 

Cybersecurity thought leader Chuck Brooks expresses in a January Forbes article that “cyber perils are the biggest concern for companies globally in 2022.” This pervasive concern means that cybersecurity professionals are in demand in every single industry across the nation. Unfortunately, though, the demand is not being met. A key witness to this cybersecurity skills gap around the country is the president and vice chairman for Microsoft, who recounts in his article from last fall, “As one person put it, ‘Every small business and start-up I know is complaining they can’t find people with cybersecurity skills.’” Although he moved from state to state, he says that the need to close the skills gap remained a constant talking point—and worry—for businesspeople.

The workforce shortage compounds the many challenges already faced in the rapidly changing landscape of cybersecurity. Microsoft’s vice president and lead of philanthropies, Kate Behncken, explains in a piece from this past March, “There simply aren’t enough people with the cybersecurity skills needed to fill open jobs.” In an effort to spread awareness of cybersecurity’s workforce needs, Microsoft recently launched a campaign in partnership with community colleges across the US, aiming to “help skill and recruit … 250,000 people by 2025, representing half of the country’s workforce shortage.”

The world needs cybersecurity professionals, and although steps are being taken to skill the newest generation of workers, America must make it a priority; “no one organization can close this gap alone,” the World Economic Forum warns, reminding us that the curbing of cyber threats “will require active and ongoing participation and partnership” from everyone. Cybersecurity still faces a critical skills gap whose worsening will deteriorate the strength of our country and compromise all of our futures. 2022 is the year to emphasize the daily impact of cyber threats and introduce cybersecurity opportunities to students so that they can enter the workforce with the skills required to defend the US.

2. Aerospace

The aerospace industry is another sector that is enjoying growth at the same time it faces a stagnation of trained employees. “A huge skills gap is emerging,” says Tech Times’s David Thompson, reporting on the 2022 Space Symposium, “now that the space industry is becoming a commercial endeavor, funding is increasing, and more startups are developing their own capabilities.” Part of the problem is that by the time traditional training methods have prepared a worker, the industry has already evolved. As Thompson points out, “the slow pace of academic teaching” and the current “time-consuming on-the-job training models” do not output “qualified space personnel fast enough, and the industry is suffering as a result.” 

The labor shortage comes at a time when aerospace is starting to soar again after the effects of the pandemic. Thompson relays, “Government organizations like the Department of Defense and NASA no longer have a monopoly on the stars.” This exciting development for the industry ensures even more growth to come—in both the “space” and the “aero” categorizations. Aerospace Manufacturing and Design says in their 2022 forecast that the demand for “business aircrafts” has quickly returned, “with utilization recently passing 2019 peak levels.” It is expected for air traffic to return to its 2019 peak early next year.

But as the aerospace industry recovers from the hits it took in 2020 and 2021, skilled professionals who possess crucial expertise are exiting the workforce and opening holes that employers struggle to fill fast enough. 

What’s the right direction for aerospace? Businesses are bridging the resulting gaps in two ways: through professional development efforts and digital solutions that “extend their teams and upskill current employees,” according to Eric Brothers, senior editor of Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. National organizations like Nova Space online and regional programs like Boeing’s DreamLearners in South Carolina hope to train and develop the next generation of aerospace experts who can close the skills gap.

3. Skilled Trades

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that the skilled trades will experience a continued rise in job openings through 2030. However, as with cybersecurity and aerospace, “there’s a massive shortage of qualified tradespeople,” as Forbes expresses in an article aiming to empower vocational educators and therefore close the skills gap. Steve Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, would agree that our current approach to education is part of the problem. “The federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep,” he says on NPR. “This funding gap for career training is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline for preparing new craft and construction professionals.” However, while building support within schools is certainly valuable, it’s not enough alone to bring new professionals to the trades. 

Why do trade careers struggle to recruit Gen Z? In a virtual interview with LCPTracker, Erin Volk of the AGC Construction Education Foundation identifies the problem: misperceptions. Volk is the Vice President, Workforce & Community Development lead, and Executive Director of AGC, so she is all too well familiar with the inaccurate portrayal of construction and other skilled trades. She explains that members of Gen Z are “digital natives” who, “throughout their whole lives, [have] been marketed to,” and the messages they’ve heard from the media are that “construction is not a lucrative career” and “you have to go to college to be successful.” In fact, data collected by Stanley Black & Decker last fall reveals four main contributors to the skills gap in trade careers: the “misunderstanding of long-term financial security, incorrect knowledge of required skills, lack of exposure to those in trade skills careers, [and] observation of trades as a ‘male-dominated’ industry.” Stanley Black & Decker and Volk have witnessed this lacking education about the trades at work (or, rather, not at work) and are doing something about it.

Enter Build California, the project that Volk describes as “designed to inspire, engage, and activate the next generation of [the] construction workforce.” Build California seeks to educate Californians of all ages about the state’s construction industry, including both the short- and the long-term benefits of such a career. According to the Build California website, the initiative provides “sustainable and stable pathway[s] for millions of residents across the Golden State.” 

Volk, her team, and industry leaders like her battle every day against the stigmas that keep people from construction and other skilled trades, working to widen access to reliable information about construction and economic advancement and—ultimately—increase the numbers of professionals in the field. “It’s difficult to do,” Volk says, “because there’s decades of [misperceptions] to undo,” but it’s a struggle whose overcoming will benefit us all. 

Looking ahead

Each of the above industries boasts well-paying careers and stable futures, but it’s clear that the skills and interests of the available workforce are not aligned with industry needs. For the term ‘skills gap’ to be removed from workforce development vernacular once and for all, industry, regions and departments of education need to work together on how to communicate with, prepare and engage the next workforce generation…quickly.

What are your best practices in closing the skill gap in your industry?

Gen Z Talks “Skilled” Careers: What They Wish They Knew – 2 of 3

Opportunities in Advanced Manufacturing and Skilled Trades

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. In the first post of this three-part series, they’ve exposed a major deficiency in the modern education system: a lack of career awareness and readiness. This second article in the series will be underscoring a different contributor to the same problem and discussing its past, present, and future as we strive to prepare our up-and-coming workforce for satisfying, successful futures.

Outdated assumptions are keeping students from meaningful careers

It turns out that students in middle school, high school, and college are still severely impacted by old industry notions and stigmas. The campaign that arose a few decades back to work smarter and not harder has actually hurt the future of the workforce. We’ve internalized the message over the years, separated “hard” work from “smart” work, and—consequently—steered too many young students away from prosperous futures. Our nation’s “overreliance on this concept” has shaped perceptions of white-collar jobs vs. blue-collar jobs, deeming the former more valuable and desirable than the latter. 

So while it’s true that many students aren’t given enough information about future careers, it’s also true that the information they are intaking about professions like advanced manufacturing and skilled trades are outdated or misguided. 

The perceptions vs. the facts 

Here’s what Gen Z had to say…

Manufacturing perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

High school students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “manufacturing”:

College students perceptions of manufacturing jobs

Manufacturing realities

  • Good pay. As of March 17th, 2022, the average salary for a worker in advanced manufacturing is $76,258.
  • Supporting our country. “Rebuilding our manufacturing economy is an essential component to strengthening our communities and creating opportunity for all Americans,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says.
  • Supporting you. “Contrary to the decades-long, ‘dirty hands’ stigma, employees come first in today’s manufacturing,” we explain in this article. “Corporations like West Virginia’s Lockheed Martin offer education assistance, paid time off, and even smoking cessation and wellness programs.”

Skilled trades perceptions

We asked high schoolers to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”: 

High school students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

We asked college students to list some words that come to mind when they hear “skilled trades”:

College students perceptions of skilled trades jobs

Skilled trades realities

What can we do? 

Because a staggering “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,” most high schoolers are not adequately aware of potential professions, so college seems like a necessity to them. We’re doing a disservice to the younger end of Gen Z, and we’ll continue to fail the generations after them if we don’t change the American belief of “no college, no future.” We need to help students understand their options sooner, because there are plenty out there! “Vocational education is an effective path to prosperity and self-reliance,” as Forbes explains, and it is a path that deserves to be explored by more students, parents, and advisers.

Yes, something needs to change—but it is starting to, with efforts like skillsgapp’s to educate our students on pathways and opportunities. Tina Zwolinski, founder and CEO of skillsgapp, offers three solutions to the problem of workforce development, listing greater broadband access, a reset of educational expectations, and innovations in recruitment and the workplace to reach Gen Z.  

Guidance counselors, let’s really emphasize career planning in high school. Teachers, let’s link students’ interests and talents to real-life applications. Parents, let’s move away from the bachelor’s-degree-or-fail mindset. Industry leaders, make sure you’re reaching these students. We can equip this incoming workforce with better career awareness—if we listen to the concerns and aspirations of Gen Z’s many voices. 


In the third and final part to this series, we’ll have a chance to hear directly from members of Generation Z as they ask important questions and offer advice to others of their age.

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 IEDC Economic Development Journal – Winter 2022 – “A Hundred-Year Event” and the Perfect Storm for U.S. Manufacturing: What’s Causing the Escalating Skills Gap and What Tools Can Economic Developers Use to Address It?

The soft skills and middle level skills gap in manufacturing is escalating due to challenges from past decades, plus the more immediate emphasis on reshaping the supply chain through re-shoring and other means. This article explores the causes and provides solutions that economic developers and other stakeholders can use in tandem, coupled with adding use of game-changing virtual training tools. Download the Winter Economic Development Journal Here – pages 34-40 article feature

Manufacturing Talk Radio – Episode 635: Accelerating Manufacturing Training Through Gaming

In this episode of Manufacturing Talk Radio, Tina Zwolinski, CEO and Founding Partner of skillsgapp, discusses how manufacturers can get the next workforce generation engaged with manufacturing career and pathway awareness and skills development through mobile gaming designed to meet manufacturer’s workforce needs.

Manufacturing Talk Radio blog image

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?