Women Talk Construction: Episode 24-Erasing Stigmas with Tina Zwolinski

In this episode, Angela and Christi talk with Tina Zwolinski from Skillsgapp. Tina helped create a gaming app for youth that teaches various trade skills with the opportunity to see information about local companies that are hiring for those trade skills. Since so many young people are playing games on their mobile phones these days (90%), doesn’t it makes sense to target our youth with an app that can actually help them plan for their careers? This is a great way to erase the stigmas that surround the trade skills in our nation. Listen to find out how!

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.

Attracting Gen Z to a Career in Skilled Trades: An Insider’s Perspective

Joe Jenkins, a licensed flooring and general contractor in California, and husband of skillsgapp co-founder Cynthia Jenkins, sits down with skillsgapp to discuss his career in the skilled trades.

SKG: When did your journey into the trades start?

JJ: The day after I graduated high school, literally. My parents said, ‘You’re 18 now. Go find your way.’ So I drove to Colorado where a friend was a flooring contractor and started laying carpet.

SKG: Had you any experience or training before that?

JJ: No, I waited tables after school like most of us in those days. But there wasn’t really a future in that for me. Or anywhere, it felt like. I had barely graduated high school due to a learning disability, so I just went where opportunity took me.

SKG: So it was a default.

JJ: Back then construction was always considered a default. If you’re not a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, you’re a laborer. There was no high school curriculum offered in skilled trades back then, so it was clearly a Plan B.

SKG: How did you move from flooring to building?

JJ: I came back to California, got licensed and started my own flooring company with a showroom, crews and an office staff, which I ran for about ten years. And then I found I loved building, so I took classes, got licensed and “started over”, so to speak, and currently run a small, successful residential remodel business in Orange County, CA.

SKG: What would you tell kids who are considering a career in skilled trades?

JJ: Do it! I, personally, can’t find good, new talent and I know I’m not alone. This next generation solves problems differently than mine, they see things we don’t, they leverage resources we can’t, especially digitally

SKG: There are a few barriers for this next generation to consider a career in skilled trades – stigmas about compensation, quality of life, trajectory for growth. How would you respond to that?

JJ: Having a skill that the general public doesn’t have, but needs, is a pretty good position to be in. Plumbers, carpenters, and HVAC techs are making $50-$75 an hour to start right now. They can pick and choose their projects. They can go on vacation. There’s no being tethered to a desk in many of the trades. Or you can be in a more traditional office environment as a project manager, if that’s your preference. 

SKG: How would you suggest kids start?

JJ: Just like any career, you need training. Bridges can fall, pipes can burst and roofs can collapse if you don’t. High schools are offering great CTE programs, from CAD to welding to machine shop now. I’d advise trying one of those instead of, maybe, ceramics to fulfill an elective requirement. In my state, BUILD CA also has great resources for apprenticeships, training, and career pathways for those outside of school.

SKG: Last thoughts?

JJ: I married into a family of doctors, lawyers, and accountants with a lot of diplomas on the wall. Who’s the first person they call when they have an electrical, plumbing or foundation issue? Me.

Tina Zwolinski, CEO of workforce gaming apps company skillsgapp, appointed to Skilled Trades Alliance Academic Advisory Council

UpstateBizSC: Read Full Article

Tina Zwolinski, CEO of soft skills and middle-skills gaming app company skillsgapp, has been appointed to the Academic Advisory Council of the Skilled Trades Alliance, a national non-profit of public and private organizations dedicated to addressing the skilled trade deficit in the US through providing customized approaches to sectors in the available talent pool including veterans, those pursuing second careers, and the youth audience. Board members of the STA include leaders from 84 Lumber, Clemson University, and the SC Department of Commerce. The Academic Advisory Council’s efforts are focused on connecting with the K-12 market, reaching out to students, school counselors, educators, and their influencers. The council includes leaders with the National Center for Construction Education & Research, Greenville Technical College, and Tallo, a company that offers an online profile tool that matches student talent with potential jobs, scholarships, and apprenticeships. Read More