Closing the Skills Gap in 2023: How is America doing?

This is skillsgapp’s third annual installment. 

Last year we reported that the skills gap took a big hit in 2022, in part due to the Great Recession, when a near-record high of 4.2 million US workers left their jobs voluntarily in November alone. High-growth industries like Cybersecurity/IT, Aerospace and Skilled Trades took the brunt of that workforce deficit, each seeking employees with specific skill sets in place in order to perpetuate an ambitious rebound pace as the constraints of the pandemic softened.

A new report suggests that the lingering effects of the Great Resignation and pandemic are still impacting the skills gap in 2023, however, with 69% of HR respondents reporting that their companies currently have a skills gap, reflecting an increase from 55% the year prior. This prevailing workforce shortage, elevated by supply chain limitations, is reducing operational efficiency and margins for manufacturers, specifically, who are still on track for a workforce shortage of 2.1 million over the next seven years, equating to a $1.2 trillion loss in revenue.

According to Deloitte’s 2023 Manufacturing Industry Outlook, addressing the tight labor market and workforce churn is expected to remain a top priority for manufacturers this year. Despite a record level of new hires, job openings in the industry are still hovering near all-time highs. Lack of employee development initiatives and resources for training are likely to blame as big culprits in the skills gap. Non-competitive compensation, inability to quickly adapt to technological change, and shifts in company strategies and product offerings were also noted as contributors. 

The biggest post-pandemic impact on the skills gap, however, is arguably the kinds of skills now needed to be employable in manufacturing. Surpassing previous years, the demand for soft skills rose for 48% of organizations surveyed, while 33% now need fewer hard skills. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, the biggest priority on hard skills training relates to analytics this year. Another report adds digital communication and project management to that list. The good news is those can be taught, along with technical skills. The bad news is those constantly change. Soft skills, by contrast, remain with a person throughout their career, and if they already have them, employers don’t have to train them. As a result, they can more easily hit the ground running and make valuable contributions to a company. 

According to a report by MAU Workforce Solutions, these are the most in-demand soft skills in manufacturing:

Top Five Soft Skills in Manufacturing for 2023:

1. Communication
Manufacturing employees are often seen as lone wolves, but no one is isolated when working in a thriving manufacturing plant. Collaboration, conflict mitigation, and effective communication are key in avoiding poor performance as well as unsafe working conditions. 

2. Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills are important in any job, but are especially necessary for manufacturing where one person’s inability to work with others well can take down the entitre team’s performance. 

3. Timeliness
This skill seems simple, however, it’s lacking en masse. If deadlines aren’t met, it can cause huge delays in shipment, making this soft skill one of the most important in manufacturing. 

4. Adaptability/Problem-Solving
In an ideal world, machines run smoothly, parts that need assembly would always be pristine, and products would always be shipped on time. But in manufacturing, if it can go wrong it will, and at the worst time possible.

5. Attention to Detail
There are a lot of moving parts in manufacturing, so it’s important for employees to keep up with the details. Losing sight of the small stuff can lead to some dangerous situations.

From the pandemic to the Great Resignation and remote working, to economic and geopolitical uncertainty, the issues that have burdened industry are going nowhere in 2023. But with the 2M+ million workforce shortage looming overhead, none should be manufacturers’ top priority. Instead, according to Lisa Caldwell with EY, focusing on addressing a talent challenge unlike anything we’ve seen in the past should be priority #1.

What skill do you most value when hiring?

Certifications v. Degrees: Experts Weigh In

According to qualifications assessor, Andrew Smith, the debate between the employable value of certifications versus diplomas is pointless, yet one that persists among industry year after year. On one hand, he argues, degrees are the foundation for a lifelong learning journey and supports career progression. Certifications, on the other hand, reflect more of a micro view of a person’s measurable aptitude within a skills-oriented domain. 

In other words:

Degrees = A good measure of a person’s long-term capability within a given discipline Certifications = a good measure of professional capability and immediate employability.

As we look at the current unfilled workforce crisis at hand, the valuation of either one is perhaps best quantified through the lens of simple math.

We don’t have a people problem in filling our workforce, but a skilled people problem, specifically within industries like healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing, where Bachelor’s Degrees are not typically required for most jobs. For a competitive advantage in today’s immediate job market, certifications should have a huge leg up on the more traditional post-secondary pathways, including the fact that those assessments adapt to the workforce landscape typically faster than academic institutions do. 

As such, many high schools have implemented hands-on CTE programs that provide students with real-world experience in those industries right around them, offering internships and other work-based learning opportunities to help students gain experience right out of high school. But the extent to which they can do this varies depending on a variety of factors, such as the location of the school, the resources available, and the preferences of the students and families. 

So as the discussion surrounding which post-secondary path to take persists, does our skills gap. Indeed the percentage of high schools promoting more diverse post-secondary pathways is increasing as educators and policymakers recognize the importance of preparing students for a variety of career paths, but is it fast enough to make an impact when we need it most?

Are you considering hiring for skills versus degrees? We’d love to hear from you below!

“STEMINISM”: Women play a key role in filling the STEM Gap

According to Italian experimental particle physicist and first-ever woman General Director of CERN, Fabiola Gianotto, “Science has no passport, no gender, no race, no political party…science is universal and unifying.”  However, according to the American Association of University Women, women still make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with a particularly high gender gap in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering.

Gender Stereotypes

STEM fields are typically viewed as masculine, yet the concept of a “math brain” shows no cognitive biological differences between men and women. According to a study conducted by Stanford, boys from higher-income and predominantly white areas did perform significantly higher in math, even compared to girls attending those same schools. However, girls score higher than boys in math in lower-income, predominantly African American areas, which account for 25% of our school districts. Why the disparity? One administrator from a predominantly white district observes, “Teachers, who are predominantly women, may have math anxiety from their own childhood stigmas, and they assume girls need to work harder to achieve the same level as boys.” The response was different when the same question was asked of a predominantly African American elementary school. “We know that STEM fields tend to perpetuate male-dominated cultures that may not support women and minorities, but my students don’t yet. They just do their math.”

Underrepresentation in the Workforce

Girls have fewer role models to inspire their interest in STEM fields, seeing limited examples of female scientists and engineers in books, media and popular culture. There are even fewer Black women role models in math and science. Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields reports, “The last time I watched a movie or TV show about a person of color who was a scientist, engineer, or mathematician was ‘Hidden Figures’ and that came out in 2016.” Which is in part to blame for the fact that by the time students post-secondary, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors — in fact, only around 21% of engineering majors are women and only around 19% of computer and information science majors are women.

Did You Know?

  • Nearly 80% of the healthcare workforce are women, but only about 21% of health executives and board members are women, and only about a third of doctors.
  • 38% of women who major in computers work in computer fields, and only 24% of those who majored in engineering work in the engineering field.
  • Men in STEM’s annual salaries are nearly $15,000 higher per year than women 
  • Latina and Black women in STEM earn around $33,000 less than their male counterparts.
  • 11.5% of people employed in STEM fields were women of color, making up approximately one-third of all women in these fields. 
  • Only 19 of the 616 Nobel Prizes awarded between 1901 and 2019 in Physics, Science, Medicine and Physiology were awarded to women.

The future of STEM is female.

With women representing just shy of half of today’s workforce, you don’t have to have a math brain to know that the current gender gap doesn’t add up. 

Here are a few easy ways for educators and parents to close it.

  1. Scale back focus on STEM as higher education conversation, as the journey to a career in STEM starts much younger for both genders. The early stages of education are crucial to a child’s development, and don’t always involve a book. One study found that simply having a lack of friends in a computing class can decrease the probability of a girl studying the subject by up to 33%
  1. Promote engagement in technology at a younger age, which will help allow girls’ interests to develop free of societal bias. Educational institutions and governing bodies should embrace initiatives for children to become both familiar with and gain hands-on experience with technology
  1. Highlight female industry voices. Or better yet, be one. That same study found that 73% of high school girls with inspirational teachers said they were interested in studying computing. This figure fell to 26% for those who did not have an inspiring role model. One way this can be achieved is by establishing mentorship programs to show how women navigate these industries while learning from real female experiences. By promoting female leaders within STEM of all races and cultural backgrounds, women will feel that the industry is more accessible to them, as they see women like themselves succeeding in it.

Who is your favorite female in STEM?

WorkingNation: An avatar-guided career path

Using mobile gaming to help young students understand existing jobs

According to research, 95% of U.S. teens have access to a smartphone. Tina Zwolinski, co-founder and CEO of skillsgapp, says there is great opportunity to introduce young students – via their phones – to career options.

“Skillsgapp is a workforce pipeline initiative and the tool that we use as part of that initiative is mobile gaming,” explains Zwolinski. “We focus on middle school and high school ages. There’s a real opportunity through career awareness to help them navigate. High schoolers have to make decisions on what they’re going to do after school. Those are really important years of influence.”

In addition to soft skills, Zwolinski says game models – which not all have launched – focus on cybersecurity, aerospace, automotive, skilled trades, advanced manufacturing, agriculture, STEM, and life sciences.

Read More:

Enterprise Podcast Network: To Address the Great Resignation, Get in the Game – Skillsgapp and the Gamification of Career Development

Tina Zwolinski, the CEO and Founding Partner of Skillsgapp, along with Cynthia Jenkins the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Co-Founder joins Enterprise Radio. Skillsgapp is a host of game-changing workforce development technology.

Listen to host Eric Dye & guests Tina Zwolinski & Cynthia Jenkins discuss the following:

  1. So is Skillsgapp the result of the mobile app sensation meeting the stagnation of your typical HR department?
  2. Who is the target audience for Skillsgapp? What sectors would be receptive to adopting the Skillsgapp technology (for example, Skillionaire)?
  3. Does the Skillsgapp Team look to foster high-skills and STEM training through gaming?
  4. You both were successful marketers before starting Skillsgapp. What prompted the move and is it tough being ‘Women CEOs in tech in 2022’?
  5. Where do you see Skillsgapp in the future?

Listen to the podcast here.


Tina and Cynthia are the Co-founders of Skillsgapp, the first company to offer customized, location-based gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain career and pathway awareness along with the middle and soft skills necessary to participate in the skills-based jobs sector that includes manufacturing and other technical industries.

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.

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?

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

How The Great Resignation is a Great Opportunity for Manufacturers Looking to Recruit

The Great Resignation. The Great Reshuffle. Whatever the phrase, COVID-19 hit the global labor force big, and few industries have been spared. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record. The exodus is being driven by Millennials and Generation Z, says an Adobe study, who are more likely to be dissatisfied with their work. In fact, more than half of Gen Z reported planning to seek a new job within the next year.

Why? Because the last eighteen months have allowed everybody to rethink their careers, work conditions, and long-term goals. The top of the list? According to Jessica Schaeffer, vice president of LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm, more money, better benefits, and flexibility.

Ray Everett, CEO of Reward Solutions, adds that the lack of a clear path in employees’ career progression is one of the most common complaints he hears. The manufacturing sector can win big with Gen Z here, as a key complement to their employee value proposition is a huge trajectory for growth. 

Good News for Manufacturers Hiring Gen Z

More Money: The average hourly wage within manufacturing is a few pennies shy of $30, with project managers averaging $47 per hour, or between $92,500 per year and almost $98,000 per year.

Better Benefits: Many manufacturers, like auto innovator Tesla, provide health insurance, life insurance and disability protection, vision and dental coverage, a retirement plan, a stock purchase plan, short-term disability pay, long-term disability pay, and general employee assistance programs.

Flexibility: Contrary to the decades-long, “dirty hands” stigma, employees come first in today’s manufacturing. For instance, corporations like West Virginia’s Lockheed Martin offer education assistance, paid time off, and even smoking cessation and wellness programs.

Trajectory for Growth: A national workforce report has shown that “firms are more likely to promote internal employees for management positions. Overall, firms promoted 8.9 percent of employees.” The Chief Scientific Officer at Nephron says that her company’s culture “values hard work and career advancement. … [It’s] a place to start, develop, and succeed in your career.”

Reaching Gen Z

Reaching Gen Z – half of whom are looking to make a career move is priority #1 for American manufacturers today in order to close the skills gap projected to reach 2.4 million unfilled jobs through 2028. 

The National Association of Manufacturers recently took their recruitment show on the road as part of their Creators Wanted initiative, during which kids were visited in key locations to hear – and experience – firsthand the behind-the-scenes innovation and opportunity behind some of the cars they drive, pharmaceuticals they use, and the everyday products that make our world go around. 

Now imagine being able to scale this effort by meeting kids wherever they are, on their phones, at any time of day. According to techjury:

• There are 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world today

• Americans spend an 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.

• Career awareness and pathways can now be gamified, per region, per industry with trackable data not only for industry to recruit from but for states to secure their competitive advantage.

How are you rethinking and innovating your workforce recruiting to reach Gen Z? Share your ideas below with us.

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.

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