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?

Looking For Employees with Soft Skills? Recruit Gamers.

Attracting talent with all the tech or hard skills you need represents just about any industry’s greatest pain point. But those are teachable. What’s harder are those employable skills that correlate with a human’s dynamic capacity to feel and respond. And contrary to the stereotype, those who game represent an untapped pool with such skills that are going overlooked.  Esports journalist, Travis Gafford, vehemently refutes what many of us are thinking. “Gamers,” he attests, “are not antisocial basement-dwellers. They’re leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.” There’s no question that games promote problem solving, presenting players with a variety of challenges and obstacles that they must overcome in order to progress. But empathy? Adaptability? How can an autonomous, predominantly dextrous pastime nurture an employable suite of people skills that rely on, well, people?

1. Empathy

According to global VR director, Chris Milk, “Video games are the ultimate empathy machines.” When interacting with other characters, creatures, or cultures in an immersive gaming experience, players gain a perspective and understanding for circumstances different than their own, and in a safe environment with more opportunities for exploration than in real life. MIT’s Ilya Vedrashka takes this sentiment even further and states, “video games are the closest thing we have to a universal language.”

2. Time Management

Time management games represent its own, popular genre of casual video games focused on fast, real-time allocation of resources to fulfill specific game objectives in a specific order. These games often assume actual work simulation themes, where the player is required to manage a business. The 1983 arcade game Tapper is the prototypical time management game, where the player is a bartender who has to serve patrons before their patience expires. Reacting to incoming requests during play and serving them in the most effective manner yields the greatest rewards. It does in real life, too. 

3. Adaptability

Games can be unpredictable, and players must be able to adapt to changing circumstances in order to succeed. The importance of flexibility, resilience, and perseverance are all a player has on their resume in games, as the who-you-knows, or what school you went to holds no value in a player’s success trajectory. Because of this, award-winning game developer, Jane McGonigal goes on to add, “Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible and that it’s always worth trying, and trying now.” 

Rockefeller himself went as far as putting a higher value on people skills than a purchasable commodity. “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than for anything under the sun.” Today, the US Department of Labor agrees, claiming that soft skills are even more important than the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). They’re also agnostic, applicable to every industry. As employers are starved for talent today, perhaps adding ‘gaming’ to a desired skill set will yield a more employable candidate. Considering 90% of your future workforce classifies themselves as gamers, your hirable talent pool may have just gotten a lot bigger.

What soft skill do you value most in an employee?

Skillsgapp finalist for Cool Tool and Trendsetter Awards: The EdTech Awards – EdTech Digest, 2023

The largest and most competitive recognition program in all of education technology.

Recognizing the biggest names in edtech – and those who soon will be.

We celebrate who’s who—and what’s next.

The EdTech Awards recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere.

Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual program shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders and innovative trendsetters across the:

  • K-12
  • Higher Education, and
  • Skills and Workforce sectors.

Read more.

EdTech Digest: State of EdTech 2023-2024 – Skillsgapp Named Top 100 in K-12 and Workforce

STATE OF EDTECH 2023-2024: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next, featuring:
>> 10 edtech companies to watch
>> EDTECH’S TOP 100 [from K-12, to higher ed and workforce]
>> 1000 companies transforming education
Link to Download Issue

Site Selection Magazine: 2023 Workforce Guide – featuring skillsgapp’s Skillionaire Games, Rad Lab, and South Carolina

Workforce has been cited in Site Selection Magazine’s annual survey of corporate consultants as the No. 1 factor in site selection decisions for several years in a row. The 2023 Workforce Guide is a special report providing insight into workforce development partnerships and practices across the U.S.

Skillsgapp and South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry Feature: A Workforce Gaming Initiative, Rad Lab, is having a positive impact on the future workforce: Wanna Be A Skillionaire?

Members of a South Carolina industry association say a fun online game with prizes could put young people in line for prized STEM careers.

The industry is life sciences, the fastest-growing industry among South Carolina’s knowledge economy sectors, having grown by more than 42% since 2017. The organization is SCBIO, a statewide life sciences organization representing more than 1,000 organizations statewide employing more than 87,000 professionals across the sector’s entire range of disciplines. In early November 2022, it partnered with Skillionaire GamesTM — the business-to-consumer side of Greenville-based education technology firm skillsgapp — to announce the recent launch of Rad Lab, a mobile phone game that provides organizers with trackable geographic data and customizable incentives based on a player’s location, performance and proficiencies as they compete to gain ever-higher levels of skill in various STEM-based life science areas.

Read More Here.

What does Gen Z want from you in 2023?

By Kamber Parker, Founder & Young Professional Expert, The YoPro Know, LLC //

The main topic on every business leader’s mind right now is this:

How does Gen Z think and how will it impact my business? From how they work to how they spend, leaders want to know: what makes them tick and will it be positive or negative for their business?

Gen Z is made up of tweens, teens, and young adults who were born between 1996 and 2015. A wide spread, the Gen Z generation will make up more than half of the U.S. workforce with their millennial counterparts by 2030 (Jason Dorsey: Center For Generational Kinetics). What does this mean for businesses? It’s your job to understand their behaviors, their goals and desires, to create a successful space for them in the workplace.

In this post, we will cover just that. You earned their interest through gamification or innovative recruiting efforts (think: social media, moving away from the age-old job fairs), but now it’s time to figure out how to keep them engaged long-term.

Here are the top 3 things Gen Z wants from you in 2023.

  1. Stability. Gen Z is likely not going to be known as the “job-hopping” generation like their millennial counterparts, but there is a higher chance of them not being engaged in a post-pandemic world.
    • Pay them what they are worth. Many Gen Z-ers have watched their families experience previous recessions and witnessed the generation before them experience significant debt. They don’t want this, so if you can’t pay them a decent salary, you will not even be in the game next to your competitors.
    • Show them opportunities to grow. While you can’t give them a leadership role on day one, outline what their career trajectory can look like from the start. Setting expectations early on with help with building trust with your employees and team members, while setting them up for success.
    • Engage them through strong communication, education/training, and professional development. There is a plethora of information on this topic, but to learn more, visit our research here.
  2. Transparency. This is important to this generation because they have witnessed a very different world than some of us reading this grew up in. Most of them came of age during the pandemic, and as a result, they have experienced tension from something unprecedented in our society. They understand when company cultures are being transparent or not and when they recognize that, they leave.
    • Set expectations from day 1. When you are in the hiring process, ensure your recruiting communication is extremely clear.
    • Clear is kind. When talking about salary, benefits, time off, and work hours, be honest! 85% of the young professionals I’ve interviewed over the past 2 years say they have left a company because one of these expectations proved to be false about 6 to 9 months in.
    • Share vision and long-termplans for the company (depending on size, this can be challenging). Give them a sense of ownership and treat them like they will be there for a long time. Most companies don’t get this part right, but you CAN!
  3. Connectivity. While many want the opportunity to work from home – some time, not all the time – they still want to be connected.
    • If you have a hybrid schedule, encourage team members to all be in the office or site on the same day one day per week. This will create consistent face-time with peers and coworkers to build trust among the team.
    • If you only offer work-from-home, ensure there is still time to connect with each other in a meaningful way. Again, the pandemic resulted in less connectivity with other people and Gen Z does not want that. Consider coordinating lunch one day or a team-building exercise (I promise: Gen Z actually wants this these days!).
    • If you offer in-person work 100% and don’t have opportunities to give an at-home work structure, it’s important to note here that you will need to create some space for your Gen Z employees to provide flexibility. This looks different for everyone, but if you don’t offer it, they are more inclined to look for places that do.

Being intentional in your process can lead to thriving and retainable outcomes in your workforce. Take time to review and adapt your plans for 2023 to engage successfully with Gen Z.

Photo of Kamber Parker

About Kamber Parker: Kamber is the founder of The YoPro Know (2018), a platform designed to be the bridge between ambitious young professionals and the companies that wish to hire them and most importantly, retain them. Kamber has spent the last 5 years interviewing nearly 1,000 young professionals identifying their key struggles, successes, and ultimately, ways to make them more successful in the workplace. Her business offers consulting services for companies looking to increase young professional recruitment, retention, and engagement. She is a 40 Under Forty Recipient (2020), the Greenville Chamber Young Professional Of The Year recipient (2021), Jefferson Award Winner (2021), and Greenville Business Magazine’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under (2022). In her free time, she volunteers for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Board, Meals on Wheels, and is involved in the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals group. You can find her at The Commons, on the Swamp Rabbit Trail running, or Soul Yoga!

Meet Workforce Development’s Secret Ingredient: The Avatar

Do you know one reason so many jobs continue to go unfilled? Kids can’t “see” themselves working in them. They don’t know what opportunities exist, as we discuss here, and even when they do, certain careers might feel unachievable, unreachable. When a student can insert a representation of themselves into environments that exemplify industries like cybersecurity or the life sciences, they understand that they can have a place there.

Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields believes it is imperative that we meet our youth where they are when it comes to career awareness, specifically in minority populations. “Where do our youth spend most of their time? Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, video games, anywhere their phone goes. However, do our youth realize that computer scientists develop the software for these platforms and that computer engineers create and design the electronics that they enjoy so much?” The overall lack of STEM role models of color in media and entertainment is in part to blame, according to Acker. “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. Students need to see people who look like them portrayed in these fields.”

Enter the Avatar

The Proteus Effect describes a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worlds, is changed by the characteristics of their avatar. This change is due to the individual’s knowledge about the behaviors typically associated with those characteristics. Like the adjective protean (meaning versatile or mutable), the concept’s name is an allusion to the shape-changing abilities of the Greek god Proteus. The Proteus effect was first introduced by researchers Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailens at Stanford University in June 2007, as an examination of the behavioral effects of changing a user’s embodied avatar.

In another study conducted this year, researchers “consistently found … high degrees of congruence between the respective characteristics of the avatar, the actual self, and the ideal self.” Similarly, a 2019 study found that “people balancing the motives of self-verification and self-enhancement design their avatars to be similar to their real selves.” The fact that digital avatars most often reflect the user is critical knowledge for gamified technology designed to connect kids to careers and pathways—provided with the chance to present themselves how they wish, players take on an active role and self-realize in the game, especially within a safe environment void of biases or judgment.

This agency and expression is especially important for young players in minority groups who are often underrepresented in the workforce. Kids learn by watching and mimicking, so if they never see anyone who looks like them in a particular field, the possibility of that future is not easily imagined. Equipped with a DEI-minded avatar creator like in Cyber Watchdog or Rad Lab, though, students have the ability to visualize themselves in career environments, which puts them one step closer to attaining success and narrowing the skills gap.

When you play video games, do you customize your avatar to look like you, or someone different?

Outspoken Podcast-Season 5: Collaborating, Gaming, and the STEM Talent Pipeline

Listen Here.

In this episode of The Outspoken Podcast, host Shana Cosgrove talks to Cynthia Jenkins, co-founder and CMO of Skillsgapp, maker of Skillionaire Games. Cynthia describes how her company is developing video games that school districts and industry leaders can use to teach middle and high school students about STEM careers in their local communities. Cynthia describes her training in journalism and advertising as well as her mid-career transition—together with collaborator Tina Zwolinski—from marketing to the world of gaming. Shana and Cynthia talk about the need for soft skills in every field and the increasing recognition that reaching and teaching kids earlier about opportunities in STEM is crucial to filling an anticipated 700,000 new tech jobs with industry and government employers. Cynthia says that, yes, sometimes you actually should go to bed angry, and she tells Shana a surprising story about a chance meeting with The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood.

America’s Workforce: In Need of a Rescue, or a Reset?

By Tina Zwolinski, Co-Founder and CEO, skillsgapp //

Long before the pandemic, there was a need to ‘reset’ the systems we have in place for preparing our future workforce with the critical skills needed to meet industry demand, specifically within advanced manufacturing. COVID recovery certainly sped up this conversation, and funding, but an actionable focus is still needed if we’re going to fill the ever-growing skills gap America currently faces.

Thinking earlier in the workforce pipeline should be priority one for all of us, including the policymakers who represent us. Focusing on in- and out-of-school development opportunities is imperative, but this can’t be left on the shoulders of educators alone. Silos need to be leveled in order to allow collaboratives to thrive in rethinking current workforce development initiatives. And those initiatives need to be a lot more innovative than the traditional websites, videos and career fairs.

A Call for Collaboration  

The innovation and collaboration I’m calling for, one that can have the greatest impact, will ultimately be forged between education, industry, and government. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Secretary Cardona recently shared a vision on improving our education system by promoting newly accessible pathways through higher education, inevitably leading, it was argued, to successful careers. This involves reimagining the connection between K-12, higher education, and the workforce by in part collaborating to a greater degree with the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce, to invest in career preparation programs that meet the needs of today’s economy. 

This is exactly the kind of collaboration, from the federal to state level, that needs to be replicated – one working in harmony for a successful reset. While much of the funding from the America Rescue Plan appears to be focused on post-secondary education, which is needed, there is also a great need for workforce development-oriented programming in elementary, middle, and high schools; this is mission-critical if we are going to get a chance to impact post-secondary success.

Leveraging Technology 

In late 2020, a survey of Gen Z (ages 19-24) was conducted by Ernst & Young, in collaboration with JA Worldwide, where students were asked “how the education system could be improved” – 59% of Gen Z respondents suggested that there should be more focus placed on real-life work; 57% said there should be more focus on professional mentorship. This actionable intelligence reveals a generational demographic that values true-to-life work experiences as a means for them to embrace the changing working world. With technology, they are already able to navigate a lot on their own. And with the right, innovative tools, they could even advocate for their own futures if they are connected to pathways into these careers. 

The up-and-coming workforce craves career awareness and ultimately, guided access to pathways and industry. Technology is the answer. Funding is needed to support broader CTE programming, in-class career learning driven by industry, and funding supported by the government. There also needs to be an open-minded approach to trying new approaches with novel technology, both in and out of the classroom, as this is a digital generation that learns best via immersive experiences and by doing things with their hands.

Earlier this year, during a Congress-led Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Development Subcommittee hearing, Eric Fanning, President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), stated that there are several ways in which Congress could address America’s workforce challenges – One way is investing more in STEM education. Fanning then asked Congress to “think differently” about “…establishing a program where activities conducted by contractors to support STEM education be considered as allowable community service activities, for the purposes of determining the allowability of cost on a government contract.” 

Fanning agrees that reaching students and families earlier on regarding career exploration and pathway access, even in elementary school, could make a tremendous impact. 

Let’s face it – our youth are on their phones for up to 7 hours a day – providing engaging and yes, educational tools that they can use in and out of school on those phones would be a big step in the right direction in setting up, from the classroom to the household, modules spotlighting career pathways.

Dedicated  focus on the under-served 

After-school programming provides a key actionable area of focus with an opportunity to engage the under-served, particularly in career awareness and pathway access.  There is currently a bill in Congress, the Youth Workforce Readiness Act of 2021, that, if passed, could provide much-needed momentum for the reset I’m calling for, from Washington and across the country.  Approval of this bill will impact the most needed, the underserved, which would then have a dynamic and correlative impact on filling our skills gap.

2022-era Public-private-partnerships (PPP) between the federal government, industry and State by State academia will move the needle for our next generation. The most cost-effective and efficient means to broker positive disruption in our workforce’s development is no question, through technological innovation.

As students move up the pipeline, closer to entering a workforce already afflicted by ‘Great Resignation’, one that now direly needs them, access to apprenticeships and career pathways rectifies our broken workforce supply chain, forming a singular bridge to connect students into our economy and in doing so, boosting our economy, with vigor.

Let’s think differently about the age that we start career awareness, alongside the tools and technology we embrace – in and out of school – and allow for the funding of innovative initiatives that can close the skills gap and connect youth, especially the underserved, to their own life-changing careers. 

But more importantly, let’s together ‘hit reset’, by moving on some of these conversations that are before Congress right now, so that workforce and skills gaps can shift from a state of challenge to solution.

Any additional solutions or ideas for an effective “reset” of America’s workforce plan?

Gen Z Trends for the Workforce WIN

By John Zwolinski, Chief Experience Officer at skillsgapp //

Gen Z, the topic of countless musings and a multitude of opinions, is coming to the workplace in large numbers – what will that mean for the future of work? When considering how they will impact the workforce, three big questions come to mind:

How do you attract them?

How do you motivate and inspire them?

How do you retain them?

In order to answer these questions well, it’s worth spending some time digging in and getting to know them. Below you will find a recent Gen Z trends survey from PIPER|SANDLER. Take a look and test yourself by asking how many of these responses you would have predicted. What surprised you? What does it mean, and how could it help you create more engaging conversations and experiences for your younger workforce?

Gen Z video consumption stats
Gen Z top clothing brands stats
Gen Z top restaurants stats
Gen Z top celebrity stats

Learn more stats on Gen Z here.

While the trends in this survey provide some general generational insight, remember that they are individuals first and not a monolith. Like any generation, they can’t all be lumped together and assumed to share the exact same attributes. Was EVERYONE in the ’60s a hippie? Did EVERY high schooler in the ’80s wear a Members Only jacket? Of course not, and there are a variety of intentional initiatives to consider to gain better individual insight and input from your Gen Z team members, such as forming “shadow boards.” 

“A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.”

Gen Z is on the rise, and companies who make the effort to more fully understand their context and motivations will be the winners in employee attraction, productivity, and retention – with profits likely to follow!

What surprised you most about Gen Z from the survey? 

John Zwolinski is a team builder and culture champion with a thirty-year track record in branding, marketing, and education. He spent five years in the public school system as a history teacher and coach and over twenty as a mentor for high-school-age youth. As skillsgapp’s CXO, John is focused on creating exceptional experiences for our people, players, and partners to fulfill our mission of connecting youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.

  • 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