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.

Bio.News – SCBIO launches ‘Rad Lab’: South Carolina’s Life Sciences Workforce Game-Changing App

The South Carolina Biotechnology Industry Organization (SCBIO) is pleased to announce the launch of its first-in-kind, next-generation life sciences workforce development mobile app, undertaken at an Executive Breakfast held at the Omni Hotel on Wednesday, June 15th.

‘Rad Lab’ is designed for middle- and high schoolers across South Carolina. It is part of a workforce and career development initiative spearheaded by SCBIO and select industry partners that seek to connect over 400,000 middle and high schoolers in the state, including underserved youth, to life-science careers via mobile gaming technology.

Geo-specific job descriptions, salaries, educational pathways, and inroads to life science companies are offered through engaging, career-simulated gameplay based on their whereabouts, proficiencies, and job preferences.

“This is a fish-where-the-fish-are strategy,” said Erin Ford, executive vice president and chief operating officer for SCBIO. “By engaging this next generation of the workforce where they are – on their phones – via their preferred form of entertainment, we now have the ability to scale awareness, while supporting regional industry needs.” Read More.

Workforce gaming apps company skillsgapp appoints John Zwolinski as Chief Experience Officer


Soft skills and middle-skills gaming app company skillsgapp has hired John Zwolinski as its Chief Experience Officer. The new position is responsible for the development and performance of skillsgapp’s internal teams, sponsorship sales and partnership platform, and game deployment and player engagement programs. Zwolinski comes to skillsgapp from the global niche housing company Valeo Groupe, where he first served as Vice President of Culture, Brand and Experience, then Senior Vice President of Brand & Experience. Valeo Groupe has developed student housing communities in the UK, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, while focusing on senior housing communities in the US.

During his stint at Valeo Group the company attracted more than $700 million in investments in Europe and the US and in 2020 it was listed number 378 on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list. Internally, Zwolinski focused on building a culture and growing teams, setting up a development program for employees to encourage their physical, financial, emotional, professional, and personal health, and sculpting the company’s core values, cultural norms, and frameworks and systems as a part of Valeo’s brand as a “wellbeing company.” 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?