How to Compete in Workforce Readiness…and Win.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent for skills-based careers, we don’t have a people problem, we have a skilled people problem. From aerospace and automotive to life sciences and cybersecurity/IT, this isn’t a new issue, even post-pandemic. In fact, US manufacturing activity surged to a 37-year high in March, with more than half a million jobs to fill.

This skills gap makes the ability for states to compete in industry recruitment fierce because on the top of every prospect’s list before they make their selection is: CAN YOU MEET MY WORKFORCE NEEDS

Companies want to know:

1. How did your state support workforce readiness for companies before them?

2. What skill sets are available in your state?

3. How are you addressing workforce development in K-12 to keep their pipeline going?

4. How are your business and education communities working together?


For most states, the answer to most of the above is, ‘not enough’. According to a study just published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, there will still be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030, costing our economy up to $1 trillion.  

“During my 30-year-career in economic and workforce development, there’s never been a more critical time to re-evaluate how we approach career awareness, skills development, and recruitment for America’s labor workforce. Doing more of what we did yesterday simply won’t work for the labor force of today…or tomorrow.” 

–Jerry Howard, President, InSite Consulting
Past President and CEO, Greenville Area Development Corporation

Innovate for tomorrow’s workforce, today.

A move for a company is risky if the workforce can’t scale quickly or be sustainable for the long haul. Today’s workforce also commands diversity, which means rural reach also has to be cracked finally. So as those at the helm of economic and workforce development efforts are tasked with more questions on how to attract and retain workforce-ready talent today and for years to come, they need to look for those answers from the 67.17 million talent pool they’re trying to recruit: Gen Z.

According to a study published in Forbes, 33% of kids who play video games say it inspired future careers, including science. Carnegie Mellon goes on to report that interactive activities are 6x more likely to help students learn. This means there’s a real opportunity here to collide career awareness and preparedness with gaming. And while educational gaming isn’t a new concept, games kids want to play with real word incentives for a better future, is.

chart of gen z stats


It’s a numbers game.

Today, 95% of 13-17-year-olds have access to a cell phone, even in rural areas. Ninety percent classify themselves as gamers, and 63% are concerned about jobs and unemployment. On top of all that, a majority feel their education should not be limited to the classroom, and that business should be stepping up to offer new forms of learning

By transforming skills development, career awareness, and job opportunities into mobile gaming technology, states, industry, and education can revolutionize how the next generation engages in – and views – skills-based careers at an earlier age.

A community has to have a skilled workforce to sustain a thriving community where people can live, work, and play. And according to a recent Site Selectors Guild’s conference, those states who lead the way, win.  

Game on.

Another Workforce Recruitment Website? Next Bus.

iGen. Gen Tech. Net Gen. Digital Natives. All are synonymous with Gen Z, who accounts for 61 million people in the U.S. – a population exceeding millennials – and also our next workforce generation. This creates a huge challenge for workforce development agencies and industry, as marketing skills-based career opportunities and pathways in a way this generation will engage in, digitally, represents a brand new recruitment protocol.

But it’s time. With 10,000 Boomers reaching retirement age every day, there’s 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs to fill by 2025 alone.

What Research is Telling Us

According to a study conducted by SkillsUSA, meeting the demand for a new generation of manufacturing workers by drawing on the talent of all sectors of the U.S. workforce is more likely if the following occur: 

Students gain access to experiential learning opportunities earlier in their education pathway, and these opportunities increase throughout their high school education. 

Employers engage earlier in a student’s academic pathway. 

Parents and teachers gain access to local employers to learn about the broad range of opportunities modern manufacturing presents.  

Current Workforce Recruitment Strategies

Workforce development agencies and industry have made great strides in thinking outside the box to fill their talent pipeline, which has been imperative in helping reverse the stigma associated with the factories of yesteryear. But with every new generation, comes new challenges in reaching them. What worked for Millennials won’t work for GenZ, if they ever worked at all. 

1. Videos

Any medium that can bring kids closer to the inner workings of a state’s infrastructure and industry is a good thing. Which is why videos have been trending over the last decade, showing kids what’s really “under the hood” in today’s state-of-the-art facilities, along with testimony from happy, fulfilled employees who were once just like them. Videos help facilitate more deliberate career pathway discussions than a textbook, along with real, aspirational discourse. The challenge is that kids will likely only watch them once, making that engagement fleeting. They’re also difficult and expensive to update. What was state-of-the-art three years ago may be old-school today. This forces workforce development agencies and industry to shelve them – or, worse, if they don’t, that decades-long stigma is perpetuated.

2. Websites

Most states and regions have subscribed to the ‘If we build one, they will come’ philosophy of a website as a connective hub for career pathways and employment. And while many actually do come, we’re asking a lot of one medium to identify, qualify and materialize a meaningful future with “all-in” calls to action for next steps that are confusing to navigate and intimidating to pull the trigger on. So these sites become an entanglement of pie-in-the-sky portals and nebulous pathways, and they leave. 

3. Career Road Shows

Wrapping a bus or designing a booth to hit the road and spread the gospel of skills-based careers is a fun way to get the kids out of the classroom, engage in a conversation about meaningful career opportunities, and hand out a bundle of branded swag. But these can run over a million bucks and require equipment updates, depending on how long and far the show goes on, without one kid setting one foot inside a plant or facility. So that bus or booth needs to work extra hard in representing the advanced technology it’s touting. If it’s aerospace you’re selling, it had better be as cool as the rocket you’re making.

Let’s Get Digital

That same SkillsUSA study reports that CTE teachers believe industry-recognized credentials are valuable to students for beginning their careers, with 65% saying industry certificates are among the most valuable educational credentials after graduating high school. However, 35% of students enrolled in CTE courses say they have no contact with potential future employers, with only 12% experiencing site visits, 20% having pathway-related summer jobs, and 13% having pathway-related after-school jobs. 

So while videos and websites are digital mediums, they fulfill none of the aforementioned study’s criteria. Engagement is the magic word here, earlier.

To get in with Gen Z, workforce development efforts need to get into their phones and devices, where they spend an average of 9 hours a day. Social media like TikTok and Instagram account for much of that time, along with gaming – a favorite pastime reported by American teens. On top of that, there’s the social platform within games, where kids communicate back-and-forth in real-time via chat or voice, making mobile gaming the only medium that checks every box: engagement, mobility, and sharability. 

So if states and industry want to reach their next workforce, perhaps it’s time to get off the bus booth, video, or another website and start playing to win with gamified skills and recruitment that reaches kids wherever they are, on their phones, engaged and ready to play. 

South Carolina Business Review: Attracting Factory Workers with Gaming

According to some national surveys, 75% of Generation Z show little or no interest in working for manufacturers and 70% of parents discourage manufacturing as a career.  So where will a manufacturing state like ours get its workforce?  Our next guest believes that video games are the answer.

Mike Switzer interviews Tina Zwolinski, CEO and founder of skillsgapp in Greenville, SC.

Culture Counts: How to Attract Your Next Workforce Generation

Think about this: 10,000 baby boomers will be reaching retirement age each day for the next 14 years. This leaves a lot of room for Gen Z, who will soon comprise over a third of the world’s population, to potentially represent a quarter of the world’s workforce in the years to come. So while manufacturers are faced with an unprecedented amount of jobs to fill, they’d be prudent to skew their recruiting efforts younger, specifically toward Gen Z. 

This generation thinks about company culture much differently than baby boomers, however. With manufacturers competing for the same pools of talent, they’ll need to adapt their company cultures to effectively attract Gen Z, and also to keep them. 

Diversity and Mentorship Matters

Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date. Catalyst cites a Deloitte survey that says, “Gen Z respondents were more likely to stay with organizations they perceived as having a diverse and inclusive workforce. Diversity of educational background was the top area Gen Z respondents said organizations need to work on followed by age, ethnicity, and gender.”

Not only does Gen Z value diversity, but they also want mentoring. Nicholas Wyman says, “Mentoring is an important part of a successful skill building program. As a management tool, it is one of the most effective ways to transfer organizational knowledge as well as job-specific skills. Unlike more traditional supervisory management, mentoring creates a climate of support, guidance, and teaching that boosts employee engagement and productivity.”

Mobile is Their Medium 

Gen Z is made up of digital natives who have never known life without the internet, so a company culture that embraces how they use technology is essential in attracting and keeping them. This generation’s lives are centered around their smartphones and Kronos says, “they expect technology on the job to deliver that consumer grade experience.” Not only that, but the Pew Research Center says, “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone, and a similar share (97%) use at least one of seven major online platforms.”

Work/Life Balance is BIG

A healthy company culture must not tether Gen Z to an unnecessary level of work-related communication and connectedness, however. Even though they use technology throughout the day, Forbes explains “Today’s ever-expanding work tech—designed to increase employee connectivity and productivity in the age of remote work—is a key culprit in the stress and burnout epidemic.” 

A company culture that allows them time to detox from technology and lessen their connectedness to work every now and then could help reduce burnout, and provide them with a healthy work/life balance. According to Forbes, “Zapier’s Digital Natives Report found that a majority of Gen-Z (69%) and Millennial (73%) employees have experienced job burnout.” 

The good news is that their jobs mean a lot to this generation and they want to be given the chance to make a difference, but they also need time outside of their jobs to support more of what makes them tick. 

It’s Time To Look Within

Our beloved boomers are retiring, yes. But the generation that follows brings with them the opportunity to abandon same-ol-same-ol’ business  practices. If manufacturers can create a culture that embraces Gen Z, they, in turn, will embrace them back.

New Ways to Skill

The pre-pandemic rules of work and school have given way to not only a more digital world, but also new opportunities. As such, education’s structure isn’t as rigid as it used to be. Schools have been forced to implement creative ways to not only bring education to students, but also bring them together safely, all without cannibalizing required curriculum.

Why shouldn’t manufacturers do the same?

New Opportunities

COVID-19 presents manufacturers the opportunity to bring their training to Gen Z, rather than Gen Z bringing themselves to manufacturers. 

Education and training structures are not likely to go back to what they once were. That’s why manufacturers will need to carve out new opportunities to engage in not only this next generation of workforce, but in content that resonates with them. After all, Gen Z is adapting to learning in their new, digital environment. Manufacturers simply need to catch up.

Take Felling Trailers in Minnesota as an example. Bonnie Radjenovich, a member of their operations team says, “We’re advertising like crazy on Facebook and Instagram, and we just can’t get enough candidates in the door.” This was a step in the right direction. But here’s the rub, it isn’t enough anymore for companies to simply advertise to Gen Z on social platforms where they don’t necessarily live.

Skilling Gen Z

One new way to skill is by bringing training to Gen Z on their mobile devices through creative gamification that interests and excites them, and on platforms that engage  them.

Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, offers an important insight. She says, “If this time of COVID has taught us anything it’s that you need to adapt to the world as it is around you and the world is changing and so you have to change with it.”

By catering to Gen Z’s current style of learning, manufacturers have the opportunity to create future talent pipelines they didn’t previously have access to. On the flip side, students who previously didn’t have access to in-person training can now get a jumpstart on a career path through training within gamified apps. This symbiotic relationship could especially thrive in America’s rural areas, where access has historically been challenging.

Manufacturers Must Seize the Opportunity

The Pew Research Center indicates that “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.” Not only is there a widespread network already in place to reach Gen Z, but their usage of smartphones is only likely to increase due to the switch to online learning. This opens the door for us to bring more meaningful play to users and according to appannie.com, “Spend on mobile games across all app stores projected to top $100 billion in 2020.” Reaching Gen Z at an early age and training them where they live will lay the groundwork for a reliable workforce now, and down the road.

The opportunity has never been more ripe for manufacturers to adapt to a new way of building future talent pipelines. Or more fun.