As Tina Zwolinski and Cynthia Jenkins were ramping up the promotion of their startup Skillsgapp, which uses video games to promote skills-based job training for today’s younger generation, they were confident the educational market was primed for a shift.

They had no idea how quickly and drastically that shift would take place.

Coming off a year in which the majority of our nation’s school-age children had to adjust to a new normal of e-learning, Skillsgapp has found itself uniquely positioned to meet the needs of a changing education model.

Educators have taken notice.

The South Carolina-based company has just been selected by the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools in California to provide its gaming apps to students throughout the year with a customized “curriculum” focused on cybersecurity.

Zwolinski, who currently serves as CEO of the South Carolina-based branding and marketing firm ZWO, said the app is geared toward helping Generation Z gain the skills necessary to participate in a rapidly changing skills-based job sector across multiple industries. This is especially true for students in rural or urban parts of the country with limited access to expanded educational resources.

The app “gamifies” traditional courses — in other words, makes them as compelling and entertaining as traditional video games — to keep students engaged.

“A lot of people are surprised wen I tell them that there are currently 2.7 billion gamers in the world right now,” Zwolinski said last September, as the company was still in the discussion stages with school districts. “And 48% of those gamers are playing on mobile.”

Zwolinski calls Gen Z “the generation that was born with a phone in their hand,” and meeting the needs of that generation requires a different strategy. With data that allows educators to keep track of effectiveness, nurture talent and provide students with a competitive edge, Skillsgapp’s ultimate goal is the democratization of access to opportunity.

For a school district like San Bernardino — which is based in the largest geographical county in the country, supporting 33 K-12 school districts, five community colleges and three regional occupation programs — the need for that updated strategy has become only more obvious in the past year.

“It has been a challenging and unusual year,” said Carol Tsushima, administrator for the Alliance for Education at San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. “It has required quite a bit of creativity to keep our students connected, and due to the virtual nature of our events this year, we decided to provide a hands-on, engaging tool that’s both fun for the students and also supports the needs of industry through skill developing for our students.”

Zwolinski is optimistic about the younger generation’s preparedness for entering the job market down the line, but that doesn’t mean she is unaware of the need for rapid job training.

“While our country does not have a people shortage, we do have a skills-based talent shortage,” she said.

For her, job training is among the single most important factors for economical revitalizations of overlooked or blighted areas. She points to Greenville’s relationships with BMW as a prime example of how one company’s investment in a community can spur rapid economic and cultural expansion.

“If BMW didn’t come to Greenville years ago, so many people probably wouldn’t be living here now,” she said. “We can customize these apps for specific areas and demographics to provide not just the skill sets but also the insight for companies.”


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