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

Southeast Life Sciences: SCBIO gamifies STEM for future biotech professionals

SCBIO and skillsgapp in Greenville, S.C., are developing a free game app, Rad Lab, for middle-school students that helps them build math and science skills and lets them explore careers in STEM. Nephron Pharmaceuticals, the SC Power Team and the S.C. Hospital Association are supporting development of the app, and students are testing it before it launches, says Erin Ford, SCBIO’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. See the full story here on WYFF.

The Future of Video Games at Work: A New Norm for Attracting Gen Z Talent 

The last section of our recent article “It Pays to Play Video Games” touches on the utilization of gaming concepts and the emulation of video game experiences in hybrid/remote work, but there’s even more to that story. Due to the pandemic’s impact on office functionality, the aforementioned “video game experience” has been taken quite literally in some workplaces (and classrooms!) where forward-thinkers are successfully adopting video games into their culture in various ways. With about 86% of Gen Z using “mobile devices as gaming platforms,” all industries—from manufacturing to marketing—would be wise to pay attention to the trends of this up-and-coming workforce, lest they fall behind this tech-savvy generation. 

Keep reading to find out how games have helped to relieve Zoom fatigue, boost productivity, and bring professional teams together since 2020, and how they can continue to attract our country’s newest source of employees, Gen Z.

Gen Z expects digital solutions

It makes sense that modern workspaces are looking to video games for inspiration. First, more jobs have transitioned online and are already perfectly poised to utilize game-like digital spaces. Second, tech-loving Millennials—who themselves comprise a significant portion of the gamer demographic—are beginning to settle into occupations and management positions, bringing their Internet familiarity and tech expectations to the rest of their work. Third, Gen Z has grown up with computers and phones and are called “Zoomers” for good reason: much of their formative years have been moved to online platforms that will continue to grow as immersive workspaces.

Microsoft and Facebook have “both signalled [sic] that tech companies believe virtual reality is no longer just for gamers,” reads one recent article. “For some, the metaverse is the workplace of the future and the only way for colleagues to share immersive experiences with each other without physically being together.” For better or for worse, Gen Z expects a virtual future. 

Recruiters should embrace this anticipation and evolve to accommodate such a future. As this article on construction and technology shows, the “increased adoption of digital solutions has helped draw new talent.… Companies … are seeing the benefit that digital transformation brings, both in terms of productivity and recruitment.” Thus far, we have discussed recruitment of Gen Z in the ensuing workplace, so let’s briefly turn our attention to productivity in the current workplace.

Bring your own avatar

When everyone was stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, game environments became unlikely meeting locations—and even sanctuaries—for some teams. Bart Heird of WebMechanix mentions here that he and his team have “met up” in the safe space supplied by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They even matched their avatars with a custom clothing pattern that resembles their company logo.) Lewis Smithingham of MediaMonks also chills with employees and clients alike on his personal island. “My production value is now considerably better in Animal Crossing than it is on Zoom,” he says. Who knew that fishing for sharks beside someone’s avatar could lead to such positive results?

In a similar vein, author and artist Viviane Schwarz basically said, “Team meeting, but then make it cowboys.” Tired of the same-old video call setup, she started organizing meetings held in the wild landscape of Red Dead Redemption. She and her team would speak to each other over voice chat while controlling their individual characters gathered on-screen. “The main technical [hitch] we’ve had,” she explains in this Twitter post, “is that … sitting on the ground is the same button as attempting to strangle the nearest person. Still beats zoom.” It’s worked for Schwarz and her team because they enjoy games, have a sense of humor, and don’t always need to present visuals during their discussions. Schwarz jokes, “A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice, which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they’re trying to sign off.”

Executives upping their game at work

Schwarz’s teammates aren’t the only ones riding off into a sunset of pixels. One executive shares how he capitalized on the thrill of Grand Theft Auto to attract and engage an elusive analyst with whom he’d been trying to schedule a meeting for months. It worked. Soon enough, the executive and the analyst were tearing through a virtual Los Angeles for some high-speed fun (and business talk). The New York Times article that covers this story relays, “Eager for an alternative to Zoom, executives are getting together in video games to bond, brainstorm[,] or rampage”—sometimes all at once. Ben Decker, the head of Microsoft’s game services marketing, further demonstrates this sentiment. He often sets sail in the shared online world of Sea of Thieves, routinely joining a Discord executive for discussions amongst a healthy dose of piracy. 

The Times article explains that the goal of this non-traditional meeting style is to “break up a day that is crammed with that … look, sound[,] and feel identical.” What they refer to as an “outing in virtual space” is like the modern business person’s golf round or cafe meet-up: it’s an opportunity to combine work with play and either kickstart relationships with new partners or collaborate with old ones.

Business leaders who combine collaboration and video games have managed to simultaneously seal deals, train new hires, and introduce some fun directly into work. It’s true that smaller teams benefit the most from joining up in-game, but in this new world of distanced collaboration, anyone can profit from the occasional unconventional approach to collaboration and skills development. Riding through the Wild West or fishing on a tropical island probably sound like refreshing alternatives to constant calls or emails.
 

It’s manufacturing’s turn to play

Executives like Decker and team leaders like Schwarz prove that anyone can be a gamer. They also prove that the virtual spaces of games can provide much more than passive entertainment. The fact that digital environments are being used to connect employees and employers shows just how pervasive games are in everyone’s daily lives. They’re here to stay; if you want to remain relevant, and if you want to recruit Gen Z, find a way to incorporate video game technology or concepts into your modern business. 

As the manufacturing industry in particular focuses more and more on innovatively navigating the future of recruitment and workplace dynamics, the key to eradicating Gen Z’s misguided preconceived notions of certain career environments will be the leveraging of game-like technology. Right now the medium of gaming is revolutionizing the workspace of the manufacturing industry, and games are already credited with boosting key soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity. It’s time to stop viewing virtual environments as a juvenile space for mindless experiences and start realizing its exciting, immersive, and engaging potential for a tech-minded workforce.

Video games will continue to influence work spaces, sometimes through literal games and more often through the technology of them. It’s manufacturing’s time to match Gen Z’s enthusiasm for video games. It’s possible to design the workday to maximize engagement, and it’s possible to build tools for the job that match the controllers/interfaces familiar to Gen Z; this article has illustrated how both can and have been done in the modern workplace. Don’t get left behind. If you can attract Gen Z talent with digital solutions, and if you can improve your team’s remote experience, you can stay ahead of the game.

Care to share some of your strategies for keeping up with Gen Z and new tech norms?