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?

The Unprecedented Growth of Game-Based Learning

By the end of this year, there will be 79.6 million digital gamers in the US, or more than half of our population. Industry growth is accelerating thanks to heavy engagement of younger gamers (ages 13 to 17), 90% of whom classify themselves as gamers, and prefer video games over any other form of digital media, including music, videos and social media. 

Game-based learning is expected to be one the fastest-growing gaming markets, driven by the need to improve student education post-COVID. Considered an active learning technique, students are motivated and engaged in game-based learning because it’s unique, and the immediate feedback that learners and educators receive as a result is an important feature that both learners and educators benefit from more quickly than traditional methods. 

One of digital games’ most cognitively significant features includes simulations that allow students to get a firsthand experience with material. According to research, it’s better for students to come into direct contact with the reality they’re studying, instead of just reading, talking, and listening about it. We remember up to 90% of what we say and do, provided we are actively involved in real activities related to imitating experiences.

Additional benefits of game-based learning include: 

  1. Motivation: Students are the main characters in the story and their success is rewarded with medals, extra lives, bonuses, etc, holding their interest in learning.
  1. Opportunities to practice: Students can apply the knowledge they acquire without getting into dangerous situations, ie; flight and navigation simulators
  1. Quicker response times: Researchers at Rochester University reported that games improve troubleshooting skills by posing time-sensitive problems.
  1. Teamwork: The Institute for the Future reports that games boost teamwork in problem solving.
  1. Creativity, focus and visual memory: The University of California has found that games stimulate these aspects by setting goals that require concentration, imagination and remembering details to achieve them.
  1. Strategy and leadership: According to Pittsburgh University, video games put players in command, honing their abilities to resolve disputes, interact with other players and make decisions.
  1. Critical thinking: Monterrey Institute of Technology published an article underlining the underlying ethical, philosophical and social basis of these games, and their ability to make players think and improve their critical thinking.

Bain’s analysis forecasts that global revenue for games could grow by more than 50% over the next five years, suggesting that developers are banking on evidence that gaming will take consumers’ time from other forms of media and be the foundational platform for both other media and non-media experiences. 

Additionally, advancements in game engines are making it easier to develop higher-fidelity games, becoming a key development platform for other entertainment experiences, and improvements in 3-D graphics that transfer to applications in other industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and construction.

Considering game-based learning is just in its nascent stages based on most recent, post-pandemic circumstances, this means we can expect not just schools to embrace this medium for learning and training, but industry as well.

What’s one of your favorite digital learning games? We’d love to hear from you.

Skillsgapp Co-Founder And Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Cynthia Jenkins Joins Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate

Cynthia Jenkins, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of skillsgapp, a company that develops free-to-play mobile gaming apps that help middle and high school-aged+ youth achieve life-changing career awareness and localized pathway access, as well as develop the soft skills necessary to pursue jobs in skills-based industries through game-changing play, has announced a strategic partnership with the Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program, a pilot undertaken in Orange County, California.

The Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program seeks to close the gender equity gap by supporting young women through post-secondary education and networking into the workforce, ensuring that they can achieve influential leadership positions in the process.

Project Accelerate was funded by Equality Can’t Wait, an initiative launched by Pivotal Ventures, Melinda Gates’ investment and incubation enterprise, to expedite progress toward gender equality in the U.S. The initiative garnered additional support from Mackenzie Scott and The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, awarding $40 million to the organizations or coalitions of organizations offering the most compelling proposals to help expand women’s empowerment and influence in the U.S. by 2030. Read More.

“Durable” Skills vs. Soft Skills: Is There a Difference?

The term “soft skills” has always been somewhat of an oxymoron, as these skills are arguably the hardest to attain. The most sought-after professional capabilities in just about any industry—problem-solving, leadership, critical thinking, and personal skills like teamwork, flexibility, adaptability, and creativity—are hard to measure and even harder to teach. 

That’s why this misnomer has been given a new name: durable skills. 

They’re desired everywhere. An analysis of 82 million job postings conducted last year by America Succeeds reveals that 7 of the 10 most requested skills are durable skills. The report goes on to say that “employers seek durable skills … 3.8x more frequently than the top 5 technical or hard skills” in every location, every industry sector, and every educational attainment level.

“Skills aren’t soft or hard[;] they’re durable or perishable.” –Matthew J. Daniel, Guild Education

On top of that, durable skills have staying power (as their name suggests). Research shows that the half-life of a learned skill is 5 years, while the more technical skills start to fade at half of that. Bottom line: skills like programming or digital media will never remain current. That doesn’t mean they should be avoided or relegated, but it does mean that they can’t be the only talents in a person’s career arsenal. Due to the very nature of progress, they will never be able to keep up with constant industry changes, forever requiring periodic updates to stay abreast. Meanwhile, durable skills like critical thinking, collaboration and communication will never go out of style—no matter the profession nor the year. Take the cybersecurity sector, for example—arguably one of the most consistently transformative—those particular soft skills have become known as the “Three Soft C’s” … and considered by some the best defense against cyber attacks.

America Succeeds explains that their 2021 market insights “clearly demonstrate workforce demand for durable skills.” The pandemic has underscored the importance of students’ development of soft skills in addition to academic knowledge and technical skills. An emphasis on durable skills will continue to strengthen our workforce and society, especially as technology rapidly innovates yet continually fails to emulate humanity’s dynamic capacity to feel and respond. As Forbes indicates in a recent article, machines still can’t replace “human” skills.

Now—more than ever—we need complex communication skills that enable us to work with individuals from diverse cultural and lingual backgrounds. We need acknowledgment of and appreciation for diversity in all its forms. We need awareness of talent, skills, and interests. We need the ability to find purpose, recognize talents, set goals, and proactively seek opportunities to pursue those ambitions. All of these skills represent a human-to-human aptitude, and that’s because durable skills are the skills “that technology cannot displace,” the ones that are “critical to creating positive work environments.” These are skills that are truly built to last. 

What durable skill do you value most in your employees?

Engaging Middle Schoolers in Career Education

Let’s do a fun exercise – take a moment to reflect back on yourself as a middle school student. What were the fashion trends at the time? Can you picture what kind of hairstyle you sported? What did you talk about with friends between classes?

While it’s fun, and even comical for us to look back at the past to the time we were in middle school, it’s not always as easy for middle schoolers to look ahead towards the future. 

So how do you get middle schoolers to think past lunch and beyond to their future careers? Here are three approaches to engaging middle schoolers in career education. 

1) Connect the “every day” to a payday

While there’s still a lot of time before a middle schooler exchanges a backpack for a briefcase, there are many opportunities to connect what they like right now to what they can do with it in a future career.

For example, if a student enjoys playing video games – discuss how they can one day have a career someday coding the next Minecraft, or, just as globally relevant, decoding the next cyber attack. If a student loves make-up, connect the dots to the chemistry behind it. Encouraging career discussions early on will help them form their own connections to the resources and pathways to their passions later. Even if they change a million times. 

2) Meet them where they are – on their phones

It’s no secret that technology has drastically altered the world we live in. While the older generation is still navigating the ever-changing trends of modern technology, young people have fully embraced them. In fact, statistics show that roughly 95% of 13-18-year-olds have access to a smartphone. 

This makes the smartphone a no-brainer platform to engage them in career tips and tactics right where they are– on their phones. 

There are many incredible digital resources available to enhance career education. Our mission at skillsgapp is to connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play. Career One Stop is a one-stop hub of career resources from videos, programs and apprenticeships for individuals to explore. Aeseducation provides career curriculum and digital projects for educators to use in their classrooms. As we look to fill our talent pipelines, no industry, state or educational institution should discount the power of technology as a meaningful and scalable tool to connect kids to the careers that connect with them. 

3) Connect industry and schools….earlier.

Networking is essential in making connections for a future job, but why limit it to post-secondary? Bridging the gap between what students are learning in school and what others do as careers in the real world is important at any age. As educators, inviting local business professionals to visit your classroom to teach students about their industry can leave a lasting impression, even if it’s to cross off something a student doesn’t like to do, which is just as important. Incorporating interdisciplinary projects that interact with real companies and simulating real job assignments is another big win. When industry and educators collaborate, the former gets a potentially more qualified applicant later, and kids get a sense of real-world application immediately.

Meet them in the middle

As we reflect back to our own ‘teacher/doctor/lawyer’ middle school career education, we can all agree that unearthing the plethora of future job possibilities available at a younger age will help students navigate the life they want to build, not the ones we want them to build. 

What was your dream career in middle school?

Tech Times | Exclusives #50: Skillsgapp CEO Tina Zwolinski – Who doesn’t wanna be a Skillionaire?

Skillsgapp’s CEO Tina Zwolinski discusses how Skillsgapp transforms manufacturing and cybersecurity career awareness, access to job pathways and corresponding skills development into fun, engaging mobile video games. Watch or listen here.

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.

Use Case Podcast: Storytelling about skillsgapp with Tina Zwolinski

On this episode of The Use Case Podcast with William Tincup, Tina Zwolinski from skillsgapp talks about using the gamification of workforce development and recruitment for Gen Z applicants and employees. Listen here.

GSA BizWire: Announcing the 2022 InnoVision Awards Finalists

The InnoVision Awards Board of Directors is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2022 InnoVision Awards. This year’s finalists include both large and small organizations, representing an array of industries, from the upstate to the coast – a true reflection of South Carolina’s robust innovation economy.

InnoVision Awards honor South Carolina individuals and organizations for impactful innovations under development in South Carolina within the last 18 months. The annual awards are the mark of distinction for the many organizations, individuals, educators and leaders who have been honored over the 24-year history of the InnoVision Awards.

The 2022 finalists in the six competitive award categories are:

Technology Development

Foresight Data Systems LLC (Columbia)
Laminaheat LLC (Greer)
Victory ExoFibres, LLC (Central)

Community Service

South Carolina Broadband Office (Columbia)
Pickens County (Pickens)
The Sophia Institute (Charleston)

Small Enterprise

Advent Innovations (Columbia)
ASSET, LLC (Columbia)
Heartbeat Technologies (Mt Pleasant)

Education

MedEx Academy – Prisma Health System (Greenville)
skillsgapp llc (Greenville)
Sprattronics Learning Lab (Greenville)

Technology Integration

CyCrypt, LLC (West Columbia)
TTI Outdoor Power Equipment, Inc. (Anderson)
Zylo Therapeutics, Inc. (Greenville)

Sustainability

Clemson University Environmental Engineering & Earth Science Department (Clemson)
Performance Enhanced Delivery (Moore)
VBASE Oil Company (Pendleton)

Read more.

Women Talk Construction: Episode 24-Erasing Stigmas with Tina Zwolinski

In this episode, Angela and Christi talk with Tina Zwolinski from Skillsgapp. Tina helped create a gaming app for youth that teaches various trade skills with the opportunity to see information about local companies that are hiring for those trade skills. Since so many young people are playing games on their mobile phones these days (90%), doesn’t it makes sense to target our youth with an app that can actually help them plan for their careers? This is a great way to erase the stigmas that surround the trade skills in our nation. Listen to find out how!