International Business Times: Gaming Your Way To Well-Paying Jobs

By Duggan Flanakin  // For at least 2,500 years, recreational gaming has been blamed by some for the moral and intellectual decline of societies. The Buddha himself is reported to have said that “some recluses…while living on food provided by the faithful, continue addicted to games and recreations; that is to say…games on boards with eight or with 10 rows of squares.”

However recently, many have come to see great opportunities for turning video gaming into a positive activity, even one that brings real-world benefits. Adam Uzialko writes that while video games are often seen as a parent’s worst nightmare, an avid gamer can turn the “nightmare” into a lucrative career. Uzialko’s focus was limited largely to jobs in the gaming industry, though he did suggest that top gamers often do well in information technology.

Today, half of the four million who quit jobs during the “great resignation” are millennials and Generation Z.

Many of them are looking for jobs with better benefits, higher pay, flexibility, and fulfillment, but all too often in the wrong places. Only three in 10 parents, for example, consider manufacturing as a good career path for their children. Lack of knowledge and misconceptions about the trades can lead parents to steer their kids away from these programs, when vocational training might be a surer path to a stable job. Read More.

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?

Top Three Soft Skills in Cyber/IT

The latest from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in information security are projected to grow by 31 percent by 2029. Not a surprise after a record-breaking year of cyberattacks.

“Anything with a power switch that uses an electrical current, anything that connects online, anything that touches most of our individual daily lives,” says Dr. Keith Clement, a Criminology professor at Cal State Fresno and Chair of California Cybersecurity Task Force: Workforce Development and Education. “If it turns on and off, there’s some chance that there could be some vulnerability attached to the device.”

So as the country gets creative in its allocation of resources in response, from stackable cybersecurity certification programs, K-12 cyber curriculum, and boot camps to meet the growing need for skilled cyber/IT professionals in both the public and private sector, the dire need for non-technical skills in technical careers is growing at the same rate. Soft skills, or lack thereof, are quickly becoming another, very real vulnerability for the U.S.

Three Soft C’s in Cyber:

1. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking was selected as the top required soft skill in a Tripwire survey –  the ability to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller components. This is an innate ability for some people, but you can also develop this skill by being observant, learning how things work, asking questions, and analyzing decisions. 

2. Communication

Gone are the days – and movies – of sitting in a dark room, staving off breaches to save the world. Because, according to Careers in Cyber Security, not only is the ability to see relationships between data and people key in finding ways to respond proactively against cyber risks and threats but the written and verbal ability to share such findings with stakeholders and team members is imperative in both “selling” a solution, as well as eliciting the support and resources to implement one.

3. Collaboration

According to think CSC, collaboration is the best defense against cyber attacks. Hackers attempt to breach secure networks from multiple angles, so our defenses must also leverage diverse areas of expertise. From sharing information and active listening to asking for help, the quantifiable value of collaboration is easy math: Two heads are better than one.

Adaptability, creativity, and attention to detail also rank high in the non-technical must-haves in Cyber careers, arguably catapulting soft skills into equal-billing status as the unsung heroes in keeping us all safe.

Skillsgapp Case Study: San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

How skillsgapp used mobile gaming to engage students in cybersecurity skills and corresponding career pathways

Overview

San Bernardino, the largest geographical county in the country, was hosting its annual STEM event, STEMapalooza, virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. With two counties’ 4th-8th graders expected to attend, engagement was a concern, along with meaningful career awareness and pathways to support Southern California’s key industry sectors, including the increasingly in-demand, cybersecurity. 

To support this initiative, skillsgapp customized a mobile-friendly video game deployed during the event designed to simulate real-world cybersecurity scenarios with an emphasis on the “3 C’s” identified as industry’s skill priorities: Cyber Proficiencies; Critical Thinking; and Communication. Leaderboards, badges, and career facts and pathways were incorporated into gameplay, along with trackable performance metrics.

“It’s been a challenging and unusual year. Due to the virtual nature of our events, we decided to provide a hands-on, engaging tool that’s both fun for the students and that also supports the needs of industry through skills development for our students. The goal of Alliance for Education has always been to assure both students and industries that we are educating for the world of work.” 

Carol Tsushima, Administrator for the Alliance for Education at SBCSS

Blog image of game screens

Approach

Compelling narrative:
By introducing a fictional antagonist, BL4CKOUT, a notorious hacker threatening the privacy and security of STEMapalooza, we were able to establish a need for all attending to do their part in saving the event from destruction. In the absence of classrooms, this strategy was designed to promote community between two counties’ districts, all fighting for the same goal within each cyber challenge presented to them.

Awareness and Promotion:
Creating awareness of a never-been-done gaming component of this event included providing teachers with a game trailer to share with their students, a landing page with game registration information, and count-down emails to the teachers with game details and reward information to get the kids excited to play, registered, and their avatar designed.

Access:
The game was developed to be accessible on all devices from desktop to mobile to promote ease of play wherever the student may be.

Personalization:
Each player had the opportunity to select and personalize their own avatar based on skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries, including automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and IT. 

Strategic Deployment:
STEMapalooza was an all-day event offering virtual classes and demonstrations. In between these events we deployed one of four five-minute challenges simulating a real-world cyber breach. Increasing in difficulty based on performance, students could see how they ranked among their peers, grade, and county.

Industry Support:
Upon completion of each challenge, students were rewarded for their achievements and offered corresponding career facts, salaries, and pathways based on their proficiencies.

Rewards and Incentives:
Those who successfully completed all four challenges received an in-game badge which could be redeemed for in-class rewards, like homework passes and extra credit.

Data Tracking:
Upon completion of the game, each player’s performance was trackable based on speed, engagement, and accuracy. Exit surveys were administered after the event to capture verbatims and quantifiable analysis to measure recall and interest.

Results
Results reflect the one-day event. Based on success, Hack Out BL4CKOUT will be used at subsequent county STEM events in 2021.

badge graohic

Unique Game Users:
5,285 (4.6 attended virtual event)

Sessions Played Across Users:
11,927

Average Playtime Per User:
37.38 minutes

Total Hours Player Across Users:
3,330 hours

Post-game Student Survey:
89% recall on in-game narrative and content 

“I learned that with my cyber skills, I can make $85,000 to $131,000 a year.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned that cybersecurity study programs teach you how to protect computer operating systems, networks, and data from cyber attacks.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned to protect your stuff, or people will get to it.”
7th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

“The game taught me that the skills I had a lot of fun doing could also make me a lot of money someday.”
6th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

Conclusion

• Mobile gamification is a proven platform to deliver Gen Z skills-based content with corresponding career awareness, trackable engagement, performance and recall, along with artificial intelligence to adapt to and promote their proficiencies.

• Providing in-game rewards and real-world incentives tied to player performance promotes engagement and skill proficiency.

• Linking career pathways and facts to demonstrated skill proficiency in real-time generates meaningful recall of actionable content.

• Students preferred the gaming experience over more traditional learning methods like videos and virtual lecture.

Gaming apps skills development company skillsgapp inks contract with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

Soft skills and middle-skills gaming app development company skillsgapp has been selected by San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (SBCSS) to provide its gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the skills necessary to participate in the skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries. Read More

Youth Apprenticeship Advantage: South Carolina

With America’s ever-growing skills gap, apprenticeships are becoming increasingly more important. Below is a feature on one state that’s using apprenticeships to its advantage. The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Apprenticeship Carolina in South Carolina $4.49 million over the course of four years to expand youth apprenticeships with 800 new youth apprentices and 230 youth pre-apprentices in high-growth industries in SC. These efforts are great strides toward building a qualified workforce pipeline and with the addition of mobile technology, we will be set to reach more youth talent. 

Youth Apprenticeships: A Win-Win

Written by: Kelly Steinhilper,
Vice President, Communications, SC Technical College System

According to SHRM, the combination of a tight labor market and the high cost of a college education is fueling interest in youth apprenticeships. This is great news for all, as apprenticeships are a win-win, offering students the chance to find stable middle-skills jobs that they like and can grow into, while employers create a happy workforce where they can groom from an early age.

Apprenticeship Carolina™ helps companies in South Carolina set up successful youth apprenticeship programs. In general, here’s how it works. High school juniors and seniors combine high school curriculum and career and technology training with critical on-the-job training performed at a local business. The students can pull in a paycheck through part-time work while earning a national credential in one of many high-demand occupations. They gain critical workforce experience while earning their high school diploma and some college credit. At the same time, South Carolina’s business and industry that need highly skilled workers can build a solid workforce pipeline for the future.

McLeod Information Systems, LLC, (MIS) provides a perfect example. MIS developed its cybersecurity youth apprenticeship program with two clear goals in mind: to grow a more robust information technology (IT) work base in Charleston, South Carolina, and to provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

As a service-disabled, veteran-owned and -operated IT security business, MIS looked for ways to give back to the local community soon after its founding in North Charleston in 2016. MIS saw an opportunity to accomplish this goal with the 2019 announcement that Trident Technical College (TTC) would establish a new associate degree in cybersecurity.

MIS agreed to partner with TTC and Apprenticeship Carolina to develop a registered cybersecurity youth apprenticeship, becoming the first cybersecurity company in North Charleston to have apprentices enrolled at the college. 

Debbie McLeod, president and co-founder of MIS, has nothing but good things to say about apprenticeship and this dynamic partnership’s potential. When asked what inspired MIS to consider creating a youth apprenticeship program, McLeod responded, “We saw the number of unfilled cybersecurity positions, not just locally but worldwide, and we wanted to make a difference. There are 3 million openings worldwide and not nearly enough graduates to fill them. We knew that fresh, innovative approaches had to be taken to meet those workforce needs.” 

She continued, “At the same time, we looked at IT courses offered in local high schools. We saw that schools were not adequately equipping students to step out into the IT market, let alone the cybersecurity career field.” 

After speaking with Charleston County School District and Apprenticeship Carolina, MIS realized that with youth apprenticeship they could do both – grow a stronger IT work base and provide a vibrant new career path for local youth.

McLeod reported that she found the youth apprenticeship program to be rewarding on many levels. “For one, it allows us as a company to prepare and grow our future industry leaders. Everyone in the company sees the value of the program. For the company employees that work directly with the apprentices, it is the brighter part of the workday when they get to instruct these impressionable minds.”

As for the youth apprentices, it allows them to learn and progress in a career field to which they are generally not exposed. For instance, high school student Arthur Gibson, one of McLeod’s youth apprentices, shared that learning code was like learning a new language, and he loves it. When asked about the benefit of apprenticeship for high school students, Gibson said, “It shows you that education is not a tunnel but a road with many paths…the hands-on learning connects all the bookwork to the real world.”