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.

Four Reasons Why Gamification Should be Used in Skills Development

Let’s face it, job training isn’t something many people look forward to. It can be the most tedious and boring part of being hired at a company. However, there is a solution that can remove the mundane. According to continu, “Gamification in training is the process of applying gaming designs and concepts to learning or training sessions in order to make them more engaging and entertaining for your employees.” It offers a more innovative way for organizations to recruit a future workforce, as well as an opportunity to get them more excited about the career they’re about to embark on. 

Here are four ways that gamification can improve manufacturers’ skills training development, and recruitment: 

1. It allows learners to better control their own learning experiences.
It’s essential to keep recruits engaged throughout the entire process as well as develop a process that gets new candidates in the door. There’s nothing about sitting down to watch a series of videos during skills training that actively gets someone’s attention. However, by giving them some control over the progression of their training, you can make them an integral part of the process rather than just having them passively observe. 

2. Gamification offers manufacturers faster feedback that can allow them to improve training procedures in real time.
Continu notes, “With more traditional training, you learn your score, or are given advice once your session is completed. With gamification in training, users are given feedback as they progress throughout the training.” This allows for real-time adjustments to be made as the training continues, making the process more efficient and attractive to a newer, digitally-minded generation.

3. Gamification can draw in the younger generation to your training.
The manufacturing industry can take notes from construction companies’ success at this. Caterpillar is recruiting younger workers and enhancing its operator training programs with game-based simulators. This hands-on approach to learning gives students the opportunity to understand — and develop an affinity for — machine controls and operating procedures prior to entering the workforce, which makes them more qualified candidates when they come of age. 

4. Gamification can make your company or organization stronger.
Making training interesting is key for new recruits to stay with you throughout the process. Think about it — if your training process is a bore, they won’t retain as much or be excited about it. Continu explains that gamification can allow users to enjoy the process, retain more, and ultimately use these newfound skills to strengthen your company. Their success can also inspire loyalty, mitigating the ever-costly workforce attrition. 

What’s The Bottom Line?

It’s safe to say that gaming matters to manufacturers and the future workforce alike. When they’re at the top of their game, your bottom line wins.

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.

Good News Regarding Tomorrow’s Talent for Advanced Manufacturing. Rural is Ready.

Manufacturers from all over the world have discovered the benefits of setting up shop in rural America. The affordable cost of land, friendlier tax climates and a lower cost of living for their employees sit high in its appeal. Another box economic development agencies check off when recruiting big companies is the high potential for a solid talent pipeline for years to come. Non-metropolitan America offers robust, multi-generational communities that are ripe for fulfilling complex workforce needs today. And with 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day over the next several years, Gen Z has become the white cape in securing manufacturing’s future.

The trick is in reaching them. Some middle-and high schools have started to incorporate these career pathways into their post-secondary narrative, but not necessarily their curriculum. This next generation needs to know that “working in a factory” is no longer a Laverne and Shirley sit-com their parents and teachers used to watch. These skills require training, and they’re skills you get paid very well for. According to a 2018 Salary Survey report from IndustryWeek, “the average salary for a manufacturing manager in 2018 was $118,500.” But stigmas take time to reverse, and curriculum takes taxpayers’ money and bureaucratic consensus to impact. 

So how do both advanced manufacturers and state economic development agencies win in their bid to a talent pipeline that’s perpetually pumping?

By pressing play.

An App Can Zap the Skills Gap.

COVID-19 has brought our world to its knees, paralyzing entire countries. It’s also brought the U.S. a multi-state commitment to expanding broadband reach in order to serve our rural and under resourced communities. Virtual learning was not a viable proposition for hundreds of thousands just months ago. Recently in California, home of Silicon Valley, two young girls were pictured sitting in a Taco Bell parking lot because they needed WiFi to do their schoolwork. Other states are still catching up, but here lies the opportunity. According to the Pew Research Center, “95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone.”     

So the immediate workforce “workaround” lies in building talent pipelines by meeting kids directly where they live, on their phones. By developing mobile skills training apps and digital programs where Gen Z can engage with industry in ways that are not only relevant to them, but fun, reversing that “Plan B” career mindset will not only begin to materialize, but banks of hours toward soft- and middle-skills development within a future, qualified workforce will accrue, year over year.

It’s Game Time.

It’s time to think outside the box if we’re going to close the skills gap in America. Training our next workforce generation through mobile gamification at an early age will not only secure a leadership position on the world stage of manufacturing for decades to come, but will also provide meaningful careers and opportunities for communities that are underserved. Matt Dunne, Founder and Executive Director of the Center On Rural Innovation says, “Even in these difficult times, rural America has some exciting opportunities to build economies of the future.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

The Future of Manufacturing is Right in the Palm of Your Hands.

One of the biggest things that sets Gen Z apart from other generations is that they were born as digital natives. According to the Pew Research Center, “Some 45% of teens say they are online ‘almost constantly,’ and an additional 44% say they’re online several times a day.”

But Gen Z uses the internet differently than Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. While previous generations use it to seek information, Gen Z uses it for entertainment…along with pretty much everything else. This opens up a huge opportunity for Manufacturers to use technology to reach them “where they live”, especially in rural areas. Pew goes on to report that “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.” The key is to leverage this medium in a way that helps to convert them into a viable workforce.  

The Global Gaming Market Could be Worth $159.3 Billion by The End of 2020

mobile gamers chart

“In 2019, mobile games were responsible for 60% of the total revenue of the global video games market and registered over 1.36 billion gamers in the process. The number of mobile gamers worldwide is expected to reach 2.6 billion in 2020,” per New Zoo. According to techjury, “mobile is set to make up 48% of the world’s gaming market share this year and that 45% of U.S. gamers are women.” So it’s conceivable that what Grand Theft Auto has done to driving dexterity, customized manufacturing gaming can do for problem solving and soft skills. Augmented reality and virtual reality are already crossing over from entertainment to education; a recent Forbes article explains that, “AR brings new flexibility to on-the-job training.” And with the expansion of 5G service, including to rural areas, Manufacturers can now “meet”, recruit and educate Gen Z no matter where they live.

The Transition to Virtual Learning Gives The Manufacturing Industry an Unprecedented Opportunity

It’s becoming increasingly clear that schools’ and industries’ widespread implementation of digital learning strategies is long overdue. While the value of in-person instruction continues to persevere, the pandemic forced the immediate implementation of virtual strategies, and Gen Z is adapting. According to Bizly chief strategy officer Kevin Iwamoto, “Millennials and Gen Z figured out how to develop communities and live in a virtual world.”

boy doing virtual reality

If manufacturers can attract Gen Z by introducing virtual learning strategies that engage, entertain and educate them on the opportunities of middle-skills careers at an early age, not only will they begin to reverse the ‘Plan B’ mindset, but they’ll be fueling their talent pipeline when it’s so desperately needed. Between 2014–2024, 48% of job openings will be middle-skill and filling these jobs is critical because the global talent shortage could reach 85.2 million people by 2030.

Minecraft Meets The Minds

Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition is an example of how Gen Z succeeds at gamified learning. This edition of Minecraft has taken off in the wake of the pandemic as 63 million pieces of its content have been downloaded since March. Deirdre Quarnstrom, GM of the Minecraft Atlas division, says “We started with this premise that Minecraft is a game used in education, and not an educational game.”

It combines three major things that fuel the next generation’s success at virtual education including entertainment, engagement and social interaction. Minecraft explains that its remote learning toolkit “includes more than 50 lessons, STEM curriculum and project-based learning activities so educators can use Minecraft: Education Edition with their students whether they are in school, at home or in another remote learning environment.” This can help students learn and play wherever they are, including in rural areas.

Gaming Matters to Manufacturers

Simply put, Gen Z plays to win. The majority of them are competitive with their eyes set on making it to the “top of their game.” Keith Barr, CEO of L2L, says “The industry needs to consider developing and deploying plant-floor technology that utilizes gamification and transparency to take advantage of Gen Z’s unique skills.” 

Manufacturers will also need play to win Gen Z by delivering game-changing content that finds and engages them wherever they are in their digital world.