5 Reasons Why Younger is Better for Career Awareness

To fulfill the demands of our changing workforce, there’s been a lot of discussion about the optimal age to start engaging kids in a more comprehensive career discovery than the traditional doctor/lawyer norm in school. While ‘younger is better’ is arguably a unanimous sentiment globally, the controversy lies in allocating appropriate resources to support earlier (than high school) intervention, with a more balanced emphasis on our most in-demand careers and skills. But, unfortunately here in the U.S., employers need employees now, making investing in tomorrow’s workforce seemingly feudal in alleviating their immediate pain. And on the educator side, schools are still reeling from the lowest reading and math scores in decades, relegating the less pressing ‘career exploration’ to the back seat. 

Meanwhile, our talent pipelines continue to dwindle to a prospective 85 million talent deficit over the next five years, and poverty cycles continue to persist, despite there being enough people to fill those pipelines. Earlier awareness to these in-demand careers isn’t just one answer to closing this gap, it’s the only answer. 

So what is the most impactful age to initiate meaningful career exploration in order to move that needle? Research suggests (and we agree) middle school, even as early as eleven years old.

  1. Enhanced Cognitive Development: According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children typically enter the Concrete Operational Stage at around 11-12 years old. He considered this stage a major turning point in a child’s life, because it marks the beginning of logical or operational thought when they start to think more abstractly and consider hypothetical scenarios. At this stage, kids are equipped to understand the complexity and variety of different careers, as their ability to reason and make decisions are strengthened. 
  1. Strengthened Decision-making: Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development emphasizes the Identity Versus Role Confusion stage starting at twelve. According to him, this is important to the process of forming a strong identity and developing a sense of direction in life. Exploring various career options during this age can facilitate the development of a coherent identity and future career goals. 
  1. Increased Career Satisfaction: Those of any age who actively engage in career exploration tend to experience higher levels of career satisfaction based on clear expectations. Exposure to various careers can facilitate in children those same results – a clearer alignment of their interests with their future academic pursuits. Research published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior confirms that early career exploration aids in reducing potential conflicts between aspirations and realities.
  1. Improved Academic Performance: Educational psychology researcher Diana Raufelder published a study in the Journal of Education and Work revealing that middle school students who engaged in career exploration activities showed improved academic motivation and achievement, as well as increased self-efficacy in their academic pursuits. It essentially sets off a ripple effect: When students understand the relevance of their studies to potential future careers, they become more motivated and focused on their education.
  1. Reduction in Stereotype Bias: Early exposure to different careers can also help challenge gender and racial stereotypes and biases related to specific occupations. Providing children with a variety of role models and career options can eradicate misconceptions about certain jobs before they’ve ever learned them – some much younger than eleven – opening up a broader range of opportunities and promoting more equitable career choices.

 While thirteen is our magic number for initiating gamified awareness and access to local careers and opportunities –  specifically to under-served and underrepresented communities – in an ideal world:

  • elementary school should be reserved for career discovery;
  • middle school for awareness and planning;
  • high school for preparing. 

At what age do you start your job awareness and recruiting efforts?

Game On!: Fueling Gen-Z’s Self-Efficacy through Career Video Games

By: Aminata N. Mbodj

Introduction

During the training process, just as on the field, one crucial factor that greatly influences an individual’s continued motivation and positive learning outcomes is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief in their own ability to succeed in specific tasks or situations (Bandura, 1997). Research studies have consistently revealed that individuals possessing high levels of self-efficacy exhibit enhanced persistence, increased effort, and improved performance when faced with challenging tasks (Chen et al., 2001).

Understanding Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, recognizing and fostering the belief in one’s own capabilities, is the secret ingredient to effective skill development and performance. Within the context of the manufacturing industry, self-efficacy significantly influences motivation, adaptability, and the ability of workers to navigate complex work environments (Lent et al., 2000). Consequently, by actively nurturing self-efficacy, organizations can effectively cultivate a more skilled and self-assured workforce.

About Gen-Z

As the newest generation entering the workforce, Gen Z exhibits unique characteristics and preferences when it comes to learning and engagement. Growing up in the digital age, they have a strong inclination towards interactive and immersive learning experiences (Oblinger, 2003). By leveraging gaming, organizations can effectively capture the attention and maximize the learning potential of the Gen Z workforce by designing engaging, efficient, and effective learning experiences.

Integrating career video games in industry workforce development constitutes not only a cost-effective and scalable solution that aligns with Gen-Z learners’ preferences and maximizes their engagement (Sung et al., 2019), but also an asset to attract and retain Gen-Z talent by providing an innovative and effective learning experience (Reeves & Read, 2009). Career games can thus help you develop a vetted workforce capable of meeting industry demands and adapting to technological advancements.

Four (4) ways Skillsgapp’s Career Games can Engage a Vetted Pipeline

At Skillsgapp, their Skillionaire Games help you engage a workforce that excels in both individual and team settings.

1. Aptitude

First, their games enhance engagement and motivation by creating an immersive and interactive learning environment (Connolly et al., 2012). Their ability to capture the learners’ attention fosters a strong desire to actively participate in the learning process.

2. Action

Second, game-based learning promotes experiential training, allowing players to apply their skills in simulated real-world scenarios (de Freitas & Oliver, 2006). Through simulated environments, players can gain practical experience and develop their abilities in a risk-free setting, which translates into improved performance when faced with actual manufacturing challenges. 

3. Awareness

Third, video games provide immediate feedback and adaptive learning, enabling personalized skill development and addressing individuals’ needs (Plass et al., 2013). The timely feedback provided by the mechanics in Skillionaire Games allows players to understand their strengths and areas for improvement, facilitating a more tailored and effective learning experience. 

4. Access

Finally, video games facilitate collaborative and social learning opportunities, fostering teamwork and knowledge sharing (Squire & Jenkins, 2003). By incorporating multiplayer features or collaborative elements, the games encourage interaction and cooperation, enabling players to learn from each other’s experiences and build essential teamwork skills.

By providing progressive challenges, opportunities for skill development and practice, and promoting a growth mindset and perseverance, skillsgapp’s career video games contribute to building competence and mastery (Gee, 2003). The dynamic nature of their video games allows adaptive play tailored to Gen Z’s strengths and weaknesses; this, in turn, leads to increased self-efficacy and confidence (Papastergiou, 2009).

Conclusion

Through creating a sense of self-efficacy in your future workforce, game-based learning fosters  engaging and interactive learning experiences that enhance motivation, skill development, and performance. By investing in career gaming technology, you can revolutionize your recruitment methodologies, attract and retain Gen-Z talent, and ensure a highly skilled workforce capable of driving industry growth.

Aminata N. Mbodj, a First-Year Ph.D. Candidate in Human-Centered Computing at Clemson University, Aminata is deeply fascinated by the humbling process of learning. Three questions keep her up at night: “Which cognitive processes do we use to build mental models of the world as we experience it?”, “To what extent can we use algorithms to map these structures out?”, “What resulting computing solutions are accessible, so as to optimize our everyday learning?”



References:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. W.H. Freeman and Company.

Chen, G., Gully, S. M., & Eden, D. (2001). Validation of a new general self-efficacy scale. Organizational Research Methods, 4(1), 62-83.

Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59(2), 661-686.

de Freitas, S., & Oliver, M. (2006). How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated? Computers & Education, 46(3), 249-264.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2000). Contextual supports and barriers to career choice: A social cognitive analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47(1), 36-49.

Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials: Understanding the New Students. EDUCAUSE Review, 38(4), 37-47.

Papastergiou, M. (2009). Digital Game-Based Learning in high school Computer Science education: Impact on educational effectiveness and student motivation. Computers & Education, 52(1), 1-12.

Plass, J. L., Homer, B. D., & Kinzer, C. K. (2013). Foundations of Game-Based Learning. Educational Psychologist, 48(4), 243-259.

Reeves, B., & Read, J. L. (2009). Total engagement: How games and virtual worlds are changing the way people work and businesses compete. Harvard Business Press.

Squire, K., & Jenkins, H. (2003). Harnessing the Power of Games in Education. Insight, 3(1), 5-33.

Sung, Y.-T., Chang, K.-E., & Liu, T.-C. (2019). The effects of integrating mobile devices with teaching and learning on students’ learning performance: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Computers & Education, 128, 1-18.

Looking For Employees with Soft Skills? Recruit Gamers.

Attracting talent with all the tech or hard skills you need represents just about any industry’s greatest pain point. But those are teachable. What’s harder are those employable skills that correlate with a human’s dynamic capacity to feel and respond. And contrary to the stereotype, those who game represent an untapped pool with such skills that are going overlooked.  Esports journalist, Travis Gafford, vehemently refutes what many of us are thinking. “Gamers,” he attests, “are not antisocial basement-dwellers. They’re leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.” There’s no question that games promote problem solving, presenting players with a variety of challenges and obstacles that they must overcome in order to progress. But empathy? Adaptability? How can an autonomous, predominantly dextrous pastime nurture an employable suite of people skills that rely on, well, people?

1. Empathy

According to global VR director, Chris Milk, “Video games are the ultimate empathy machines.” When interacting with other characters, creatures, or cultures in an immersive gaming experience, players gain a perspective and understanding for circumstances different than their own, and in a safe environment with more opportunities for exploration than in real life. MIT’s Ilya Vedrashka takes this sentiment even further and states, “video games are the closest thing we have to a universal language.”

2. Time Management

Time management games represent its own, popular genre of casual video games focused on fast, real-time allocation of resources to fulfill specific game objectives in a specific order. These games often assume actual work simulation themes, where the player is required to manage a business. The 1983 arcade game Tapper is the prototypical time management game, where the player is a bartender who has to serve patrons before their patience expires. Reacting to incoming requests during play and serving them in the most effective manner yields the greatest rewards. It does in real life, too. 

3. Adaptability

Games can be unpredictable, and players must be able to adapt to changing circumstances in order to succeed. The importance of flexibility, resilience, and perseverance are all a player has on their resume in games, as the who-you-knows, or what school you went to holds no value in a player’s success trajectory. Because of this, award-winning game developer, Jane McGonigal goes on to add, “Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible and that it’s always worth trying, and trying now.” 

Rockefeller himself went as far as putting a higher value on people skills than a purchasable commodity. “I will pay more for the ability to deal with people than for anything under the sun.” Today, the US Department of Labor agrees, claiming that soft skills are even more important than the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic). They’re also agnostic, applicable to every industry. As employers are starved for talent today, perhaps adding ‘gaming’ to a desired skill set will yield a more employable candidate. Considering 90% of your future workforce classifies themselves as gamers, your hirable talent pool may have just gotten a lot bigger.

What soft skill do you value most in an employee?

Skillsgapp finalist for Cool Tool and Trendsetter Awards: The EdTech Awards – EdTech Digest, 2023

The largest and most competitive recognition program in all of education technology.

Recognizing the biggest names in edtech – and those who soon will be.

We celebrate who’s who—and what’s next.

The EdTech Awards recognizes people in and around education for outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere.

Featuring edtech’s best and brightest, the annual program shines a spotlight on cool tools, inspiring leaders and innovative trendsetters across the:

  • K-12
  • Higher Education, and
  • Skills and Workforce sectors.

Read more.

Tina Zwolinski on Being Mission-Driven to Reach Underserved Youth Through Gaming

This post is part of The Founder Factor, where you go behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough. The Founder Factor is brought to you by Designli (South Carolina’s top app development firm) and Word of Web

Stepping into the world of gaming to help the younger generation have a brighter future with more job opportunities, Zwolinski has broken the barriers of career awareness and access through innovative technology. Read full blog here.

In 1997, Tina Zwolinski launched a branding and marketing agency that she spent the next 23 years growing and expanding. While working with Millennials and then Gen Z in the marketing arena, she began to see the pressure put on youth to follow the high school to 4-year college path as the only solution to finding a career. Zwolinski saw this on a deeper scale as her nonprofit work took her to underserved youth who weren’t shown the opportunities out there. “I began to ask, ‘What can we do differently, and what would that look like? But I never would have thought the answer would mean exiting my company,” she says.

But in 2020, that’s exactly what she did. Exiting her business, Zwolinski was on a mission to connect youth to the millions of career opportunities that didn’t require the traditional 4-year degree path. This led her to form her startup company called skillsgapp, which produces Skillionaire Games™. “Foundationally, we are a workforce pipeline development company,” she explains. “But as our mission, we connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.” 

According to Zwolinski, students make decisions about what they “want to be” based on what they see, and in schools, they only see a select few careers like doctors, lawyers, and teachers. However, skillsgapp helps create career and pathway awareness for students through 10 different games, all of which focus on in-demand careers that are often overlooked or stigmatized. “We introduce careers to a student from entrance to exit,” she says. “They are put in environments that let them see themselves, as any gender or race, in various careers, showing them what average salaries are, what local colleges have programs for these fields, and practicing the skills needed for that career. For some students, going through a game means they are ready to sit for certification, allowing them to go straight into a job.”  Read full blog here.

EdTech Digest: State of EdTech 2023-2024 – Skillsgapp Named Top 100 in K-12 and Workforce

STATE OF EDTECH 2023-2024: The Minds Behind What’s Now and What’s Next, featuring:
>> 10 edtech companies to watch
>> EDTECH’S TOP 100 [from K-12, to higher ed and workforce]
>> 1000 companies transforming education
Link to Download Issue

Gamification: The “It” Word in Workforce Development

The term gamification first appeared when Nick Pelling coined the “deliberately ugly” word in 2002, when tasked with developing a game-like interface for ATM and vending machines.

But gamification, while not a part of our lexicon until recently, has been around for centuries and played a role in significant advancements. The Periodic Table of Elements, an iconic symbol in science, was created by Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. He wrote the names and properties of the sixty-five known elements on individual cards, hoping to predict new ones. After falling asleep at his desk while moving the cards around, he awoke to see the repeating pattern in the elements’ behavior, making him one of the first scientists to use gamification to complete an educational task. 

Gamification in Skills Development

Fast forward to this century’s technology, and the leap to gamified skills development is a natural one. As Dmitri Mendeleev demonstrated, games leverage the human tendency to influence one’s thinking process as a method to architecture human behavior to induce engagement, innovation, and productivity.

  1. According to the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, gamification increased:
    • 12.23% in retention
    • 7.03% overall performance 
  1. The U.S. Department of Defense uses gamification to safely train soldiers due to an astounding:
    • 11% increase in knowledge recall 
    • 14% increase in procedural knowledge
    • 9% greater retention of knowledge
  1. Scientific studies show that students who learn with gamified content that includes prizes push course completion from under 20% to 90%.

Gamification in Workforce Development

Engaging youth about careers with mobile gaming has also already proven to be a valuable tool in workforce development, as it offers a unique opportunity to engage with the next generation in job exploration using their favorite form of entertainment. In fact, a mobile, gamified approach to workforce development checks just about every box in recruiting today’s sustainable, vetted talent pipeline. Here’s why:

  1. Mobile games reach a broader, diverse audience, including those who may not be interested in or have access to traditional career exploration resources, including rural and inner-city communities.
  2. Players can engage in experiential career discovery, allowing them to engage in simulated work environments and learn about different career paths in a hands-on experience. 
  3. Industry-relevant skills are developed, including problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. 
  4. Mobile technology can directly connect players with post-secondary pathways and employers around them based on interest and proficiencies and their location.

What more?

  • 95% of Gen Z have access to smartphones
  • It’s where they spend more than 7+ hours a day 
  • 90% of them classify themselves as mobile gamers

Mobile gaming presents an unprecedented opportunity for industry to reach their future talent pool wherever they are, on their phones, with gamified content that engages, influences and skills. Industry videos watched only once, annual job fairs, or overly-tasked educators with limited time to invest in career awareness are not enough to fill the talent shortage estimated to cost industry a $1.2 trillion loss this decade. By making career exploration fun, accessible, and interactive, mobile games can inspire young people to pursue careers in a variety of industries and build a strong, diverse workforce for the future.

Interested in a workforce game demo? See how states are using free-to-play mobile gamification to create awareness and access for youth to skilled careers in their own backyard.

Beyond the Wrench Podcast: Leveraging Gamification to Promote Technician Careers-Tina Zwolinski, skillsgapp

This generation of technicians learns differently. Tina Zwolinksi, CEO & Founder, skillsgapp, shares her knowledge on how gamification can engage the younger generation and attract them to technician careers. Click here to listen.

(1:02) Guest Background
(3:12) Defining and Communicating with Gen Z
(17:12) Embracing the Digital World
(23:01) What is Gamification?
(33:29) Familiarizing Young Kids with the Industry
(52:11) skillsgapp Gamification

Winning at Workforce: Career and Pathway Awareness Starting in K-12 is the Competitive Advantage

In today’s ever-evolving labor market, there are more jobs available than ever for young adults to pick from depending on the type of career that best suits them. However, this is only possible if we start equipping young adults with the right tools earlier so they can better understand the wide range of careers available to them, and just as importantly, how they can access and prepare for them, especially careers within the in-demand fields of cybersecurity, manufacturing, and the life and health sciences. This will ensure the future workforce has the skills needed to remain competitive globally. 

The Benefits of Career Awareness and Pathway Access at an Earlier Age 

There are many benefits to starting early when it comes to career and pathway awareness. First, it helps young adults explore their passions as they understand more about the different types of jobs available. This leads to better decisions about which classes to take in high school, where to go to college or trade school, or whether college or trade school is even necessary for the desired career path.  

Additionally, it helps young adults develop confidence as they pursue their chosen field, be better prepared to answer questions about their chosen field or navigate job prospects without feeling lost or insecure. Finally, it gives students an advantage when entering the job market because employers know that these candidates have an understanding of what’s out there and are ready to hit the ground running from day one, minimizing costs associated with both training and attrition. It also leads to more diversity in the workforce since students from all backgrounds can benefit from career and pathway awareness in K-12. 

The Role of Technology in Career and Pathway Awareness 

One way to foster career and pathway awareness is by leveraging technology as part of the learning process. Technology can provide students with virtual experiences in different industries through videos, interactive games, or simulations that allow them to explore different roles from right where they are. This can help give them valuable insight into potential careers before they even enter college or join the workforce! Additionally, technology can provide teachers with resources, such as lesson plans or online courses designed to introduce students to different fields in engaging ways, while still following curriculum guidelines set out by their school district or state board of education. 

A Meaningful ROI

By introducing kids to various career paths earlier, we can create a generation of engaged learners who understand how their skills fit into the larger job market upon graduation—and employers will reap the rewards too. Utilizing technology as part of students’ learning process allows us to reach far beyond traditional methods used for teaching about careers; this helps us ensure that all students have equal access, regardless of background or location. As leaders in our organizations, it’s our duty to invest in these future generations now so that we create a well-rounded, sustainable workforce for tomorrow!

On a scale of  1 – 10, with 10 being the best, what score would you give your state, region or industry for your career and pathway awareness efforts with students in K-12?

Site Selection Magazine: 2023 Workforce Guide – featuring skillsgapp’s Skillionaire Games, Rad Lab, and South Carolina

Workforce has been cited in Site Selection Magazine’s annual survey of corporate consultants as the No. 1 factor in site selection decisions for several years in a row. The 2023 Workforce Guide is a special report providing insight into workforce development partnerships and practices across the U.S.

Skillsgapp and South Carolina’s Life Sciences Industry Feature: A Workforce Gaming Initiative, Rad Lab, is having a positive impact on the future workforce: Wanna Be A Skillionaire?

Members of a South Carolina industry association say a fun online game with prizes could put young people in line for prized STEM careers.

The industry is life sciences, the fastest-growing industry among South Carolina’s knowledge economy sectors, having grown by more than 42% since 2017. The organization is SCBIO, a statewide life sciences organization representing more than 1,000 organizations statewide employing more than 87,000 professionals across the sector’s entire range of disciplines. In early November 2022, it partnered with Skillionaire GamesTM — the business-to-consumer side of Greenville-based education technology firm skillsgapp — to announce the recent launch of Rad Lab, a mobile phone game that provides organizers with trackable geographic data and customizable incentives based on a player’s location, performance and proficiencies as they compete to gain ever-higher levels of skill in various STEM-based life science areas.

Read More Here.

  • Discover ways to engage with your workforce pipeline earlier
  • Scale career awareness and pathway access, especially for the underserved
  • Gain a competitive advantage for recruitment supported by meaningful data