Busting the Myths Behind Gen Z and Gaming

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp


Video Games Build Community

Dark basement. Empty chip bags. One guy staring at a bright screen, maniacally pressing buttons on a controller. I don’t know when or how this stereotype got started—much less reinforced—but at some point it came to represent the quintessential “gamer.” Nowadays that perception is changing as old fears are dismissed and more people recognize the value of video games. 

In this blog series, we’ll bust some still lingering gaming myths by exploring and correcting misperceptions about video games and the people who play them, specifically our future workforce, Gen Z. There are already plenty of articles written by professional research teams and scientists detailing how games can improve manual and mental dexterity, teach problem-solving skills and creativity, relieve stress while stimulating the brain, inspire players of all ages, introduce educational topics, and—maybe most importantly—foster community, so I’ll share something only I can: my own experience.

Family game nights: generations of memories

Video games have always been important to the members of my family, even my grandparents. 

My Papa Donald had an SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment Controller), and sometimes all six of us grandkids could be found piled in his living room, collectively trying to beat Donkey Kong Country. It was a similar thing with my Pop Pop and the King’s Quest point-and-click adventures: for years my sister Addie and I spectated his gameplay while consulting the cheat book on his behalf. 

Then there was my dad and Luigi’s Mansion. Terrified of the ghosts, my sister and I solo-played only rooms that my dad had already cleared. But the fun for me didn’t come from saving the day as Luigi; it came from spending time with the two of them.

With my mom, our game was Animal Crossing. She’d catch bugs, I’d fulfill the American dream of paying off a mortgage. We also used to write each other in-game updates despite sitting right next to each other. There was something special about communicating through such a unique medium.

As a kid, I didn’t know that all these little moments with my family would matter—these moments that games created—and yet we were reinforcing our relationships with every press of a button.

Plugging in to stay connected

My sister and I are now 20 and 22, respectively, so we’re on the upper end of Gen Z and have grown up playing games like so many others our age: games on the TV, computer, DS, iPad, and now mobile phone. By gaming, I’ve stayed close to my sister through college to today. She and I bond over video games that champion the story. For example, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines was our Christmas break go-to, and throughout my last semester of school I played Dishonored for her via Discord’s screen-sharing feature. It’s become clear to me that games are a powerful means of making and preserving memories. They let us stay connected no matter the distance, and that’s been particularly important this past year.

Our story isn’t unique, especially not amongst the younger half of our generation who started early with mobile games. Games have always linked people together, and with the advent and popularity of online and mobile gaming, they’re now able to achieve that person-to-person connection on an even broader scale. Because 90% of Gen Z is engaging with mobile gaming, chances are high a large percentage of your future workforce is playing—and connecting—right now.

Single or multiplayer, games build communities

Gaming isn’t a lonely hobby. I don’t think it was ever intended to be. Sometimes I do play alone for personal creative projects or breaks from work, but usually, I’m either talking to a friend over voice chat or sitting right beside them. Game nights are some of the most vivid memories I have with friends, from zooming through Mario Kart Wii in middle school to scrambling around on Overcooked in college. Yeah, maybe at times we were in a dark basement eating chips, but we were all there with each other, laughing and shouting and growing our friendships, practicing cooperative skills, and making our time together last. 

Ultimately, it’s not just about the games; it’s about the communities they strengthen.

Do you have a favorite video game from childhood? If so, I would love to hear about it below!

Beth Ann Townsend recently graduated from Washington & Lee University with a double major in English and Classics, a combination of interests she’s excited to bring to skillsgapp. She’s always loved telling stories, solving problems, studying what has been, and imagining what could be. Now a narrative designer at skillsgapp, she can puzzle out the best ways to marry the “what” and “why” of the game with the “how,” working alongside a team that’s dedicated to uplifting our next workforce generation

Career Awareness Within Manufacturing: Three Untapped Opportunities to Reach the New Workforce Generation

Held on the first Friday of October each year, the National Association of Manufacturers organizes Manufacturing Day. Its purpose? To raise awareness among students, parents, educators, and the general public about modern manufacturing and the rewarding careers available. Since its inception, both the manufacturing industry and federal agencies have gotten creative with their outreach initiatives in an effort to dispel some of the “dull and dirty” misconceptions about such jobs, from official proclamations and factory tours to mobile escape room experiences. 

Despite such efforts, and arguably accelerated by the resource shortages perpetuated by the pandemic, the skills gap in American manufacturing is reported to reach 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028, causing a potential economic loss of $2.5 trillion. As we recover, industry, educators, and government agencies are tasked to not only think differently regarding how to build career awareness but to incite action in order to help the public perceive U.S. manufacturing as the modern, vibrant, growing industry that it is today, so that it will continue to be tomorrow. 

Three opportunities for reaching manufacturing’s next workforce generation:

1. Gaming: Gen Z (those aged 9-24) grew up and teched up in 2020-21. They’re also more likely to consider working in manufacturing than previous generations. The manufacturing industry should consider developing technology that utilizes gamification to simulate vocational experiences in order to take advantage of Gen Z’s unique skills and interests – no matter where they are. Unfortunately, according to President and CEO of L2L, Keith Barr, the industry hasn’t fully explained the dynamic, technology-driven environment of the modern plant floor.” Mobile gamification allows for scalability and reach, even in under-resourced communities.

2. Earlier Intervention: According to a survey, 75% of Americans have never had a counselor, teacher or mentor suggest they look into attending trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career. Why? In part because teachers and counselors require a four-year-degree for their careers which intrinsically feeds the stigma, whether intentional or not. Even those who do tout the benefits of an ‘alternative route’ in high school, it’s often too late. Disappearing are the days of rote physical acts performed on a factory floor. As emerging technologies displace low-skill jobs in modern manufacturing, new jobs require new skills, requiring a keen balance of art and science. The earlier a student becomes versed in these skills and is exposed to corresponding pathways in middle school, the more deliberate and prepared they can be in navigating their own hopes and dreams, not those of their predecessors.

3. Increased access to hands-on learning and apprenticeships: Preparing students for their future careers through experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom is like trying one on. If someone demonstrates proficiencies and interest that industry is looking for, corresponding educational and career pathways can be strategically offered and incentivized to an already vetted, future employee. If the opposite, investment in training in a non-viable employee is removed from a company’s bottom line. Vital Link, an example of a  non-profit organization in Southern California offers students hands-on programs that introduce them to the world of robotics, engineering, manufacturing, healthcare and medical, computer programming, digital media arts, and automotive technology enabling them to explore their interests, expand their skill sets, and develop a network to create pathways to “jumpstart” their future careers – an expedition manufacturing so desperately needs.

For the skills gap to close, more than factory doors need to open; so do our minds. Will Healy III, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, perhaps says it best. “Pick something you will do different in 2022. You have to.” 

Care to share your own ideas for closing the skills gap in 2022? Please comment below.

College Confidential > Alternatives to College: Exploring Other Routes

Go to Article/skillsgapp featured

Exploring Alternative to College

We don’t need to belabor the point that this generation of teens is tired, depressed, and burnt out. You already know that. If you’re a teenager, you may be experiencing it yourself. And if you’re a parent, you’ve probably watched your teen struggle, adjust, then perhaps struggle some more as they’ve grappled with the turmoil of the past 18 months.

In addition to the usual stress of high school and a highly competitive academic landscape, teens have endured the uncertainty and inconsistency of COVID and its aftermath. In a recent Pew Research Survey of thirteen to seventeen-year-olds across the country, seventy percent of those surveyed cited anxiety and depression as a major concern. In fact, that measure placed the highest, above any other concern, including bullying, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy.

Nevertheless, time trudges on and teens still are confronted with that nagging, intimidating question, “What are you doing after high school?” And if they don’t have a plan, or theirs doesn’t fit the norm? Well, it can be all the more daunting to transition into the next life stage.

Now more than ever it’s important for parents and teens’ to openly communicate about desires to pursue alternate routes to a traditional four-year college. As parents ourselves and educational consultants who have worked a combined thirty years with teens and tweens, we urge parents to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to the post-secondary school plans for their teens. Four-year college is not for everyone, and attending certainly does not have to follow high school directly.

We have outlined some of the most popular alternative choices below, but we encourage you to be open to whatever your teen presents to you and also to help navigate this new path alongside them (if that’s what they want.) Continue Reading at College Confidential.

Photo Credit: College Confidential

Everyone’s a Gamer

Gaming habits continue to skyrocket in 2021 and beyond.

Over the past few decades, the term “gamer” has been loosely used to categorize the maligned, often-misunderstood group of people that regularly engage in video, computer, or tabletop games. But the truth is, we’re all gamers today, as the immersive power of gaming has sprinkled its magic fairy dust on our otherwise linear, more traditional methods of entertainment and learning, and there’s no shame in that.

The demographics of gaming are changing. 

No longer is it just teenage boys scraping up change for the latest Call of Duty, but instead the gaming market has exploded in all directions. Mobile gaming, esports, VR/AR, social gaming, and gaming streaming have all attracted new audiences. Take Netflix, the COVID-crowned king of binging’s latest announcement of adding video games to its service. It’s the everyday mainstream population they’re responding to – our preferences, our peak hours, and our penchant for interactivity. Sitting on the sofa as a voyeur to other people’s narrative is no longer enough for us, according to their research. 

We want in.

Even Peleton, the bike that pedaled so many of us through the pandemic from our living rooms is upping their game by adding Lanebreak to their repertoire. Similar to your typical rhythm and dance games, here you’re incentivized to pedal at a certain cadence or resistance along a Tron-like virtual highway. 

We play to slim.

Learning games are earning more than points.

Mobile games in education have also taken a giant leap forward as of late. Hands-on skills development is now, literally, in the palm of middle and high schoolers hands, offering engaging ways for kids to gain career-making skills and connections, and for industry to grow a work-ready talent pool, even in under-resourced communities.

We play for our future.

Even though video games have been a part of the popular culture since the early 1980’s, no one could foresee how important gaming would become in the 21st century. So as we begin to shed the gaming stigma of yesteryear, it’s time to embrace this new era of game-changing connectivity that offers real-time, real-life rewards.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Do you have a favorite game? If so, please share below!

A Legacy of Manufacturing Careers

By Tina Zwolinski, skillsgapp CEO and Co-Founder

When I was younger, I didn’t realize that what my dad did for a living was called aerospace or manufacturing. These terms weren’t even in my vernacular. I just knew that he lived and breathed all things jet and rocket engines and that we did too. Our vacations revolved around his passion. Plane flights turned into educational moments about the jets and their engines; he brought us along on work trips to Florida and California; we visited NASA to celebrate launches, and were frequently in attendance at the Pratt & Whitney Airshows in East Hartford Connecticut.

“I was a part of the aerospace industry transitioning from piston engines to jet engines. I love seeing the innovation happening today with jet engines and space travel. The speed of change is remarkable.”

– James Woodward

My father worked at Pratt & Whitney for his entire career and made a great living, which he’s still benefiting from today at eighty-four. He worked his way up from design and testing to management. Throughout his tenure, he taught me the importance of a strong work ethic, and to respect and care about those you work with. He would come to my school every year with a small model engine and share career opportunities within aerospace and what students should focus on in school to prepare for a career in “jet or rocket engines.” All of my science projects were centered around flight and engines, admittedly with a lot of help from my dad.

Unlike many of my peers, I spent a summer working at Pratt & Whitney as a teenager. It paid better than retail and lit a passion in me for manufacturing. I remember thinking people were paid well, had great benefits, and took pride in their work as a team. That’s what stuck with me. Manufacturing looked very different back in the late eighties than it does today, and we are working hard now to reverse the stigmas of dirty, hot plants that have recurring layoffs. 

“Still today, whenever I get on a plane I look to see what company manufactured the jet and engine on the plane. I live stream rocket launches and landings amazed at the speed of innovation, just like my dad.”

– Tina Zwolinski

Manufacturing: A Family Affair

My uncle worked in automotive manufacturing at Stanadyne for 15 years, and then with Hamilton Standard (now Collins Aerospace) in aerospace for the rest of his career. Through both, he experienced the introduction of robots into manufacturing, and like my dad, did well and enjoyed his work. He was also able to travel to train teams, and I got a front-row seat to his incredible opportunities to see the world through his work.

“A career in manufacturing provided me with an excellent quality of life, the opportunity to see the world, and life-long friendships from the years of working together.”

– James McKeough

My nephew is the next generation in our family of manufacturing disciples, following in the aerospace footsteps of his grandfather. He’s a great example of a Gen Zer who wanted to have more hands-on experience, versus spending time in a classroom. Despite a scholarship to a 4-year university in engineering, he decided to take another pathway through the technical college system where he studied aircraft maintenance and was offered a position with Lockheed Martin. He recently received his airframe license and is looking forward to a life-long career in the aerospace industry.

“I’m enjoying putting the skills I’m passionate about to work at Lockheed Martin. There are career growth opportunities and the company is very supportive of my continued learning and growth interests within the company.”

-Joshua Wallace

Carrying the Manufacturing Torch

I started my advertising career at the Greenville SC Chamber of Commerce right around the time BMW was considering coming to the Upstate. I could feel the manufacturing spark reigniting, knowing what a manufacturing plant like theirs could do for the state of South Carolina.

The next 25 years were spent running ZWO, a branding and marketing firm focused on economic and workforce development with an emphasis on industry sector recruitment and expansion support, as well as youth consumer brand and lifestyle marketing, including stigma reversal. 

Year after year we heard the same thing from both industry and states: “We need to find skilled workers to fill all the open positions”. Websites, videos, job fairs, and print materials were all being done to reach the potential workforce, but those tools and tactics weren’t getting the job done, and so the conversation ensued. 

Along came Generation Z, a generation born with a mobile phone in hand, quick to teach themselves about anything and everything. This was the catalyst that ignited the launch of skillsgapp. We began asking ourselves one question: “What if we could go directly to the students – wherever they are – and engage with them on their phones about these careers and corresponding pathways?”  They then could advocate for their own future based on their interests and learnings, not the stigmas of the generations before them. Industry could in turn recruit from a more engaged, qualified pipeline for years to come, void of the constrictive layers of traditional outreach, in school and out, especially in under-resourced communities. 

“By the time Gen Z learns about skills-based careers, many have chosen another path. Preparing and making them aware of these opportunities earlier isn’t just the key to our future, but theirs, too.”

Tina Zwolinski, Founder and CEO, skillsgapp

We dug in with passion and researched, conducted focus groups, studied trends, and decided on a skills development game model that makes learning about work fun, rewarding, and scalable. With the opportunity for credentialing a win for all.

Looking ahead, it’s game on to reach as many students as possible to create awareness and opportunity around meaningful, well-paying manufacturing jobs in automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and even the skilled trades and cybersecurity/IT fields. 

Do you have family members following the generation before into manufacturing careers? Please share in the comments below!

WORK ETHIC. Can it be taught?

According to Thinkers Point, work ethic is a soft skill and a belief that diligence and tough work have an ethical benefit and an inherent ability, virtue, or value to strengthen character and individual abilities. And according to many, you’re either born with a strong work ethic, or you’re not.

Psychologist Marie Hartwell-Walker recently studied disparate degrees of this valuable skill between kids who lived on small family farms and “city” kids. The farm kids worked (and worked hard), she reported, while the city kids lamented over routine chores, such as clearing the table. 

Why the difference?

“I think it comes down to this,” she writes. “On the smaller farms, work is clearly valued, it is done routinely, by everyone, and the consequences for not doing it are obvious and clear. In other households, kids experience work as capriciously imposed by the big people and whether they do it or not has little observable consequence.”

Work ethic is a soft skill employers look for in every industry, especially those looking to fill positions for skills-based careers that require a measurable level of output in a timely manner. Mike Rowe, arguably the most passionate advocate for skills-based careers of this century, even named a scholarship after it. The Work Ethic Scholarship Program is “about recognizing people who understand the importance of work ethic, personal responsibility, delayed gratification, and a positive attitude. These are hardworking men and women who will keep the lights on, water running, and air flowing.”

The skills gap in American manufacturing is reported to leave 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028 causing a potential economic loss of $2.5 trillion. That’s a lot of strong work ethic needing to be cultivated in order to fill them. The good news is that there are everyday practices that can be taught in creative ways no matter where your next workforce lives that can transform – and even incentivize – employable behaviors into workready habits.

1. Practicing Punctuality 

By developing the habit of showing up on time, or even being early for appointments/class/work, kids can have the chance to mentally prepare for what’s ahead and to take advantage of meaningful opportunities available to those who are first in line. 

2. Developing Professionalism 

This goes beyond eye contact and a firm handshake to include attitude, values, and demeanor. Simply being positive and cordial to their peers, refraining from gossip, and being respectful of others is a recipe for an effective team player and leader.

3. Cultivating Self-Discipline

Any good achievement takes discipline. Staying focused on the long-term goal and not being side-tracked by short-term gratification translates into consistent follow-through on projects. 

4. Using Time Wisely

Ben Franklin was among the first to coin, “Never leave that ‘till tomorrow which you’ll do today.” An age-old credo, but so is “time is money.”

5. Staying Balanced 

Having a strong work ethic doesn’t mean being tethered to a production line on their feet all day. It includes taking time to relax and recharge, in order to maintain a clear perspective at work.

A Teachable Strategy

Schools are currently challenged with prioritizing soft skill curriculum in the midst of COVID-catch-up, so practice outside of school is paramount in strengthening these skills in students – a deficit costing industry a considerable amount of money in new hire training and attrition. One way we approach 21st-century skills is through 21st-century methods of teaching them. By incorporating soft skills into each of our games’ hard-skill challenges, both industry and students entering the workforce are playing for a more well-rounded win.

The “Lean-Forward” Advantage of Mobile Games in Workforce Development

One of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, Abraham Maslow, established “the hierarchy of motivation”, theorizing that in any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, or to step back into safety. Both are immersive actions but inspired by disparate levels of ambition. The same dichotomy arguably holds true with how we choose to experience our downtime, too. Even before the pandemic, Netflix unleashed a franchise phenomenon of cozy socks and loungewear, designed to support a feet-up, laid-back escape from the everyday. Mobile gaming, by contrast – while also a pastime catapulted into the billions by the at-home dynamic of COVID-19 – commands an entirely different posture. Phone in hand, elbows on knees, with eyes on the screen the player is alert and at the ready. The late film and music editor Norman Hollyn calls this the “Lean Forward Moment”, where the audience has an emotional reaction that causes him or her to lean forward and pay more attention.

“The gamer lean has become a universal meme, but until now, the science behind its benefits were completely unknown,” says Tom Fairey, CEO, and founder of Stakester, an online gaming platform. One of their most popular games is soccer-inspired FIFA, which researchers from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds reported a leaning forward advantage of  4 minutes and 41 seconds per game to ensure a victory. Moving your main sensory system – your eyes – closer helps you focus and concentrate, they proved, and that leaning forward has a positive impact on sharpening players’ instincts.

Imagine swapping soccer out for gaming content that supports skills for the everyday. Rewards and incentives to reach different kinds of goals that are fun still command the same focus and attention, just with a different outcome. Here lies the ‘aha’ moment for parents, educators, and industry looking to prepare our next generation with the tools to succeed as the next workforce. By transforming skills development, career awareness, and job opportunities into mobile gaming technology, we can revolutionize how the next generation actively “leans in” to career pathways at an earlier age. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comprises a five-tier model of human needs: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The desire to level up, according to science, is simply in our DNA. This is what makes mobile gaming a profoundly powerful medium to perpetuate a step – or lean – forward to growth, instead of a step back to the safety of the same old tools and tactics for workforce development.

The Neuroscience of Gaming: Persuasion Techniques Behind Skills Development Games

blog author By Aminata N. Mbodj

Part 2 of 2

By their very structure, video games trigger effective learning paradigms[1] through elements such as experiential and inquiry-based learning, self-efficacy and goal-setting, as well as continuous feedback and cooperation. Effective video games not only leverage brain chemistry but enhance it through gradual challenges and reward mechanisms. Thus, they manage to increase focus and time on tasks so as to yield higher learning outcomes.

A study depicted in Merrilea Mayo’s article on Games for science and engineering education goes as follows:

[…] a middle school class was divided into two groups. The control group (32 students) learned electrostatics through interactive lectures, experiments, observations, and teacher demonstrations. The second group (58 students), with the same teacher, mostly played an electrostatics game called Supercharged during class time while also receiving lectures and handouts. The 32 in the control group improved their understanding by 15% over their pre-test scores; those who played the game improved their understanding by 28%. Much more impressive was how the simulation contributed to girls’ achievement; among girls, the control group improved on their pre-test scores by only 5% and the game group by 23%. 

Evidence from this research not only seems to suggest that video games added to normal lectures and handouts contribute to higher learning outcomes, but it also demonstrates that video games may improve learning outcomes in specific demographics which might have been underrepresented and underperforming, especially in STEM fields. 

Games and Personalization, a Whole New World

The case study above, most importantly perhaps, suggests that video games can, quite literally, widen access to talent which, otherwise, would not have had access to the traditional workforce pipeline. In gameplay, just as in early workforce training, the individual must move forward with a sentiment of purpose and personal responsibility when engaging in skill acquisition; an effective training system must make space for variations among trainees, especially if the desired result is a holistic, performant, and innovative workforce.

Personalization, as a result of identity-centric gameplay, is a pillar for creating particularly engaging and immersive game experiences. Tondello et al[2] propose different personalization factors to consider in making games more appealing and effective; these factors include personality types, age, gender, player types, culture or nationality, or again individual susceptibility to persuasive attempts. 

Tondello et al claim: “personalization is more effective than standardization to create behavior change.” Indeed, the above-cited factors, when properly and ethically leveraged, increase individual involvement in the games’ narratives[3], and thus make players more receptive to behavior change suggestions and more likely to experience the game as an immersive simulation

As one of the most scalable digital media to date, video games have a massive reach with more than 2.6 Billion people said to play them worldwide. Personalization features developed atop factors such as those cited above further expand reach across demographic lines; for manufacturing, and in the context of skill-building games, this means access to the right talent, no matter where it is located, no matter what it looks like. 

Rewarding Behavior: From Novice to Skilled

Skills development games are specifically designed to optimize the processes of learning, technical upskilling, and soft skills acquisition. Using the personalization factors, the player is taken through a reward fueled “persuasion pipeline” geared towards transforming them from novice to skilled. The following excerpts from an article on the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, on Video Games and Rehabilitation[4], give us an insight as to the mechanisms triggered by effective gameplay:

One of the insights … on the neuroscience of reward and motivation, is the discovery that the limbic system, in particular the nucleus accumbens (NA), is critical to learning new behaviors, especially those associated with the pursuit of rewards. At the beginning of a game, players desire a low level of challenge to meet a correspondingly low level of ability and familiarity with the game. With an increase in experience, the greater challenge keeps players on the edge of their ability to accomplish tasks. Physiologically, when the same action is no longer guaranteed to produce the same level of reward, the magnitude of reward prediction error is also increased. This desirable increase could be achieved by … increasing the level of challenge offered by a game or by changing the game. 

Reward Prediction Error might be the new term that we take away from the above excerpt; it measures the degree to which what was expected differed from what was obtained. While Lohse’s research explores how rewarding a given action is; other researchers, such as Dalhousie University’s Rita Orji, are set to optimize the very nature of these in-game actions so as to maximize reward[5].

Cialdini’s Persuasion Strategies

Persuasion strategies are the backbone of behavior change research; Cialdini’s six persuasion strategies, exploring Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Commitment, and Consistency, as well as Consensus and Liking, are among the most widely adopted. Orji et al ran a large-scale case study (1108 individuals) using various Persuasive Technologies, which have been defined as “a class of technologies that are intentionally designed to change people’s attitude or behavior”, to test these strategies across the Gender and Age lines.

The results showed that, across the board, commitment and reciprocity emerged as the most persuasive. Furthermore,  according to Orji et al, there are three pivotal aspects that are critical to long-term engagement and thus behavior change: competition, feedback, and presence. Skill development games aim to maximize these aspects, respectively, through a subtle mix of Badges & Certifications, On-demand Analytics Reporting, and In-game Live Events.

As the immersive technology par excellence, skill development games offer today’s manufacturing industry a unique opportunity to combine specialized training and cutting edge behavior change techniques into highly captivating and impactful learning experiences. Furthermore, with all this evidence showing not only the extent to which video games are taking up ever-larger chunks of our already active screen life but also their special ability to promote skill acquisition and knowledge retention, using them as the primary tool to reach new industry talent simply stands as the logical next step for manufacturing.


____
Aminata N. Mbodj A First-Year PhD 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?”

1 Merrilea J. Mayo. 2007. Games for science and engineering education. Commun. ACM 50, 7 (July 2007), 30–35. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/1272516.1272536 
2 Gustavo F. Tondello, Rita Orji, and Lennart E. Nacke. 2017. Recommender Systems for Personalized Gamification. In Adjunct Publication of the 25th Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization (UMAP ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 425–430. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3099023.3099114
3 Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion: Explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-education messages. Communication Theory, 18(3), 407-425. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2008.00328.x
4 Lohse, K., Shirzad, N., Verster, A., Hodges, N., & Van Der Loos, H. (2013). Video games and rehabilitation: Using design principles to enhance engagement in physical therapy. Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, 37(4). doi:10.1097/NPT.0000000000000017
5 Orji, R., Mandryk, R., & Vassileva, J. (2015). Gender, age, and responsiveness to Cialdini’s persuasion strategies. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 147-159. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-20306-5_14

From Gamer to Skilled Worker:
New Normal, New Workforce Pipeline

blog author By Aminata N. Mbodj

Part 1 of 2

A dynamic and highly trained workforce is the basic fuel for growth in any given industry. The truth of this statement is made flagrant in today’s manufacturing industry whose pleas for young and skilled talent are, unsurprisingly, only echoed by its record low productivity rates. With 2.1 million manufacturing jobs set for availability by 2030, industry employers, especially in the sectors of Pharma and Life Sciences, IT, Aerospace, and Automotive should pay special attention to new methods of talent acquisition. 

A Talent Pool Ready to be Tapped

The workforce shortage within manufacturing might not so much be the result of a nonexistent and/or uninterested talent pool, but rather that of a lack of visibility in an ever digitized world. In fact, according to à survey by Indeed, Gen Z’s job search habits suggest a strong interest in tech and health-care positions; excellent career choices as manufacturing areas in both fields currently suffer serious talent shortages. The survey further suggests that, as a generation brought up during the Great Recession, job stability is a priority for Gen Z; representing five out of Business Insider’s 10 best industries for job security, manufacturing and Gen Z seem like a perfect match.

Despite all this evidence, however, misconceptions relating to the manufacturing industry run rampant among Gen Z; misconceptions that get in the way of crucial early career exposure. The research is clear: students who have not expressed STEM-related aspirations by age 10 are unlikely to do so by age 14; Amy Flynn, career development counselor at Oakland Schools’ Technical Campuses states: “Kids choose careers from experiences they’ve had.” Flynn  insists: “The bottom line is that exposure, exposure, exposure is amazing for students.”

With the “career imprinting” window being so narrow, Gen Z’s exposure to industry careers must not only prove engaging but also dispel any misconceptions about the field. For this, video games might be the solution. Leveraging research-based techniques designed to reflect real-life processes of skill acquisition, these “persuasive media”, as Ian Bogost, Professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology calls them, constitute a non-negligible path towards manufacturing tomorrow’s workforce.

Bridging the Skills Gap

Of the many ways to reach and influence Gen Z, video games occupy a Champion’s Place. If a historical institution as prestigious as the U.S. Army, which has commemorated its 246th year this 14th of June 2021, has understood this, why should industry lag behind?

America’s Army: A Case in Point

In July 2002, the U.S. Army launched “America’s Army”, a video game geared towards informing, training, and recruiting prospective soldiers. This tactical move of “meeting them (potential recruits) where they are” is all the more understandable given the fact that, “by age 21, the average American will have spent more than 10,000 hours playing video games”; the equivalent to 5 years of full-time employment.

Among the plethora of reasons why video games should be used in skills training, the #1 simply is that future industry talent is, currently, easiest to engage with and train using this medium. Indeed, video games not only manage to achieve record-high levels of engagement but also are potent tools for guided behavior change.

Video Games and Behavior Change, A New Outlook

The association between video games and changed behaviors is not as foreign to us as we like to believe. For well over three decades, video games have shown conclusive results in a wide range of applications including group therapy (1992), the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and obesity among youths (2008), or again the effective treatment of chemotherapy-related anxieties in children and adolescents (1990), we seem to have come to a consensus that video games can indeed tangibly affect the behavior of players. 

In the game world, claims game designer Jane McGonigal, we become “the best version of ourselves, the most likely to persist, the most likely to help others”. Emotional immersion and total concentration, as natural consequences of compelling gameplay, represent a unique opportunity to introduce new behaviors and habits to the players thus resulting in skills acquisition. There is, in our case, an unprecedented chance at using such a powerful tool towards reaching, engaging, and training the future of manufacturing.


____
Aminata N. Mbodj A First-Year PhD 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?”

How to Compete in Workforce Readiness…and Win.

When it comes to recruiting and retaining talent for skills-based careers, we don’t have a people problem, we have a skilled people problem. From aerospace and automotive to life sciences and cybersecurity/IT, this isn’t a new issue, even post-pandemic. In fact, US manufacturing activity surged to a 37-year high in March, with more than half a million jobs to fill.

This skills gap makes the ability for states to compete in industry recruitment fierce because on the top of every prospect’s list before they make their selection is: CAN YOU MEET MY WORKFORCE NEEDS

Companies want to know:

1. How did your state support workforce readiness for companies before them?

2. What skill sets are available in your state?

3. How are you addressing workforce development in K-12 to keep their pipeline going?

4. How are your business and education communities working together?


For most states, the answer to most of the above is, ‘not enough’. According to a study just published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, there will still be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030, costing our economy up to $1 trillion.  

“During my 30-year-career in economic and workforce development, there’s never been a more critical time to re-evaluate how we approach career awareness, skills development, and recruitment for America’s labor workforce. Doing more of what we did yesterday simply won’t work for the labor force of today…or tomorrow.” 

–Jerry Howard, President, InSite Consulting
Past President and CEO, Greenville Area Development Corporation

Innovate for tomorrow’s workforce, today.

A move for a company is risky if the workforce can’t scale quickly or be sustainable for the long haul. Today’s workforce also commands diversity, which means rural reach also has to be cracked finally. So as those at the helm of economic and workforce development efforts are tasked with more questions on how to attract and retain workforce-ready talent today and for years to come, they need to look for those answers from the 67.17 million talent pool they’re trying to recruit: Gen Z.

According to a study published in Forbes, 33% of kids who play video games say it inspired future careers, including science. Carnegie Mellon goes on to report that interactive activities are 6x more likely to help students learn. This means there’s a real opportunity here to collide career awareness and preparedness with gaming. And while educational gaming isn’t a new concept, games kids want to play with real word incentives for a better future, is.

chart of gen z stats


It’s a numbers game.

Today, 95% of 13-17-year-olds have access to a cell phone, even in rural areas. Ninety percent classify themselves as gamers, and 63% are concerned about jobs and unemployment. On top of all that, a majority feel their education should not be limited to the classroom, and that business should be stepping up to offer new forms of learning

By transforming skills development, career awareness, and job opportunities into mobile gaming technology, states, industry, and education can revolutionize how the next generation engages in – and views – skills-based careers at an earlier age.

A community has to have a skilled workforce to sustain a thriving community where people can live, work, and play. And according to a recent Site Selectors Guild’s conference, those states who lead the way, win.  

Game on.