Do you know one reason so many jobs continue to go unfilled? Kids can’t “see” themselves working in them. They don’t know what opportunities exist, as we discuss here, and even when they do, certain careers might feel unachievable, unreachable. When a student can insert a representation of themselves into environments that exemplify industries like cybersecurity or the life sciences, they understand that they can have a place there.
Serita Acker, an internationally recognized creator of academic programs to increase underrepresented students in the STEM fields believes it is imperative that we meet our youth where they are when it comes to career awareness, specifically in minority populations. “Where do our youth spend most of their time? Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, video games, anywhere their phone goes. However, do our youth realize that computer scientists develop the software for these platforms and that computer engineers create and design the electronics that they enjoy so much?” The overall lack of STEM role models of color in media and entertainment is in part to blame, according to Acker. “The last time I watched a movie or TV show about a person of color who was a scientist, engineer, or mathematician was ‘Hidden Figures’ and that came out in 2016. Students need to see people who look like them portrayed in these fields.”
Enter the Avatar
The Proteus Effect describes a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worlds, is changed by the characteristics of their avatar. This change is due to the individual’s knowledge about the behaviors typically associated with those characteristics. Like the adjective protean (meaning versatile or mutable), the concept’s name is an allusion to the shape-changing abilities of the Greek god Proteus. The Proteus effect was first introduced by researchers Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailens at Stanford University in June 2007, as an examination of the behavioral effects of changing a user’s embodied avatar.
In another study conducted this year, researchers “consistently found … high degrees of congruence between the respective characteristics of the avatar, the actual self, and the ideal self.” Similarly, a 2019 study found that “people balancing the motives of self-verification and self-enhancement design their avatars to be similar to their real selves.” The fact that digital avatars most often reflect the user is critical knowledge for gamified technology designed to connect kids to careers and pathways—provided with the chance to present themselves how they wish, players take on an active role and self-realize in the game, especially within a safe environment void of biases or judgment.
This agency and expression is especially important for young players in minority groups who are often underrepresented in the workforce. Kids learn by watching and mimicking, so if they never see anyone who looks like them in a particular field, the possibility of that future is not easily imagined. Equipped with a DEI-minded avatar creator like in Cyber Watchdog or Rad Lab, though, students have the ability to visualize themselves in career environments, which puts them one step closer to attaining success and narrowing the skills gap.
When you play video games, do you customize your avatar to look like you, or someone different?
By the end of this year, there will be 79.6 million digital gamers in the US, or more than half of our population. Industry growth is accelerating thanks to heavy engagement of younger gamers (ages 13 to 17), 90% of whom classify themselves as gamers, and prefer video games over any other form of digital media, including music, videos and social media.
Game-based learning is expected to be one the fastest-growing gaming markets, driven by the need to improve student education post-COVID. Considered an active learning technique, students are motivated and engaged in game-based learning because it’s unique, and the immediate feedback that learners and educators receive as a result is an important feature that both learners and educators benefit from more quickly than traditional methods.
One of digital games’ most cognitively significant features includes simulations that allow students to get a firsthand experience with material. According to research, it’s better for students to come into direct contact with the reality they’re studying, instead of just reading, talking, and listening about it. We remember up to90%of what we say and do, provided we are actively involved in real activities related to imitating experiences.
Additional benefits of game-based learning include:
Motivation: Students are the main characters in the story and their success is rewarded with medals, extra lives, bonuses, etc, holding their interest in learning.
Opportunities to practice: Students can apply the knowledge they acquire without getting into dangerous situations, ie; flight and navigation simulators
Quicker response times: Researchers at Rochester University reported that games improve troubleshooting skills by posing time-sensitive problems.
Teamwork: The Institute for the Future reports that games boost teamwork in problem solving.
Creativity, focus and visual memory: The University of California has found that games stimulate these aspects by setting goals that require concentration, imagination and remembering details to achieve them.
Strategy and leadership: According to Pittsburgh University, video games put players in command, honing their abilities to resolve disputes, interact with other players and make decisions.
Critical thinking: Monterrey Institute of Technology published an article underlining the underlying ethical, philosophical and social basis of these games, and their ability to make players think and improve their critical thinking.
Bain’s analysis forecasts that global revenue for games could grow by more than 50% over the next five years, suggesting that developers are banking on evidence that gaming will take consumers’ time from other forms of media and be the foundational platform for both other media and non-media experiences.
Additionally, advancements in game engines are making it easier to develop higher-fidelity games, becoming a key development platform for other entertainment experiences, and improvements in 3-D graphics that transfer to applications in other industries such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing and construction.
Considering game-based learning is just in its nascent stages based on most recent, post-pandemic circumstances, this means we can expect not just schools to embrace this medium for learning and training, but industry as well.
What’s one of your favorite digital learning games? We’d love to hear from you.
Cynthia Jenkins, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of skillsgapp, a company that develops free-to-play mobile gaming apps that help middle and high school-aged+ youth achieve life-changing career awareness and localized pathway access, as well as develop the soft skills necessary to pursue jobs in skills-based industries through game-changing play, has announced a strategic partnership with the Girls Inc.’s Project Accelerate mentorship program, a pilot undertaken in Orange County, California.
Let’s do a fun exercise – take a moment to reflect back on yourself as a middle school student. What were the fashion trends at the time? Can you picture what kind of hairstyle you sported? What did you talk about with friends between classes?
While it’s fun, and even comical for us to look back at the past to the time we were in middle school, it’s not always as easy for middle schoolers to look ahead towards the future.
So how do you get middle schoolers to think past lunch and beyond to their future careers? Here are three approaches to engaging middle schoolers in career education.
1) Connect the “every day” to a payday
While there’s still a lot of time before a middle schooler exchanges a backpack for a briefcase, there are many opportunities to connect what they like right now to what they can do with it in a future career.
For example, if a student enjoys playing video games – discuss how they can one day have a career someday coding the next Minecraft, or, just as globally relevant, decoding the next cyber attack. If a student loves make-up, connect the dots to the chemistry behind it. Encouraging career discussions early on will help them form their own connections to the resources and pathways to their passions later. Even if they change a million times.
2) Meet them where they are – on their phones
It’s no secret that technology has drastically altered the world we live in. While the older generation is still navigating the ever-changing trends of modern technology, young people have fully embraced them. In fact, statistics show that roughly 95% of 13-18-year-olds have access to a smartphone.
This makes the smartphone a no-brainer platform to engage them in career tips and tactics right where they are– on their phones.
There are many incredible digital resources available to enhance career education. Our mission at skillsgapp is to connect youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play. Career One Stop is a one-stop hub of career resources from videos, programs and apprenticeships for individuals to explore. Aeseducation provides career curriculum and digital projects for educators to use in their classrooms. As we look to fill our talent pipelines, no industry, state or educational institution should discount the power of technology as a meaningful and scalable tool to connect kids to the careers that connect with them.
3) Connect industry and schools….earlier.
Networking is essential in making connections for a future job, but why limit it to post-secondary? Bridging the gap between what students are learning in school and what others do as careers in the real world is important at any age. As educators, inviting local business professionals to visit your classroom to teach students about their industry can leave a lasting impression, even if it’s to cross off something a student doesn’t like to do, which is just as important. Incorporating interdisciplinary projects that interact with real companies and simulating real job assignments is another big win. When industry and educators collaborate, the former gets a potentially more qualified applicant later, and kids get a sense of real-world application immediately.
Meet them in the middle
As we reflect back to our own ‘teacher/doctor/lawyer’ middle school career education, we can all agree that unearthing the plethora of future job possibilities available at a younger age will help students navigate the life they want to build, not the ones we want them to build.
Gen Z, the topic of countless musings and a multitude of opinions, is coming to the workplace in large numbers – what will that mean for the future of work? When considering how they will impact the workforce, three big questions come to mind:
How do you attract them?
How do you motivate and inspire them?
How do you retain them?
In order to answer these questions well, it’s worth spending some time digging in and getting to know them. Below you will find a recent Gen Z trends survey from PIPER|SANDLER. Take a look and test yourself by asking how many of these responses you would have predicted. What surprised you? What does it mean, and how could it help you create more engaging conversations and experiences for your younger workforce?
While the trends in this survey provide some general generational insight, remember that they are individuals first and not a monolith. Like any generation, they can’t all be lumped together and assumed to share the exact same attributes. Was EVERYONE in the ’60s a hippie? Did EVERY high schooler in the ’80s wear a Members Only jacket? Of course not, and there are a variety of intentional initiatives to consider to gain better individual insight and input from your Gen Z team members, such as forming “shadow boards.”
“A lot of companies struggle with two apparently unrelated problems: disengaged younger workers and a weak response to changing market conditions. A few companies have tackled both problems at the same time by creating a “shadow board” — a group of non-executive employees that works with senior executives on strategic initiatives. The purpose? To leverage the younger groups’ insights and to diversify the perspectives that executives are exposed to.”
Gen Z is on the rise, and companies who make the effort to more fully understand their context and motivations will be the winners in employee attraction, productivity, and retention – with profits likely to follow!
What surprised you most about Gen Z from the survey?
John Zwolinski is a team builder and culture champion with a thirty-year track record in branding, marketing, and education. He spent five years in the public school system as a history teacher and coach and over twenty as a mentor for high-school-age youth. As skillsgapp’s CXO, John is focused on creating exceptional experiences for our people, players, and partners to fulfill our mission of connecting youth to life-changing careers through game-changing play.
The former president of Beltone Hearing Aids used to say that kids aren’t born with the idea that wearing hearing aids is embarrassing or a sign of weakness; they’re taught it by society—us. This stigma keeps millions from utilizing state-of-the-art technology that would help connect them to the very society whose (mis)perceptions disconnect them.
Such is the power of stigma, and it’s the major offender in another societal injustice poised to cost us $1 trillion by 2030: the advanced manufacturing skills gap.
Students aren’t hearing the truth
When misguided assumptions are allowed to persist and worsen, people suffer as a result, because a certain audience never hears what they need to hear. In the case of skilled careers, decades-long stigmas against the manufacturing industry and “nontraditional” schooling practically ensure that students are gated from meaningful careers.
A survey we recently conducted amongst high school students illustrates what outdated perceptions still dominate young opinions of the industry: when asked what words they associate with manufacturing, they responded with phrases like “machines,” “dirty,” “blue-collar,” “hard work,” and “factories.” While these connotations might have held true in the early 1900s, the high-tech manufacturing industry has since progressed far past such a picture. As we explain in this article, the modern reality is that—“contrary to the … ‘dirty hands’ stigma”—technology drives the scene and employee livelihood comes first in today’s manufacturing.
It’s hard to fill a position that the workforce pipeline doesn’t know exists. This is because the stigma of “skilled” careers has consequently enforced a four-year college degree as the norm, and it’s limited the career choices suggested by high school guidance counselors. One student explains how they’re only presented with “a narrow range of career opportunities” in school, so “many students don’t know about other options.” Reinforcing this sentiment with statistics, the Leading2Lean Manufacturing Index shares that a staggering 75% of Americans surveyed in 2019 said they “never had a counselor, teacher, and mentor suggest … trade or vocational school as a means to a viable career.” The bottom line is this: students are being kept from successful, fulfilling careers because of outdated images, ignorant bias, and a lack of support.
This shift in focus has the potential to better individuals and businesses alike, as a bachelor’s degree is not the best path for everyone—nor does it guarantee certain skills. Most students in the US would still tell you that a four-year degree is critical to their success even if they’ll be thousands of dollars in debt by the end of their schooling, but it’s just not true, and more and more Americans are realizing this.
Policies and practices like this order will narrow (and have already narrowed) the skills gap in industries like advanced manufacturing.
It’s an important precedent for the government to set. The U.S. Department of Labor website promises that the federal government will “model effective employment policies and practices that advance America’s ideal of equal opportunity for all,” so if they are recruiting with a skills-first mindset alongside other leaders—like Tesla, Accenture, and IBM—more and more companies are sure to follow suit upon seeing the rise in qualified candidates. Essentially, when an employer is forced to consider what skills are truly necessary for a certain position rather than relying on a blanket degree requirement, their specified posting is sure to attract candidates who excel in the requested skillset, because—let’s face it—a college degree is not inherent proof of qualification.
Chauncy Lennon, the vice president for the future of learning and work at the Lumina Foundation, gives his thoughts in an EdSurge article examining industry reactions to the executive order. “Look,” he says, “a BA is a good thing to get, but we shouldn’t design a labor market that says it’s BA or bust. The labor market should allow different pathways. … What’s good about this kind of executive order, it’s helping to get rid of that distortion.”
Parents, teachers, industry leaders, the days of being tone deaf to the increasingly quantifiable pros of pursuing a skilled-based career isn’t sustainable for a lot of reasons. 1 trillion of them.
Are your company’s hiring practices shifting from degrees to skills? We’re all ears.
When Apple’s “Think Different” campaign launched in 1997, the company had no new product to announce, no promotions to offer, only hemorrhaging sales. It featured images of time-honored visionaries like Einstein, Edison and Ghandi, referred to as the “The crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.” They were the ones to shirk the status quo and move the human race forward. The folks crazy enough to think they could change the world … and did.
The subtext here is that innovation is risky, radical, and also essential. Without it we’d have no lights to turn on, cars to drive, antidotes that cure. Advanced manufacturing industries know this all too well, whose sole raison d’etre is to propel the human race forward, innovating not just how we do things, but how we can do them better.
Which is why it’s profoundly counterintuitive how, year after year, our industry innovators haven’t been able to successfully extend that same production and manufacturing approach to their workforce development practices in order to fill their talent pipeline. American manufacturing is still reported to suffer from 2.4 million jobs unfilled through 2028, causing a potential economic loss of $2.5 trillion, despite the fact they have innovated their operations to include AI and robotics, state-of-the-art systems to maximize the safety and wellbeing of their workforce, and the average yearly salary is $76,258.
Is this next generation simply a lost cause? No. Traditional workforce development tactics are.
(Sources: Job fairs: 600 attendees, pre-pandemic; Website: Conversion under 3%.)
While it’s been said before, it’s worth repeating. We don’t have a people problem when it comes to filling our talent pipeline, we have an awareness problem. Therefore, scaling our outreach efforts requires the same kind of digital transformation manufacturers have already operationalized, having proven that converting manual and analog processes into digitized processes creates better outcomes by connecting people, places, and things.
But thinking differently is hard. It’s rebellious. It’s risky. It’s also, according to Steve Jobs, “the only way to win.”
A digitally transformed approach to workforce development = high impact. Look for ways to use the very innovation created under Steve Jobs – the smartphone. It’s where your future workforce is at all times and engages through multiple channels more than 7+ hours a day.
An opportunity to un-silo efforts between industry, educators and government through connectivity
That last one is worth a pause. Henry Ford, arguably auto manufacturing’s most enduring visionary in American history famously asserted, “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” In an ‘every-man-for-himself’ era, this approach was considered innovative for its time; a precursor to the team culture mindset of today. And precisely why workforce development shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of economic developers, government, educators, or industry. That crevasse of a skills gap that needs to close in the next five years? That’s on all of our heads, which, when working together and sharing data and resources, will move us all forward. States and regions will be more competitive in business recruitment when they can fill industries’ pipeline; Departments of Education can prepare more kids for meaningful futures in their own backyard; and industry can continue to change the world on American soil. This kind of collaboration in workforce development is a win-win-win.
Nothing changes if nothing changes
“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” – Dean Kamen (Inventor of the Segway and iBOT)
So while innovation may seem risky and radical, history has already shown us that it’s also essential. Author Geoffrey A. Moore coins the perilous dynamic of this a chasm – the space between innovative visionaries and the more mainstream pragmatists, who, typically (and ironically), helm workforce development initiatives for the most innovative industries in the world. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the power of the pivot that makes or breaks a business, no matter what business you’re in.
So what would Steve Jobs do to attract a new generation of manufacturing talent to save us from off-shoring doom? After selling out of a $500+ never-seen-before mobile phone/computer in January of 2007 with zero inventory, he would innovate.
And he would win.
Share any feedback below or ways in which you are innovating workforce development.
Gen Z has signaled their frustration at a lack of career support in school, and they’ve clued us in to their (mis)perceptions of manufacturing and the skilled trades. Now it’s time for them to express themselves in their own words. In this final article of the “What They Wish They Knew” series, Gen Z answers the titular question, “Regarding careers, what is something you wish someone would have told you sooner and/or will explain to you now?”
“That college doesn’t help you understand what you want to do with your life.” -college student
“Don’t feel that you immediately need to go to college to be successful, especially if you don’t know what career path you’re going to take. College is tough and expensive and you really have to want to go to be able to make it work.” -recent graduate
“Would college be worth it or a good idea?” -high school student
THE JOB SEARCH
“I wish someone would have shown me sooner that there are so many different kinds of jobs out there. I thought I had to be a teacher, lawyer, or doctor.” -recent graduate
“I wish someone would explain in detail what each career is like and maybe have someone explain what it’s like to be a part of each career.” -high school student
“Explain the benefits and disadvantages of my future careers. Have someone walk me through what my future might look like.” -high school student
“I wish I was exposed to more high in demand jobs.” -college student
“How many options there really are no matter what degree level.” -high school student
“I wish someone would give me a survey of different jobs, so I can know what’s out there.” -college student
“I want someone to help me know what jobs I could have.” -high school student
“How to best look for careers.” -recent graduate
SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS
“I wish I had understood that I can be successful if I really have a passion and master my skills for whatever I want to do, whether traditional or not” -recent graduate
“As a high schooler, something that I wish someone would tell me is to do what makes you happy, and not to work on things that will only bring you success.” -high school student
“Don’t worry so much about doing one thing now; you can always change your job later on if you wish.” -college student
“I wish someone would’ve explained to me how to create my own value of time.” -college student
“Don’t let your career get in the way of living your life and enjoying it!” -recent graduate
If we prioritize open dialogue and listen to the generation of our up-and-coming workforce, that honest, clear discussion can help ensure a brighter tomorrow for us all.
When it comes to skills-based mobile gaming, the factors of self-measurement, competition, pacing, and flexibility listed in our previous posthelp to engage players and accurately measure their progress, but where can that gameplay actually get them? This post will explain the direct workforce application of video games and how they’re preparing Gen Z for a professional future.
Video games and professional technology
Did you know that single-player controls and gameplay often resemble the technology encountered by the modern professional? A student’s proficiency in tech and their familiarity with video games can actually prepare them to command the technology found in many industries, from advanced manufacturing to construction. Working robotics or operating machinery are tasks that tend to come naturally to Gen Z, who have had some kind of device in their hand for over a decade.
“Construction work involves high-tech skill,” says Dr. Mittie Cannon, founder of the nonprofit Power UP Loud, a construction training program for young women. She saw the connection between games and trades skills and—for over five years now—has used video game technology to introduce women to construction. And developers are right there with her. For example, the Building Information Modeling software CtrlWiz is made to function with an Xbox controller, meaning that the commands and movements are intuitive to a gamer and the program itself is more appealing to Gen Z.
Meanwhile, Debbie Dickinson of Crane Industry Services has noticed that “people who are comfortable with video games are very comfortable with … simulation technology,” according to an article by Construction Dive. Many young users of the crane simulation system feel at home with the familiar features of joysticks and foot pedals, thanks to their past engagement with the physical components of video games.
The same can be said for students trying out the VRTEX 360 welding simulator. It familiarizes people with the skilled trade of welding through virtual reality in a game-like space. If students have used a VR headset before—or if they’re comfortable with the concept of one—then they’ve opened up an entire world of training simulation for themselves.
Even the style of the modern workplace is trending toward a video game experience that might feel second-nature to players.
Undoubtedly, the ability to work with others—especially when they’re not in the same room as you—is a prized skill in today’s job market. A GamesBeat article by Demian Entrekin of Bluescape, solutions for hybrid teams, compares a hybrid work environment to a single-player focus in a multiplayer game. Entrekin elaborates, “The online world of video games is a shared world. While you have the ability to act independently, your actions will impact other players.” He explains that the beauty of many games is that every player works with the same information and commands in the same digital space—instead of battling the “army of disjointed tools” that many companies have mandated for use in the past.
The rise of remote work has revealed the truth: if employers want their teams to be productive and collaborative, they need to ensure that everyone has easy digital access to the same information, which is a feat made simpler when there’s a universal toolset and a dedicated virtual space for it all (just like in a video game).
“The future of work will be more like this shared virtual world where silos are a thing of the past,” Entrekin says. “The difference will be tools built with a virtual world mindset. … When access to information and the capability to share that information is instantaneous, we’re closer to a video game where sharing and collaboration is as easy as one click of a button.” Entrekin points to Minecraft as a perfect example of a game-turned-digital-tool, as it allows students and teachers to “come together” to learn and create with shared building blocks (literally). More and more will education and occupations integrate digital collaborative technologies, and while this natural development might trip up some people, those who play video games will be able to take both the style of work and the virtual tools in stride.