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.

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.


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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?”