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.

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?”

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.

Skillsgapp Case Study: San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

How skillsgapp used mobile gaming to engage students in cybersecurity skills and corresponding career pathways

Overview

San Bernardino, the largest geographical county in the country, was hosting its annual STEM event, STEMapalooza, virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. With two counties’ 4th-8th graders expected to attend, engagement was a concern, along with meaningful career awareness and pathways to support Southern California’s key industry sectors, including the increasingly in-demand, cybersecurity. 

To support this initiative, skillsgapp customized a mobile-friendly video game deployed during the event designed to simulate real-world cybersecurity scenarios with an emphasis on the “3 C’s” identified as industry’s skill priorities: Cyber Proficiencies; Critical Thinking; and Communication. Leaderboards, badges, and career facts and pathways were incorporated into gameplay, along with trackable performance metrics.

“It’s been a challenging and unusual year. Due to the virtual nature of our events, we decided to provide a hands-on, engaging tool that’s both fun for the students and that also supports the needs of industry through skills development for our students. The goal of Alliance for Education has always been to assure both students and industries that we are educating for the world of work.” 

Carol Tsushima, Administrator for the Alliance for Education at SBCSS

Blog image of game screens

Approach

Compelling narrative:
By introducing a fictional antagonist, BL4CKOUT, a notorious hacker threatening the privacy and security of STEMapalooza, we were able to establish a need for all attending to do their part in saving the event from destruction. In the absence of classrooms, this strategy was designed to promote community between two counties’ districts, all fighting for the same goal within each cyber challenge presented to them.

Awareness and Promotion:
Creating awareness of a never-been-done gaming component of this event included providing teachers with a game trailer to share with their students, a landing page with game registration information, and count-down emails to the teachers with game details and reward information to get the kids excited to play, registered, and their avatar designed.

Access:
The game was developed to be accessible on all devices from desktop to mobile to promote ease of play wherever the student may be.

Personalization:
Each player had the opportunity to select and personalize their own avatar based on skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries, including automotive, aerospace, life sciences, and IT. 

Strategic Deployment:
STEMapalooza was an all-day event offering virtual classes and demonstrations. In between these events we deployed one of four five-minute challenges simulating a real-world cyber breach. Increasing in difficulty based on performance, students could see how they ranked among their peers, grade, and county.

Industry Support:
Upon completion of each challenge, students were rewarded for their achievements and offered corresponding career facts, salaries, and pathways based on their proficiencies.

Rewards and Incentives:
Those who successfully completed all four challenges received an in-game badge which could be redeemed for in-class rewards, like homework passes and extra credit.

Data Tracking:
Upon completion of the game, each player’s performance was trackable based on speed, engagement, and accuracy. Exit surveys were administered after the event to capture verbatims and quantifiable analysis to measure recall and interest.

Results
Results reflect the one-day event. Based on success, Hack Out BL4CKOUT will be used at subsequent county STEM events in 2021.

badge graohic

Unique Game Users:
5,285 (4.6 attended virtual event)

Sessions Played Across Users:
11,927

Average Playtime Per User:
37.38 minutes

Total Hours Player Across Users:
3,330 hours

Post-game Student Survey:
89% recall on in-game narrative and content 

“I learned that with my cyber skills, I can make $85,000 to $131,000 a year.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned that cybersecurity study programs teach you how to protect computer operating systems, networks, and data from cyber attacks.”
6th Grade Student, San Bernardino, CA

“I learned to protect your stuff, or people will get to it.”
7th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

“The game taught me that the skills I had a lot of fun doing could also make me a lot of money someday.”
6th Grade Student, Riverside, CA

Conclusion

• Mobile gamification is a proven platform to deliver Gen Z skills-based content with corresponding career awareness, trackable engagement, performance and recall, along with artificial intelligence to adapt to and promote their proficiencies.

• Providing in-game rewards and real-world incentives tied to player performance promotes engagement and skill proficiency.

• Linking career pathways and facts to demonstrated skill proficiency in real-time generates meaningful recall of actionable content.

• Students preferred the gaming experience over more traditional learning methods like videos and virtual lecture.

Another Workforce Recruitment Website? Next Bus.

iGen. Gen Tech. Net Gen. Digital Natives. All are synonymous with Gen Z, who accounts for 61 million people in the U.S. – a population exceeding millennials – and also our next workforce generation. This creates a huge challenge for workforce development agencies and industry, as marketing skills-based career opportunities and pathways in a way this generation will engage in, digitally, represents a brand new recruitment protocol.

But it’s time. With 10,000 Boomers reaching retirement age every day, there’s 3.5 million new manufacturing jobs to fill by 2025 alone.

What Research is Telling Us

According to a study conducted by SkillsUSA, meeting the demand for a new generation of manufacturing workers by drawing on the talent of all sectors of the U.S. workforce is more likely if the following occur: 

Students gain access to experiential learning opportunities earlier in their education pathway, and these opportunities increase throughout their high school education. 

Employers engage earlier in a student’s academic pathway. 

Parents and teachers gain access to local employers to learn about the broad range of opportunities modern manufacturing presents.  

Current Workforce Recruitment Strategies

Workforce development agencies and industry have made great strides in thinking outside the box to fill their talent pipeline, which has been imperative in helping reverse the stigma associated with the factories of yesteryear. But with every new generation, comes new challenges in reaching them. What worked for Millennials won’t work for GenZ, if they ever worked at all. 

1. Videos

Any medium that can bring kids closer to the inner workings of a state’s infrastructure and industry is a good thing. Which is why videos have been trending over the last decade, showing kids what’s really “under the hood” in today’s state-of-the-art facilities, along with testimony from happy, fulfilled employees who were once just like them. Videos help facilitate more deliberate career pathway discussions than a textbook, along with real, aspirational discourse. The challenge is that kids will likely only watch them once, making that engagement fleeting. They’re also difficult and expensive to update. What was state-of-the-art three years ago may be old-school today. This forces workforce development agencies and industry to shelve them – or, worse, if they don’t, that decades-long stigma is perpetuated.

2. Websites

Most states and regions have subscribed to the ‘If we build one, they will come’ philosophy of a website as a connective hub for career pathways and employment. And while many actually do come, we’re asking a lot of one medium to identify, qualify and materialize a meaningful future with “all-in” calls to action for next steps that are confusing to navigate and intimidating to pull the trigger on. So these sites become an entanglement of pie-in-the-sky portals and nebulous pathways, and they leave. 

3. Career Road Shows

Wrapping a bus or designing a booth to hit the road and spread the gospel of skills-based careers is a fun way to get the kids out of the classroom, engage in a conversation about meaningful career opportunities, and hand out a bundle of branded swag. But these can run over a million bucks and require equipment updates, depending on how long and far the show goes on, without one kid setting one foot inside a plant or facility. So that bus or booth needs to work extra hard in representing the advanced technology it’s touting. If it’s aerospace you’re selling, it had better be as cool as the rocket you’re making.

Let’s Get Digital

That same SkillsUSA study reports that CTE teachers believe industry-recognized credentials are valuable to students for beginning their careers, with 65% saying industry certificates are among the most valuable educational credentials after graduating high school. However, 35% of students enrolled in CTE courses say they have no contact with potential future employers, with only 12% experiencing site visits, 20% having pathway-related summer jobs, and 13% having pathway-related after-school jobs. 

So while videos and websites are digital mediums, they fulfill none of the aforementioned study’s criteria. Engagement is the magic word here, earlier.

To get in with Gen Z, workforce development efforts need to get into their phones and devices, where they spend an average of 9 hours a day. Social media like TikTok and Instagram account for much of that time, along with gaming – a favorite pastime reported by American teens. On top of that, there’s the social platform within games, where kids communicate back-and-forth in real-time via chat or voice, making mobile gaming the only medium that checks every box: engagement, mobility, and sharability. 

So if states and industry want to reach their next workforce, perhaps it’s time to get off the bus booth, video, or another website and start playing to win with gamified skills and recruitment that reaches kids wherever they are, on their phones, engaged and ready to play. 

The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast Presents: Tina Zwolinski | Skillsgapp

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On this episode of The Manufacturing Alliance Podcast: Chat and Chow Series we are joined by our guest, Tina Zwolinski of Skillsgapp.

Skillsgapp is the first in the skills-based training sector to offer customized gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the middle-skills necessary to participate in manufacturing and other technical industries.

Tina and her team at Skillsgapp are working diligently to rebuild the industry and develop the skilled workers that America needs.

Skills Gap ‘21: Opportunity Knocks

As we clamor for silver linings in the cloud of COVID-19, perhaps one is America’s skills gap, which is creeping up to a new high due to the exodus of Boomers from the workplace. While this presents many challenges for employers, it offers an abundance of opportunities for Gen Z who are in prime position to take advantage of the need to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that make up our skills-based talent shortage over the next ten years.

America’s Skills Gap Trajectory

Those who hold college degrees have been hit hardest by the pandemic. According to edsurge, “When the unemployment rate spiked during the spring of 2020, jobs that required a college degree declined more than those that didn’t, and new college graduates were hit the hardest. Not only did postings for bachelor’s level jobs fall the most, but entry-level jobs also dropped farthest and fastest.”

The AAF explains, “Over the next decade, the nation as a whole could face a shortage of about 765,000 needed workers with the skills that come from an associate degree or some college.”

Here is where Gen Z can pounce, having witnessed firsthand that even during the pandemic, skills-based careers are a viable option, and could even be considered a safer career path alternative to a 4-year degree … and just as lucrative.

Optimism and Opportunities

The National Association of Manufacturers recently released its final Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey of 2020 and found that “74.2% of manufacturers responding to the survey felt positive about their own company’s outlook, up from 66% last quarter.” The NAM also says, “According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 525,000 job openings in manufacturing in October, a record high.” 

Unfilled positions are not only abundant in manufacturing, but also cybersecurity. The Herjavec Group’s 2019/2020 Cybersecurity Jobs Report indicates, “The U.S. has a total employed cybersecurity workforce consisting of 715,000 people, and there are currently 314,000 unfilled positions.” 

This leaves the pathway wide open for Gen Z to take advantage of this labor shortage if paved with skills-based training. Because according to Undersecretary at the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, Stewart Knox, “It’s not about just who you knew or who you might have an in with to get that job. It is based on skills.”

The Future Ahead

A greater focus on skills was part of the former Trump administration’s agenda that is continuing under Biden’s. The House of Representatives recently passed the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 — a bill Jobs for the Future reports will bring apprenticeships into the modern era, investing $3.5 billion over the next five years to strengthen these programs and bring in a new generation of skilled workers. 

It’s safe to say that while vaccines are bringing the pandemic to a close, skills-based careers just busted wide open.

Gaming apps skills development company skillsgapp inks contract with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools

Soft skills and middle-skills gaming app development company skillsgapp has been selected by San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools (SBCSS) to provide its gaming apps focused on helping Generation Z gain the skills necessary to participate in the skills-based job sectors needed in numerous industries. Read More