How Gamified Training Is Attracting A New Generation Of Workers To Blue-Collar Industries

Originally featured in Forbes on Feb 3, 2020

A combination of a college-focused society and negative attitudes about vocational careers has driven some sectors into recruitment turmoil in recent years.

As the baby boomer generation ages and reaches retirement, manufacturingconstruction, and transportation companies have struggled to hire young new talent. Beyond the shortage of people who are qualified and interested in these roles, I believe these industries are having increased difficulty filling roles because those workers who do want to work in blue-collar sectors tend to learn and perform better in training environments that are wildly different from those used by older generations.

This is a problem that needs solving: Analysts predict that manufacturing in the U.S. alone will involve 3.5 million jobs — but 57% of these will go unfilled.

Why Is It So Hard to Hire New-Generation Talent In Blue-Collar Industries?

The “college is best” attitude has meant that many young people have been encouraged to get a degree instead of choosing a vocational career. Parents, schools and the media pushed the idea that vocational careers are only for those who can’t “make it” in a traditional college setting.

A vocational career path has been unappealing to many millennials and Gen Zers. They’ve spent their school years in a fast-paced and highly academic environment; moving to a hands-on training environment with repetitive tasks often isn’t engaging enough for them.

What’s required is the reframing of vocational careers as interesting, engaging and offering an enjoyable training process.

Changing Attitudes Toward Vocational Careers

There is hope on the horizon. Young people are more disillusioned with a traditional college education than before: Only 37% of 25- to 29-year-olds hold degrees, as many who start their formal education drop out before completion due to excessive fees and workloads.

High schoolers watching older siblings and peers dropping out of college are starting to realize the average $29,800 debt that follows a four-year degree course doesn’t always pay off. As a result, vocational careers where salaries match or even exceed those for degree-based jobs are looking more attractive.

The median wage for construction equipment operators in 2018 was almost $47,000 — and apprentices in training receive at least 60% of the standard wage while they’re still learning the ropes. Instead of paying a university for their education, they receive a wage to train – an appealing option for anyone.

New Tech, New Roles: The Key To Inspiring Vocational Careers

Another cause for such a change in attitude toward vocational careers is the development of technology in manufacturing, construction, and transport.

The many applications of artificial intelligence in blue-collar industries are creating a wealth of new technology-based roles for skilled workers. The generation that grew up not knowing what life was like before Google is the one now entering the workforce. They’re the ones well ahead of their older peers when it comes to using and understanding technological developments — and blue-collar industries can use this technology to capture their imaginations and fill the talent vacuum.

How Gamified Training Encourages New Talent

Game- and simulation-based training is proving to be very successful in increasing engagement of the younger workforce.

Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, is using game-based simulators as a recruitment tool, providing today’s students with an understanding of machine controls and operating procedures before they enter the workforce. Cat simulators provide hands-on learning in a safe and economical way to enhance traditional operator training programs.

Eutaw Construction, a Mississippi construction company, introduced simulators to train new workers. More than a mouse click, these simulators use pedals, throttles, and levers just like a real vehicle.

Screen-based training can helps users switch between a range of site scenarios within minutes, providing a wider range of training. Rapid-change environments that test their skills without moving from the simulator can help trainees qualify in a quarter of the time.

Virtual reality simulators also provide a safe training zone where errors won’t have real-life consequences. The “fail-safe” environment allows people to focus on learning without the fear of making mistakes that could cost a company thousands of dollars to rectify.

Gamification Increases Learning Potential 

Active learning is believed to produce a greater retention rate than reading materials. Companies can tap into the hands-on learning of virtual and augmented reality training to take it one step further with gamification.

Points-scoring, leader boards, and scenario-based knowledge tests bring an element of competition to training that the digital native generation engages with more than traditional learning environments allow.

Introducing game elements also helps trainees use immediate feedback for faster improvement. For example, those at the bottom of the leader boards will want to know where they’re doing wrong and analyze the winners for improvement tips.

Introducing Vocational Careers To Younger People Via Gamification

What about captivating the imaginations of those yet to choose their career paths?

Simulator apps with a gamified element encourage younger people to engage with the idea of working in vocational industries before they make their career choices. Design Interactive, for example, is developing an augmented reality app to introduce the idea of being a truck technician as a fun career option.

The use of augmented reality widens the audience: Unlike virtual reality, which requires a specific headset, anyone with a smartphone can use augmented reality. The app uses the camera to overlay real-world scenarios with virtual elements to help immediate, go-anywhere engagement.

What’s Next For Gamified Training?

Younger people want stable careers with opportunities for promotion, progression and respectable earnings. Gamified simulators create an opportunity to demonstrate the possibilities available to those choosing vocational careers.

By rolling out game-based learning, employers can also allow existing staff to conduct advanced skills training. Apps and simulators mean older staff can try out new technology and techniques in the same safe training environment as new apprentices.

Companies in struggling sectors should invest in virtual and augmented reality gamified training solutions now, and find themselves ahead of the competition when it’s time for all the baby boomers to retire.

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