The battle for skills is “game on!” From all over the world come reports of an inability to recruit because of a lack of a good skills match, while at the same time there is soaring youth unemployment.
Whether in the emerging world with its burgeoning well-educated youth fighting for limited opportunities, in countries in the European Union where economies are shrinking, or in environments where natural skill replacement is the order of the day, the cry is the same: “There are not enough people out there for us to employ.”
The crisis is real. As baby boomers leave employment, organizations lose tacit knowledge, but young people are desperate to enter the workforce. Sometimes there are simply too few people able to keep factories and offices running. In many sectors of commerce and industry, insufficient numbers of candidates are interested in committing to them, and companies in those sectors see too few suitable recruits of those who are interested.
How can we bridge this gap? How do industries and companies ensure that they have sufficient skills available to meet their needs in the future—because without people they have no future!
Serious games for a serious problem
Part of the answer is in capturing the imagination and passion of children to give them a direction to pursue from school into employment with energy and commitment. That is not easy in a world where the choices are bewildering and constantly changing.
Ranj Serious Games, a global specialist in serious games development, has created over 400 games since 1999. Based in Holland, they have won an impressive string of international awards. Ranj has devised a series of games for children in primary schools to experience the atmosphere, challenges, and opportunities available in a range of roles—for example, in the electrical installation industry.
Working with Buildup Skills, a European Union initiative involving 31 countries aimed at ensuring a sufficient skills pool is available to the built environment industry from 2020 onwards, Ranj has been developing games for people ranging from 10 years of age all the way into the age of professional life.
Tech Ed, the first of those games, centers around a hamster and takes children between 10 and 12 years of age in an engaging way into the fun life of an engineer in the electrical trade. Devised and endorsed by schools since its launch in 2005, the game has become a lasting part of the curriculum. After eight years, the number of learners playing the game grows larger every year. Schools encourage learners to play the game at home as well as in the classroom—and it works: usage is higher out of school than in class!
That was just a start. Gaf van Baalen, co-owner of Ranj and a champion of gaming, told me why he believes games are a powerful learning tool across the age range and how his work has now expanded beyond the education arena into professional life. (Listen to my interview with Graf here.)
With examples from the legal and health professions and project management, and an initiative in industrial safety awareness, games are clearly empowering performance and exciting young people to develop the skills and enter the professions vital to our lifestyles and economic health. It is not just Graf talking. Business leaders and others in Europe are excited as well.
Jaap Bosman, of the top-five Dutch law firm Houthoff Buruma, notes, “We can judge students by their grades alone, but that is not enough. They need various other qualities. Houthoff Buruma The Game tests players on their problem solving skills, empathy, sophistication, creativity, and their ability to work in teams.”
Joke van den Bos, a pediatric physiotherapist, says about Juf in a Box (Teacher in a Box), a serious game to prepare young children for better writing skills, “I notice that children spend a lot more time on training their motor handwriting skills. Because they get nice feedback and medals for rewards, you notice that this gives them an incentive to continue”
These are great examples of gaming capitalizing on our natural learning methods and providing real direction to young people preparing to enter the workforce.