Gaming simulations help spur job interest

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A new initiative led by the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Government is combining two of Executive Director Robert Hiett’s areas of expertise: workforce development and online gaming.

“Like most people early in their career, I had a second job. Mine just happened to be in gaming, and it helped me to understand how games can open up new career opportunities,” said Hiett about his design work on “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” consultation on Shadowbane and work as a presenter at the national Austin Game Developers Conference.

“I am excited to work with partners like the Turning Point Workforce Development Board, the Wilson County Schools district, the Northampton County School District and foundry10 to do something that may help more of our youth explore all the great jobs available in the upper coastal plain region.”

The UCPCOG Regional Simulation Partnership uses virtual game simulations for local industries and occupations to generate youth interest in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

“Many of these simulations are designed so well that they essentially create a virtual work environment for the youth, and they allow the youth to perform simulated tasks that a typical worker may encounter while being employed in one of the occupations,” Hiett said.

The simulation games can be used for agriculture, car mechanics, logistics, computer building, heavy equipment operation and medical office management. Officials said the simulations will be used with curriculum designed to provide a structured approach to exploring a career occupation.

“The simulations are not the same as those you would find if someone was earning an industry-level credential. However, they are designed to be fun for youth and generate interest in an occupation,” Hiett said. “They can also introduce and enhance teamwork, financial literacy, leadership and coordination skills. They can also provide a high level overview of an industry or occupation.”

The first phase of the initiative will focus on youth in Wilson and Northampton counties. Turning Point also plans to develop a similar learning option for youth ages 16 to 24 who are not in school. Once the format is established, the program can be replicated with additional partners and industries in Nash, Edgecombe and Halifax counties.

“Wilson County Schools is extremely excited to be a part of this initiative. The ability to provide students an opportunity to experience simulation activities in a variety of fields will open new opportunities as the students continue to explore possible areas of career interest,” said David Lyndon, executive director for secondary education with Wilson County Schools.

“Placing the simulation activities at the middle schools will allow students to begin fostering interest in areas before they go to high school,” he said. “Students will then be able to use these interests to guide them as they begin selecting courses at the high school level, further preparing them for their future plans.”

The technology will be incorporated into the Career and Technical Education career exploration classes and provide students with a more real-world feel for what is involved in various careers.

Foundry10, a philanthropic research organization, is leading the technical side of the project. Staff visited the school systems in April and plans to get the simulations ready for a launch in the fall.

“The team at foundry10 has been looking at games and their impact on learning for years. We were excited to hear about a new idea for using commercially produced, engaging simulations to create real value for students and communities,” said Tom Swanson, organizational development with foundry10. “Our hope as we continue forward is that this idea, once tested and understood, can be useful for rural and semi-rural areas all around the country.”

Visit www.ncsimulationstation.com for more information about the project and why it matters to businesses.

“We branded it to be inclusive from day one and to encourage partners across North Carolina to work with us to develop a concept that could bring more youth into careers in occupations that need skilled workers,” Hiett said. “Game simulated career pathways are another tool that is relevant to youth today, and they have a very modern appeal to the new generation of potential workers.”