Pittsburgh-based company uses video games to help users learn job skills and career interests | Employment Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh-based company uses video games to help users learn job skills and career interests

With social distancing looking like it will be here for the foreseeable future, it is more vital than ever that everyone has ways to learn outside the typical classroom setting. Simcoach Games, a Pittsburgh-based technology spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University, has been doing just that since 2005. The company partners with leading organizations in the retail, construction, manufacturing, government, and healthcare fields to create free games that help players discover their interests and abilities. It also helps companies here in Pittsburgh, like Stowe Township and McKees Rocks nonprofit Focus on Renewal, which works with teaching community members job skills.

“In America today, there are 5.6 million unfilled jobs in skilled industries such as construction and manufacturing, 75% of which require no additional degree beyond a high school diploma or GED,” reads Simcoach Games’ website. “For employers, the challenge of attracting interested and work-ready talent can stunt growth or cost companies millions in quality, productivity, and sales. … Through mobile video games, our partners have successfully connected with hundreds of job seekers interested in their training and career opportunities; many of whom would otherwise not have known about these opportunities.”

So how does it work? First, interested parties download games on their preferred mobile device. Simcoach games are available in the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon. There are over 30 games to choose from, broken into four categories: career discovery, career exploration, career readiness, and career skill development. Games range from Future Construction Inspectors, which focuses on the “underlying skills needed to be an inspector on a road construction project” to JobPro: Get Prepared!, where players are put into the shoes of someone who has an interview coming up. They must choose how to manage their time, like researching a company or doing stress-relieving activities like exercising at the park.

After downloading games, users create a Skill Arcade profile to track in-game progress and badges earned. Organizations can access that player information along with meaningful and relevant gameplay data to then identify and connect with diverse, pre-qualified players in their region. To test the validity of some of the games, I tapped the expertise of my fiance, a third-year steamfitter apprentice. He has the laborer and construction knowledge while I have the interview, job-prepping knowledge. We tried out one game from each of the four categories.

Career Discovery — Booeys: A Journey Home

Under Career Discovery, there are two options, Booeys: A Ghost’s Code and Booeys: A Journey Home. The former is related to technology careers, while the latter is more generalized. I tried out A Journey Home. You help a Booey named Hubsley — a Booey is a cute little ghost by the way; the games do a good job of finding ways to keep your attention span — make his way home as you answer questions to find out more about yourself. Do you take action and lead, or are you better when given instructions? For example, someone has been bitten by a shark. Would you sew them up yourself, or seek out someone else’s help? After a three day journey, or three rounds of questions, you get a case file showing how you ranked in the following categories: doer, thinker, creative, helper, organizer, and persuader. I ranked highest in the thinker, creative, and helper categories. It’s a quick and easy way to discover your strong suits.
click to enlarge Pittsburgh-based company uses video games to help users learn job skills and career interests
Image: Simcoach Games
Hooked! A Tower Crane Game

Career Exploration — Hooked! A Tower Crane Game

I sat back and watched while my fiance played this game. This one was the most hands-on and game-like out of all the ones we tried: you play as a virtual crane operator and lift loads around a construction site. My fiance said the controls were pretty similar to real life, considering it was a 2-D experience on a small screen. It seems the purpose of this game was to see if crane operating is something you would be interested in, like a mini “try before you buy” in a rudimentary video form.
click to enlarge Pittsburgh-based company uses video games to help users learn job skills and career interests
Image: Simcoach Games
JobPro: Get Dressed!

Career Readiness — JobPro: Get Dressed!

I took the lead on this game because … fashion! You play dress up and pick different interview outfits depending on the job. I found this game the most fun, and it was interesting to see what they deemed appropriate and what wasn’t. I was happy to discover the short afro hairstyle worked for every job I applied for.

Career Skill Development — Construction Crane Signals

For this game, since I knew nothing about construction signals, I let my fiance play. It isn’t so much a game as it is a quiz. You’re asked 22 questions where you have to match hand signals to the proper crane operation. My fiance was shocked to see how accurate it was, and said he’s learning the same signals in steamfitter school now. The crane signals are pretty universal for all labor trades, but he noted that all crane signals should be communicated and agreed upon by the signal person and crane operator before a lift begins. In his real-life classroom, they’re currently using paper to learn these same signals, but he said he found this game so helpful that he’s going to tell his teacher about how beneficial it is.