Press-Telegram (Long Beach)
Can a game help fill skills gap for future workers?
San Bernardino students will learn key tech skills using a gaming platform
What if you could turn the drudgery of classwork into a game instead?
Imagine saying goodbye to traditional homework, deadlines and the strict confines of a classroom. Now imagine learning whenever you want by using a smartphone.
Skillsgapp, a gaming development company, is working with the San Bernardino County superintendent of schools to provide interactive apps focused on helping students gain the skills needed to land good-paying jobs in today’s economy.
The Greenville, South Carolina-based company launched in September 2020 and employs 10 people. Its apps target middle and high school students and are designed to address talent shortages and advance recruitment for a variety of careers.
The customized app for San Bernardino County students will focus on cybersecurity, a skill used in multiple industries including health science, medical technology, manufacturing, product design, entertainment and construction, among others.
The app simulates real-world cybersecurity events within a fictitious villain (BL4CKOUT) hacking narrative.
We asked Cynthia Jenkins, the company’s co-founder and chief marketing officer, to talk about how Skillsgapp works. Her answers have been edited for space considerations.
Q What are the advantages of learning through a gaming app?
A We see the biggest advantage of using mobile gaming apps for learning skills development as being able to reach and engage with more students where they are — on their phones. Our focus is Generation Z (middle and high schoolers, along with those just out of high school), and 98% of them either have or can access
a smartphone. On top of that, 90% of Gen Z classifies themselves as gamers.
While using games to educate isn’t a new concept, changing behavior and gamifying skills you can use toward credentialing, apprenticeships and even a career is. This is especially important when considering reaching underresourced, rural communities and inner cities that have been hit hard with virtual learning limitations during the pandemic.
QWhat kind of growth are you seeing in cybersecurity in terms of job opportunities?
ACybersecurity is probably the fastest-growing industry sector. Cyberattacks and breaches are part of our regular news content and vernacular these days. Cybersecurity is a skill that can be used in pretty much any industry when you think about all the data out there that’s being transferred to, or stored on, the cloud or on our phones.
Fields like health care, education, banking, retail or anything dealing with credit card transactions, all have the need for security, as well as proactive strategies to thwart potential hacking attempts. The government has many job opportunities within cybersecurity, including positions for ethical hackers that can help identify weaknesses and improve vulnerabilities.
QWhat’s the pay range of jobs students might secure through their Skillsgapp training?
AThere’s a real misperception about salaries and lifestyle associated with skills-based careers or careers that require roughly a two-year degree. In the instance of cybersecurity,
the focus of our HACK OUT BL4CKOUT game for San Bernardino and Riverside County Schools, you could be making $85,000 to more than $131,000 a year with corresponding certifications.
QDo you plan to expand this program into other regions of Southern California, and if so where?
AThat’s certainly our plan! San Bernardino is the largest geographical county in the country, covering a pretty large swath demographically, socioeconomically and geographically. So being able to apply our user data to customize skills development apps for other counties and states is where we’re headed.
QYou mention that Skillsgapp tools are also ideal for states, economic development organizations, industries and public-sector agencies. Which of those areas has the company focused most heavily on?
AThey’re all after the same thing. States and regions need to offer a qualified workforce pipeline in order to stay competitive with other states and other businesses.
The challenge is that their workforce development efforts are typically siloed and the “skills gap” keeps getting bigger.
Ten thousand baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day, so attracting both middle and high schoolers to these careers is paramount in securing our workforce and supporting the economy of tomorrow.
QWhat do school clients pay for access to this program?
ASkillsgapp mobile game apps will be free to play in order to encourage students to download and start engaging and advocating on behalf of their own future.