Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

Are Online Games Going To Be The New Apprenticeship?

Instead of hands-on training at the job, what if people could learn how to work from playing online?

An estimated 75 million youth worldwide are unemployed, at rates triple those of older adults. Untold millions of those probably spend their time on the couch playing Halo 4 or Call of Duty. But what if video games could be the key to connecting youth with jobs?

Workplace-based training, internships, and apprenticeships are hands down the best route to get the skills, experience, and connections needed to find a job. Programs like Year Up have great success with low-income, at-risk youth by offering a program of six months of hard and soft skills combined with a six-month paid internship; Enstitute, a new nonprofit in New York City, places fellows in internships with startup entrepreneurs. But programs like these are resource-intensive and difficult to scale up.

A new landmark global report on education, youth, and employment from McKinsey’s Public Sector Practice suggests a new way forward: "Serious-game simulation could become the apprenticeship of the 21st century. In a sense, the future of hands-on learning may well be hands-off."

Video games and simulations are becoming immersive and rich enough to be used in training prospective employees; they can be personalized, allow for interaction in multiplayer modes, and even integrate real-time data. One 2010 meta-study found that workers trained using serious games retained 9% more information and had 14% higher skill-based knowledge levels. The McKinsey report cites IBM’s INNOV8, a serious game created to educate users on business process management (BPM) (web traffic, customer service, and supply chains.) INNOV8 is in use with students at over 1,000 universities around the world, as well as being used as a training tool for IT professionals at IBM itself and other corporations. You can play it here.

The Army is probably best known for using games for recruiting, with first-person shooter America’s Army. But someday, serious games could completely change the market for talent and help close the skills gap. What if a company turned its training process into a game and held an open tournament, inviting the highest scorers in for an interview? What if a community college collaborated with a local hospital or factory to virtually open the doors of the workplace to aspiring students? What if avatar mentors in multiplayer environments could train adult learners in the all-important "soft skills" like interviewing and making small talk? The possibilities are just beginning.