The Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments (UCPCOG) is working with education and technology partners to develop innovative ways to introduce area youth to career pathways available within the five county region. The current initiative, named the UCPCOG Regional Simulation Partnership (RSP), is intended to use virtual game simulations that match up with local area industries or occupations, and use […]
The Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments (UCPCOG) is working with education and technology partners to develop innovative ways to introduce area youth to career pathways available within the five county region. The current initiative, named the UCPCOG Regional Simulation Partnership (RSP), is intended to use virtual game simulations that match up with local area industries or occupations, and use a designed career exploration format to generate youth interest in jobs that don’t require a four year college education.
“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” said UCPCOG Executive Director Robert Hiett.
The simulation games can be used with designed curricula to provide a structured approach to exploring a career occupation, and incorporated into existing activities like field trips and access to occupational experts employed within the region. The current simulation library for the RSP covers occupations that deal with agriculture, car mechanics, logistics, computer building, heavy equipment operation, and medical office management.
“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. 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”, said Mr. Hiett.
The UCPCOG serves as the regional Economic Development District (EDD) for its five county area, and this project lines up with its strategic goal of engaging in activities that help to create a talented and innovative workforce. The partners joining the UCPCOG in the regional simulation partnership are the Turning Point Workforce Development Board (TPWDB), Wilson County Schools, Northampton County Schools, and foundry10. Foundry10 is a research organization that uses a philanthropic approach to identify new ideas, approaches to learning, and tools to improve the education experience for students across the world.
A key strategic partner in this effort is the Turning Point Workforce Development Board (TPWDB) because it funds job training activities for area youth, and it has a strong coordinating presence with its area youth council.
“Turning Point Workforce Development Board is excited to partner in this initiative of enhancing career exploration to young customers through simulation. Studies have shown that workplace based simulations can be used to assess a prospective employee’s skills. These simulations not only assess candidate ability in the technical areas but also assess problem solving, communication and team abilities”, said Michael Williams, Workforce Director, Turning Point Workforce Development Board.
The first phase of the RSP will focus on youth attending school in the Wilson County School District and the Northampton County School District. The TPWDB will play a critical role in developing a similar learning option for youth, ages 16-24, who are not attending a school. The RSP, once a format is completed, could work with additional partners to develop similar programs in Edgecombe, Halifax, and Nash counties.
Wilson County Schools (WCS) is working with RSP to develop their section of the project and incorporate the simulations into the Career and Technical Education (CTE) career exploration classes.
“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. Placing the simulation activities at the middle schools will allow students to begin fostering interest in areas before they go to high school. 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”, said David Lyndon, Executive Director for Secondary Education, Wilson County Schools.
“The simulations can increase student awareness about occupations in the area and be worked into existing course offerings to enrich the overall CTE career exploration process. Wilson County Schools currently offers a Career Exploration curriculum at the middle school level. While it has served students with limited success over the years, it is our hope that the simulation activities will provide a more real-world feel for what is involved in these careers”, said Mr. Lyndon.
Foundry10, a philanthropic research organization, is spearheading the technical side of the project, and providing educational resources to help the learning process and achieve optimal results. Foundry10 staff visited the school systems in April to discuss curriculum design and assess the technology footprint, and they will work with the RSP in the weeks ahead to get the simulation project ready for launch in the Fall of 2019.
“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. 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” said Tom Swanson, Organizational Development, foundry10.
Foundry10 will also provide simulation training to both school systems, and work to create a resource library that can be used to orient teachers and students.
A critical part of the project is to ensure the information and resources are there to help youth continue learning about careers based on the simulations. The UCPCOG and TPWDB will reach out to the broader community partners to assemble that phase of the project.
“Ultimately we have to help the youth make connections to the second level resource network so they can continue their education and/or training after the simulations class ends. We will certainly be working with our community leaders to ensure those connections are established”, said Mr. Hiett.
The UCPCOG and TPWDB have created a project website (www.ncsimulationstation.com) to provide more information about the RSP, why it matters to businesses, and to post updates for those interested in working with game simulations as part of a career pathway strategy.
“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. 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”, said Mr. Hiett.
Mr. Hiett certainly understands the online gaming world, and how it translates into real earnings. He has an official game design credit for Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), he has been a speaker/presenter at the national Austin Game Developers Conference, and he performed consulting and supporting community management roles for the online game Shadowbane which was published by Ubisoft.
“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. I am excited to work with partners like the TPWDB, the Wilson County School 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”, said Mr. Hiett.
The Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments is a regional planning and development organization for Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash, Northampton, and Wilson counties and 41 municipal governments in the five-county region. The council administers several federal and state programs within its region. Its major program areas involve aging services, business and economic development, community planning programs and workforce development programs and services.
Robert Hiett, Executive Director