In the rise of eSports, or professional gaming, some see a new generation of athletes. I see our next-generation workforce. I see natural leaders in digital manufacturing and the future coders of smart cities. There’s only one thing: We can’t expect a generation of digital natives who never experienced an analog workplace to want to go back in time. They will join us if the work spaces and tools we provide them clearly represent the future. They’re looking for technology that’s as intuitive as their smartphones and personal computers. They will come along if software development environments are as fun to master as their video games.
This isn’t just critical to reach digital natives. Research now shows that close to half of all employees wish workplace technology worked more like the technology they use at home. This is why the pursuit of gamification – making industrial technology more accessible and easier to use – must be central to the digital transformation of factories and infrastructure.
Too often we hear that the infrastructure and industries of the future will run themselves. Robots, they say, will do all of the work.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Digital technology does not replace us. From the factory floor to a growing city, technologies such as automation, data and artificial intelligence actually elevate the role of the human and allow us to expand what is humanly possible.
And as we look across technical fields such as manufacturing, it’s not technology we lack; it is indeed people. As manufacturing rapidly integrates digital technology, the industry has more than 400,000 open jobs across the United States – which is why I’ve been a big proponent of businesses taking the lead on training and reskilling the workforce. I like to say we should imagine a future in which access to education, training and lifelong learning is as abundant as human capability.
Technical fields, though, don’t only face a skills gap; they face an inspiration gap too. Research found that while Americans value the importance of manufacturing to our national economy, only 30 percent of those surveyed would encourage their children to pursue manufacturing jobs. Millennials actually ranked manufacturing as the career they were least interested in pursuing.
Especially in this tight labor market, we need to ask ourselves how we can help more people see themselves in these careers. As technical careers and career technical education try to overcome societal stigma, gamification sends a powerful message that established industries are central to the new – not old – economy.
Making technology interfaces easier to use and investing in low-code platforms will also inspire more people to apply themselves in careers they didn’t think they were qualified for. This will enable us to widen pathways to well-paying jobs and help people get to day one of a new career more quickly.
These are not lofty concepts. The technology of the future is real and ready to be deployed. Digital twin technology is already changing the game for product design. Engineers can already use virtual reality platforms to inspect a plant. We can already offer “multiplayer” product development using software and 3D printers.
So as gamers redefine sports, let’s also extend to them the opportunity to help us redefine our factories and infrastructure. Let’s build our workforce of the future.