Virtual immersion: students can learn skills via a simulation before entering the real world workplace

Virtual introduction to the trades

by Andy Bryenton

With the practical trades needing tens of thousands of new workers to meet a projected shortfall in future years, new strategies are being developed to entice school-age young people into a career on the tools.

A new weapon in this arsenal is one, which has traditionally not been part of the school curriculum — computer games. We may remember the slightly clunky and heavily pixelated educational games of the 1980s, but a new offering being rolled out free of charge to all secondary schools is of a different order altogether.

Construction Tycoon is one of three games that have been developed by JOY Business Academy in partnership with Xero, BNZ, Microsoft, BDO, BCITO and the Ministry of Social Development. As in the others, Tech Tycoon and Restaurant Tycoon, the focus is on building a successful business, but in the realm of construction, this also means hiring staff, managing inventory, building homes and staying solvent while juggling cash and work site regulations. Educators plan to use this game to give students a taste of how their career in the trades could unfold; a successful game campaign boosts confidence that a student ‘has what it takes’ to be a tradesperson in the real world.

It’s not the first time that the construction industry has turned to virtual reality to train a new generation. With the expense of heavy machinery and the need for operators to upskill without taking up valuable time at the controls of working equipment, virtual excavators and forestry equipment, cranes and other heavy machines are becoming more commonplace in the workplace. While realistic full-immersion simulators were once only for astronauts and pilots, the rise of inexpensive virtual reality technology (even available for in-home gaming) has seen this training method explode.

Students are unsurprisingly enthusiastic about the roll-out of Construction Tycoon; who wouldn’t like the chance to game in school? The serious lessons wrapped up in the game are equally important and may lead to more apprenticeships in the near future.

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