Gamification shapes engineering digital skills

Industry 4.0 is bolting engineering and digital together, CIOs are exploring how to play the skills development contest.

Engineering is shaking off the oil stained overalls, and hard hats are not required in an augmented reality. With 5G networks rolling out across the world, sensors being placed on each and every moving part or touchpoint, the Internet of Things (IoT) is bringing engineering and digital together into a single industry. But, in doing so, pure engineering organisations are unable to bolt in the skilled workforce it requires. Gamification is shaping up to be the gear the sector can leverage. 

"You cannot have engineering without digital," says David Ivell, CTO and Chief Innovation Officer with Enginuity, the engineering sector charity that supports engineering employers, training providers and engineers in the UK. Enginuity has machined Skills Miner, a Minecraft game in response to the engineering sector's demand for digitally oriented talent.

In the world of building bridges, rail lines, wind turbines or sea defences, it is perhaps not surprising that a term like gamification may not bond the industry together. Gamification is defined as: the use of game elements and principles, such as scoring and competition, for use in a non-game setting. Engineering is a serious world, and more often than not lives depend on the decisions made by engineers. In the Coronavirus pandemic, the engineers of Formula One motor sport raced to build ventilator machines to fill a major shortfall in hospitals in the UK, following a decade of health service cuts. But, as engineering and digital come together, games can be the Lego bricks that build the skills engineering firms need to augment their physical engineering strengths.

"In the UK there is a gap of 60,000 entry level engineering jobs that need filling," Ivell explains of the challenge.

"Johnson Matthey now needs to attract the best people not just in chemistry, commerce and product engineering, but also in IT," Paul Coby, CIO with the global science and engineering business says. "When you plug in new tools, especially using the cloud, it can immediately change the way people work across the business," Coby adds. The cloud is enabling the CIO to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and Machine Learning (ML) into the factories of Johnson Matthey, which engineer catalytic converters for vehicles and precious metals for other engineering and medical industries. 

Darren Martin, CTO of engineering firm Wood Group, is combining building structures like wind turbines and oil pipelines, with digital elements to create new services. "A digital twin of an energy fluid dynamics can spot a leak and then automatically turn off the pumps.

"We also use tethered autonomous drones to review such sites, so we can tell our engineers when it is safe to go to the area and make repairs," Martin says. "Before such security solutions were in place, some engineers might have been in danger when they went out to fix an asset." Minecraft is arguably a digital twin of the world we live in, and drones may have started out as toys, but are augmenting and protecting engineers in the aircraft, oil and utilities sectors. 

Connected engineering and manufacturing has been dubbed Industry 4.0. A study by the World Economic Forum estimates that the fourth industrial revolution will create $3.7 trillion in value by 2025.

"It used to be seven to 10 years to re-train an engineer in evolving technologies," Ivell says.  "Now it can be 18 months. Our role is to focus on industrial digitisation and to create a new environment for the sector to utilise the technology and promote engineering as a career," he says of Enginuity and its Skills Miner, Minecraft game. 

"Engineering is seen as hard to enter if you cannot show your skills academically. There are big world problems out there, and we need the next generation of engineers to be really smart," Ivell says of why it is important to widen the goal posts, to ensure a greater range of skills and passions to discover engineering. Ivell says this is where the power of gamification comes in. Gamification can demonstrate a candidate's speed of learning, something you can't get from a CV, which Enginuity partner organisations such as Rolls Royce, British Aerospace, GKN and Siemens, have identified as a key trait that recruits should exhibit.  "They want people that can quickly pick up the next skill, and individuals that are not frightened by change, in fact they relish it," Ivell says. 


Enter Minecraft

Engineering has a concrete diversity and inclusion problem. "Women represent half of the world's population, need the same resources and face the same global challenges. And yet, far fewer women are involved in designing and developing smart, sustainable technology-based solutions that would allow us all to live better lives," the World Economic Forum wrote of the diversity challenge. Ivell says there is a wealth of skills out there, but they struggle to demonstrate their abilities, adding that gamification creates a level playing field for neuro, gender or racial diversity. The game works the other way round too - gamification is demonstrating to a wide audience that engineering is problem solving, thus showcasing the industry to individuals that previously didn't consider it as a career option. Gamification also reduces unconscious bias by using avatars.

Business advisory group EY used gamification in the form of a good old-fashioned board game to help its people discover the purpose of the business. EY reported benefits including better questions being asked, and improvements in decision making.

"You can build quite complex game play structures in Minecraft, and we are seeing players of Skills Miner, who perhaps might not have been successful academically, outstripping those coming out of university, some by a large margin," Ivell adds of how 1000 people a week have entered the virtual world Enginuity has created and spreading quickly around the world.


After the game

Just as some of the closest friendships any of us have are forged on the court, pitch or on a mountainside, the actions and activities that take place after the game are as powerful as the competition itself. At Enginuity, Ivell and his team now has a billet of information on where skilled potential employees reside, this gives their partner organisations a game plan of challenges and opportunities. "We can tell them there are new skills opening up in somewhere like Tokyo for example and then how do you plan for that?"  Pure digital businesses are also paying closer attention to the engineering sector, including consultants Accenture and network specialists Cisco. 

For engineering CTO Martin at Wood Group, improvements in developing the skills of the next generation of digital engineers is essential: "A lot of engineering workers are nearing retirement, creating a skills gap. So we need to up-skill our workers," he says. "The solution is often digital. For example, ‘Skype in a hardhat' can provide video and voice communications that allow our experts in central hub locations to see what is going on at the frontline, and guide engineers through complex or unfamiliar tasks." It is not a major leap for those calls to be recreated into a Minecraft or virtual reality game, creating an engineering equivalent to the simulator flights pilots undergo.