Mobile games encourage continued usage by promising prizes, levels and rewards for advancing through challenges. Construction managers are capitalizing on younger generations’ interest in these types of games, especially on mobile platforms, to recruit and promote safety through educational construction apps.
Simcoach, a Pittsburgh-based educational app developer that has been creating educational apps for about 15 years, has partnered with local contracting associations, such as the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP), to help teach young, potential construction workers the basics of onsite safety and equipment usage.
Simcoach’s games teach potential recruits about working on a construction site, such as operating heavy machinery. If players do well, they earn badges, which can lead to a certification that helps them find an apprenticeship.
Some of its games are accredited in conjunction with the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania's Introduction to the Construction Trades, a registered pre-apprentice program.
One Simcoach game, Harness Hero, teaches about rigging and fall safety for high-rise construction projects. The player controls an avatar as he or she selects the correct rigging for unique high-rise construction scenarios. Unlike on a real jobsite, the game requires players to throw themselves off the roof. If they’ve rigged themselves up properly, and avoid plummeting to the hard earth below, they score points.
Other games include Ground Up Construction; Hooked! A Tower Crane Game; and Dig In: An Excavator Game, which Chief Games Officer Jessica Trybus said has over 500,000 downloads after just one year. (See videos below for demos of two of the games.)
Simcoach teamed with CAWP — in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Ladders of Opportunity program and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation — as a part of its Future Road Builders recruitment. The games, which are focused on recruiting young people to transportation construction careers, have nearly 130,000 downloads from CAWP’s site alone.
Simcoach and CAWP also seek ways to better recruit interested high schoolers to the construction industry, said Richard Barcaskey, the executive director of CAWP. All told, including smaller mini-games, about four to five hours of content is available, and it’s all replayable with possible different outcomes to scenarios.
Replayability is key, Trybus said. Learning by watching doesn’t stick as much as when the user is able to play the same scenario repeatedly. That is the difference Simcoach has found, she said.
The games also illustrate the parameters of a normal construction workday, such as characters that indicate when a player would need to report to the jobsite and get to work. Barcaskey said the apps are designed to attract people to the industry with an honest representation of what life onsite would be like, even if it’s simply through a phone screen.
Mostafa Namian, assistant professor of Construction Management at East Carolina University, said he has found employers who can share a better story to recruits will have more success finding and retaining diligent workers.
“The story should have an epic meaning so the employee will value and enjoy being part of that story and the game,” said Namian.
CAWP is one of many Associated General Contractors of America chapters that has partnered with Simcoach, Trybus said. Such a partnership allows the app to display local information for a player who finishes a game, including a starting salary for someone looking to join the industry.
Despite this partnership, Namian said he was surprised by the overall lack of gamification in the construction industry. He noted other industries have adopted more gamification practices and construction hasn’t caught up yet. Namian said that the shortage could be a “huge opportunity” for other construction companies to step up and lead the way.
Mark Ogg, senior project manager with real estate company JLL, said he has used Simcoach’s Harness Hero to help maintain safety for workers who have already been trained. Ogg was first introduced to gamification in construction by Namian while pursuing a masters at ECU.
Ogg spoke at the Construct Conference held last week in National Harbor, Maryland, about the use of gamification on jobsites. In his experience, no matter how much training and supervision a worker receives, human error sometimes leads to foolish mistakes. “I call that the ‘hold my beer’ moment,” he said.
On a recent R&D facility construction project, Ogg offered a $100 Amazon gift card for the worker who earned the highest score on Harness Hero. The prize and competition grabbed everyone’s attention, and the workers spent downtime playing the game during lunch breaks.
Ogg said the competition immediately raised awareness onsite, as workers advised each other which harnesses to use during high-elevation work.
"The elements of gamification that provide a source of motivation or achievement are helping the industry, across all realms, operate more effectively and most importantly safely," he said.