Free online game trains managers to unlock immigrant talent

Facebook may be blamed for lost productivity at many companies, but a game that imitates it promises to help train managers on how to work with immigrants.

TalentNetis a free and educational game that has been online since Oct. 1. It’s content and background research were done by Leveraging Immigrant Talent, an independent group currently based at the University of Ottawa. The project hired CSA Standards to complete the graphic design and coding of the game.

The game looks like a social network and you already have seven friends when you join. But these aren’t real people – they’re canned sprites with artificial intelligence. Your task is to build trust with your culturally diverse employees and accomplish the projects you’re assigned.

The game is designed to help managers integrate immigrants into the workforce.

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“The main purpose is to help supervisors and managers deal with the nuances of a changing workforce,” says Lance Novak, vice-president of sales at CSA. “It’s based on the latest in social networking trends in Canada.”

Canada does like social networks. One in three Canadians have a Facebook account. The game’s developers are hoping this will help make the game popular. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)funded Leveraging Immigrant Talent for the project.

“We’re trying to find out what workplace practices might be blocking access to management and leadership positions for immigrants,” says Linda Manning, director of the project. “If organizations don’t find people to fill the gaps in management as they retire, they’re going to be in serious trouble.”

Anecdotes about immigrant taxi drivers with an overseas doctorate in engineering or medicine are commonly heard in this country. The lack of recognition of foreign credentials was identified as a problem in the report. But the problem also goes deeper.

In focus groups and surveys conducted with human resource managers, skilled immigrants, and supervisors in Ontario and Quebec, the project found a common problem.

“There are unexamined assumptions we make about competency just by looking at them, by talking to them,” Manning says. “We don’t even realize that we make these judgments, and we do.”

In TalentNet, the player must recognize that not everyone can be spoken to in the same manner or even in the same place. For example, if you talk to Nafisa about her past work experience at her desk, you’ll get a negative reaction. But do the same with another character and they may react more positively.

The game focuses on a series of social interactions with the characters and the player must choose options about what to talk about, when and where. Players will receive e-mails from the characters and see how well they have built a rapport with a trust meter.

This sort of online-accessible professional development tool is easy to use and offers a risk-free way to experiment, says Nick Noorani, editor of Canadian Immigrant Magazine.

In the safe and secure environment of a computer, there’s no judgment, he says. “You don’t feel intimidated. It’s the ideal product for online training.”

CSA has produced several so-called “serious games” for workplace training purposes. It previously acquired Ottawa-based Distil Interactive Ltd., an established developer of educational games.

Its other games include Response Ready, an online training game for safety professionals and site operation managers. The game puts the player in a high-stakes situation, as a manager that must prevent an explosion at a gas station.

CSA targets any business looking to improve its employee training.

“It could be small organizations looking for a cost-effective way to get this type of learning,” Novak says. Or “enterprise-wide solutions for multi-national companies dealing with different languages and different cultures right around the world.”

TalentNet is a type of experiential training, Manning says. It’s a style that might not be the best for teaching facts and figures, but proves effective when training for adaptable problem-solving skills.

“A lot of training comes at you and says ‘here’s the situation, here’s what the answer is,’” she says. “That doesn’t work in real life.”

TalentNet also promotes ongoing learning as opposed to a one-time-stop. Players answer some questions before they play the game and after they play it, then will be receive an e-mail a few months later asking them to come back and play again.

This way, the project can also collect metrics and see if players are changing their real-world tactics as a result of what they’ve learned, Manning says.

The English version of TalentNet is online now and a French version will be live in January.

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