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Pa. funding to help Pittsburgh’s Simcoach Games expand training program for students

Desks in front of a company banner.
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
With many of its games intended for neurodiverse audiences, Simcoach Games CEO Brian Kaleida said the company will use its $250,000 in state funding to recruit neurodiverse students to its junior game developer pre-apprenticeship summer program.

Pennsylvania is handing out $3.3 million to fund pre-apprenticeship programs in agriculture, health care, manufacturing, and gaming.

A portion of that money will flow to the Pittsburgh-based company Simcoach Games. The company creates video games that help players build real-world skills, whether that’s using a point-of-sales system, navigating public transit, or interviewing for a job.

With many of these games intended for neurodiverse audiences, CEO Brian Kaleida said the company will use its $250,000 in state funding to recruit neurodiverse students to its junior game developer pre-apprenticeship summer program.

“The games are sort of for youth, by youth, and for a neurodiverse audience, by a neurodiverse audience,” Kaleida said. “You want to make sure that you're incorporating that perspective in the very early formation of games.

“It's really important to make sure if you're doing a transformational game, that we're doing it right.”

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Simcoach Games plans to recruit 120 high school students to its paid pre-apprenticeship programs through 2026. It’s a continuation of the training program the company — a division of the software company Sigma Resources — has operated since 2021.

Liam Scanlon, who plays and creates video games in his free time, participated in the program upon graduating from South Fayette High School.

During his pre-apprenticeship, Scanlon said he learned practical skills in game design and programming, as well as social and teambuilding skills. Simcoach brings in a professional actor to lead improv sessions every two weeks — what Scanlon called “the highlight” of his pre-apprenticeship.

Scanlon has returned to Simcoach each summer since 2021 to help lead students in the pre-apprenticeship.

“He'll teach us these little activities and basically gamify socializing,” said Scanlon. “And I love that every time I come here, it's one of the things that I absolutely look forward to.”

On a visit to Simcoach’s South Side location Thursday, Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Nancy Walker said the state’s "Schools-to-Work" initiative will help students build hands-on skills.

“And we certainly want to see groups that are diverse, that are inclusive, that are new sectors, that are giving new opportunities,” Walker said, “to have the most, the broadest, most diverse group of students and opportunities.”

Through Simcoach’s pre-apprenticeship, students are exposed to digital art, design and production skills to prepare them for careers across the technology sector.

Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, was also awarded $250,000 to broaden its industrial manufacturing technician pre-apprenticeship program. The organization partners with more than 2,500 manufacturing companies and 60 school districts to provide training to students.

“Students who have access to career training before they leave high school are empowered to make informed decisions about their next steps into the workforce, whether through training or higher education,” Walker said. “Pre-apprenticeship programs are a critical tool in preparing the next generation of Pennsylvania workers.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.