Why VR is a Game-Changer in Industrial Training
"Danger, danger, danger!" – the production line control panel screams. During the onboarding session, a new staff member makes a mistake. Before another disaster occurs – weeks ago, the factory had to deal with a newcomer's accident during that same onboarding procedure – the Operational Manager briskly orders a complete shutdown of the machinery, bringing the entire production line to a complete halt. Time is money, mistakes cost money, and now, the employee's lack of confidence will translate into an extra expense.
What’s worse, this type of error is common during standard industrial training sessions. The steep learning curve results in expert workers setting their work aside to shut equipment down, and wasting consumable goods (materials and lubricants, paint, manufacturing tests...) to demonstrate a procedure to a new employee. Furthermore, most training methods also include a theoretical portion. Usually, a manual will overview industrial best-practices; for instance, safety protocols will be mentioned without being rehearsed. In some cases, the new hires undergo extensive training to earn a certification but never having to put into practice the newly acquired knowledge and skills.
Besides the training flaws, there is also a lack of knowledge transfer between the fast-aging workforce and the inexperienced new hires. A Harvard Business Review report (1) reveals that the current skills gap may leave approximately 2.4 million jobs unfilled between 2018 and 2028, and impact the economy for up to $2.5 trillion. The same report notes that in 2019, U.S. firms spent $83 billion in budget training alone, amounting to an average of $1,300 per participant. Was it worth it?
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A PwC study (2) highlights significant differences between three major learning scenarios; classrooms, e-learning, and the new kid in the block, VR. Here’s a glimpse of the psychological observations: VR students were 3.75 times more emotionally connected than their classroom peers, and 2.3 times more than the e-learners. Also, students with VR headsets and controllers were 1.5 times more focused than their peers in traditional classroom settings, and 4 times more than e-learners.
If you’ve been immersed in a VR training experience, these results shouldn't surprise you. VR training is built upon an immersive learning approach, which mimics life-like work scenarios to train employees in a virtual, safe, and captivating environment. The main ingredients of this educational recipe are: AI, applied learning methods, data science, spatial computing, and, of course, VR technology. Basically, VR students have an active behaviour; they are continuously interacting with 3D elements, realistic environments, and collaborating with their colleagues. Incidentally, that specific cooperative feature has been the catapult aspect of VR during the pandemic. With this hands-on learning approach, plus the level of immersion enabled by truly captivating sensory experiences, employees gain muscle memory quite quickly. In fact, according to the study Virtual memory palaces: immersion aids recall (3),"the HMD condition was found to have an 8.8% improvement in recall accuracy compared to the desktop condition."
Besides the cognitive advantages, also the company's pockets stay in good shape. First and foremost, there is no need for additional educational resources – forget about pausing production and interrupting skillful workers for an onboarding training session. In a virtual simulation, students acquire skills through unlimited training. Workers can learn safety protocols and handle dangerous work situations, all while avoiding harmful (and expensive) accidents. VR training has also proved to be quite time-effective. "With the VR experience, travel is not required and the training time has been cut to just 15 minutes—a 96% reduction", as noted in a HBR article about Walmart's VR pilot program (4). Even with the initial cost of VR headsets and equipment, at a considerable number of employees, Virtual Reality solutions have proven to be more cost-effective than classroom and e-learning scenarios. PwC’s study explains that, "at 3,000 learners, VR costs fall to 52% less than classroom, and 8% than e-learning" (5). Furthermore, this scalability attribute also adds content-consistency; you can build a VR learning library using the same educational method.
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So, basically: yes, it’s now possible to hire and train employees in larger numbers, and with more efficiency.
It’s also important to note that VR offers unique and actionable data and insight. For example, it’s possible to measure physical movement: eye-tracking metrics can show exactly where a candidate looks, and heat maps allow you to visualize what movements are made and how interactions occur within the given space. With such a wealth of data, it’s also possible to analyze how the applicant performs in work-like scenarios. How do they handle risky conditions? Do they collaborate well with colleagues? What is their decision process like? While the candidate wears a VR headset, recruiters and managers can get a bird’s eye view of the employees in action as well as visualize their performance in real-time.
Most importantly, Virtual Reality empowers employees to better themselves. After multiple virtual rehearsals, workers will indeed feel very confident in their skills, as suggested by the PwC study, which stated, "VR students were 40% and 35% more confident to act than classroom and e-learners" (6). We believe this confidence will inevitably lead to a sense of pride for working in an innovative company, an attribute that is proven to attract higher, and better talent.
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"Danger, danger, danger!" – the production line control panel screams, once again. Only this time, it’s not actually for real. The onboarding sessions can now take place in a VR environment, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn at one’s own pace… what matters is having the will-power and determination to keep practicing and get better at it every time!
1, 4. Harvard Business Review, The Future of Work is Immersive. https://www.strivr.com/resources/ebooks/hbr-report-immersive/
2, 5, 6. PwC, The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Soft Skills Training in the Enterprise. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/technology/emerging-technology/assets/pwc-understanding-the-effectiveness-of-soft-skills-training-in-the-enterprise-a-study.pdf
3. Krokos, Eric & Plaisant, Catherine & Varshney, Amitabh. (2019). Virtual memory palaces: immersion aids recall. Virtual Reality. 23. 10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325187855_Virtual_memory_palaces_immersion_aids_recall