Skills training in VR can’t just be about a great experience

The appetite for immersive technology applications in Manufacturing and Engineering is growing.

Leading manufacturers in the UK such as Airbus, Honeywell and BAE Systems are now exploring and embracing new advancements in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to areas of product design, prototyping and maintenance – and reaping the benefits.

Manufacturers and Engineering businesses such as these can now see that by integrating new learning, training and skill acquisition methods, long-term, sustainable benefits can be realised. VR and AR applications are increasingly being used to upskill new employees, trainees and experienced staff in a much more cost-effective way than ever before.

Early scepticism around VR and AR being a fad is being swept away and replaced by businesses taking an altogether new and open-minded approach to meeting their skills demands.

A recent World Economic Forum White Paper (The New Production Workforce: Responding to Shifting Labour Demands, January 2018) suggested that the ‘Thoughtful use of digital technologies can help to improve the performance of skills programmes at every stage and that Virtual-Reality technology can demonstrate the proper way to carry out new tasks and give an employee a safe environment in which to practice’. Crucially, it stated that ‘Digital platforms can help administer programmes and connect workers and employers with training resources’.

Using simulated learning technology offers a risk-free, supportive environment where learners can master new skills without a need for face-to-face contact with a tutor or even a machine. Uninitiated staff can learn and practice new skills as many times as they want with no time or cost limit. Immersive technology could reduce demand for the physical presence of trainers and service engineers at clients’ locations. Such training solutions have become an attractive proposition to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) as it may transform their post-commission training into virtual or even a customer self-training solution.

Siemens, DMG Mori and Stratasys are just a few of the global manufacturing equipment producers who will benefit from the introduction of VR and AR to their training and their customer services.

However, these benefits can only be delivered if the learners can practice new skills in VR or AR with no barriers and if these applications can lead them to achieving desired learning and performance outcomes. Often learner needs are not at the forefront of the VR/AR design processes. They are overshadowed by the desire of immersive studios to show off capabilities of the technology and by the limitations of still fairly new software and hardware.

If immersive technology is to be widely adopted in training we, the immersive application builders & training providers, need to be clear on how applications to support learners throughout their learning journey is designed so at the end of their VR or AR training, they not only gain a memory of great experience but become suitably equipped to deliver the expected job performance outcomes.

To achieve this, the learner’s needs and the stakeholders’ expectations must be a primary motivation for a VR developer in creating any learning or performance improvement applications.

Ultimately, the manufacturing and engineering industries need to feel confident about the effectiveness of such applications. They need to be convinced that they will provide a better alternative for their skills and performance development than current options.

At the end of the day, only tools which accelerate skills development and performance improvements, leading to businesses gaining a competitive advantage will win through – otherwise what’s the point?