Sometimes when I read through the voluminous articles on the state of the workforce solutions industry, I wonder if I’m sitting through a Ken Burns documentary. Dominion and conquest. Perilous times. A protracted campaign for talent that’s dragging on like the bizarre Dutch-Scilly War, a 335-year conflict marked by the pronounced absence of battle or bloodshed. It’s funny, this war for talent. It implies there’s really a war. And that talent are winning. Perhaps it’s time for an armistice. We’re all on the prowl for skilled professionals who seem to be as elusive as snipe or sneaky guerrilla revolutionaries. We’re investing in AI, ecosystems, and automation technologies. But if we want skilled people, we need to invest in helping them develop those skills. And this is where the talent singularity -- a convergence of machine and human intelligence -- comes into play. So let’s talk about the untapped potential of virtual reality (VR) in learning programs.
In a workforce short on skills, we often look to higher education as the currency of performance for this advanced economy. However, the issue of education has become more complex. Today’s talent need to learn practical, applicable skills as transformations in digital technologies and white collar work occur. The dual academic models popular in Europe, organizational leaders have discovered, are ideally positioned to address this fresh batch of challenges
The German system, for example, directs high-school students into vocational education when they don’t need, desire, or have the aptitude for university. The country recognizes that not every student will derive a benefit from college. Germany has therefore forged a partnership between its government, employers, and unions, which matches students to the vocational training most effective for their career aspirations.
But learning is becoming increasingly virtual. Consider the transformative growth of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) programs. Educational analysts are recognizing the ability of MOOCs to turn the expensive and somewhat exclusionary privilege of college into a low-cost, on-demand and universal experience. Staffing industry experts have also discovered that MOOCs are rising to create new frontiers in sourcing, engaging, and hiring STEM talent with brand-name certifications and degrees.
While alternative education models have amazing potential, no amount of schooling can truly prepare workers for the specific situations and responsibilities they’ll need to master over the course of their careers in a given company. That’s why learning and development programs have emerged as critical considerations for business leaders -- especially with the millennial workforce.
In 2016, millennials eclipsed Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation in the United States. They’ve also entered their prime working years, and their share of the economy will continue to increase. According to Gallup research, 87% of millennials said development opportunities were key influences in selecting employers:
Millennials care deeply about their development when looking for jobs and -- naturally -- in their current roles. An impressive 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job -- far more than the 69% of non-millennials who say the same.
The report emphasized development as a top factor in retaining millennials; they value development more than other generations. But Gallup found that a majority of millennials don’t feel as though they’re receiving opportunities to learn. The solution could be VR, as findcourses.com reveals in its 2018 U.S. learning and development report, “Benchmark Your Workplace Learning Strategy.”
VR: It’s No Game
As we’ve written before, VR offers substantial benefits to businesses. In many ways, this augmented reality represents the very realistic future of work. It’s no longer a construct of speculative fiction or immersive video games. Medical schools, police departments, retailers, scientists, mental health professionals, and others are beginning to incorporate VR into their practices. Because VR simulates an experience, it becomes a powerful tool for educational purposes across a wide spectrum.
- Marketing products by letting customers explore them virtually
- Learning new surgical techniques without experimenting on physical bodies
- Instilling empathy to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives
- Design modeling and architecture without the cost of wasted materials
But VR is also emerging as a key element in learning programs. In its survey, findcourses.com discovered that 97% of respondents “planning to use VR for training said their department was important or critical to organizational success.” This makes sense on many levels. As the report also observed, companies without an engaging or active learning program were “twice as likely to lose staff before three years.”
The biggest challenge for organizations interested in implementing learning and development (L&D) systems involves budgetary concerns. This could explain the rise in companies turning toward digital technologies to optimize cost and process efficiencies.
L&D leaders participating in the survey ranked e-learning (32%) and virtual classrooms (22%) as their top considerations for 2018.
Findcourses.com delved deeper into the applications of VR:
No longer being used exclusively to train in the military, aviation, and heavy industries, VR training is being tested and deployed today by companies like Walmart, KFC, UPS, and McDonalds. The expectations are high that the training medium will become more widely adopted with the VR training market forecast to generate $216 million in 2018 and grow to $6.3 billion in 2022.
VR can surpass traditional academic training and classroom environments because it replicates practical experiences, as findcourses.com showcased in a case study about Farmers Insurance:
The most common training need that triggered VR training in the companies we spoke with, was the need to expose learners to a large range of realistic experiences before they began a new role. Farmers Insurance chose their claims adjusters team as their first training audience to experience VR. The logic behind the decision was based on feedback that one of the biggest training challenges of entering the job is seeing enough property damage scenarios to recognize and respond to them on the job.
With VR as a learning tool, organizational leaders can achieve more impactful development goals with less drain on time and resources:
- Creating a safe, accessible space for employee training
- Reaching workers in remote locations
- Developing critical thinking skills
- Cultivating cultures of empathy
Major Tech Companies Seizing VR Learning Opportunities
While computer giants like Oculus, Sony, and Samsung crank out VR gear for gamers, other tech leaders are capitalizing on the need for enhanced learning experiences through the same systems. Touchstone Research offers a great look at groundbreaking companies that are reshaping the VR landscape today. Here are just few from the article.
- Lecture VR is a VR app by Immersive VR Education which simulates a lecture hall in virtual reality, while adding special effects which can’t be utilized in a traditional classroom setting.
- Google is also making waves in the space of VR education with their exciting Expeditions Pioneer Program. The purpose of the program is for Expeditions teams from Google to visit schools around the world and provide everything teachers need to take their students on a journey anywhere; the team will also assist the teachers in setting up and utilizing this technology.
- Alchemy VR is creating immersive educational experiences on an impressive scale. The experiences on Alchemy VR are like a narrative being told to the user where they will get to see and experience a myriad of different things; one such example is exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
- zSpace currently has content available for STEM education, medical training, and more general math and science experiences.
New technologies are changing the world, and they bring boundless possibilities to our industry. We’re just scratching the surface. If we, as business leaders, are receptive, creative and attentive, we can find myriad uses for all the exponential technologies coming our way. The real-world applications of VR are astounding, and they could reinvent the way we teach and develop our people. Who knows? With a little ingenuity and elbow grease, VR may help us finally put an end to the enduring talent wars: instead of scrambling to find a skilled workforce, we could be developing our own.