Will virtual reality revolutionise staff training?

Mention the topic of staff training courses and it conjures up images of tedious hours spent listening to lectures and watching endless PowerPoint slides. However, new technologies are now changing both the training experience and the quality of the information that can be delivered.

Initially seen as a platform for computer games, virtual reality (VR) is gaining increasing attention for the value it can provide when it comes to training. Rather than relying on written materials or cumbersome presentations, staff can learn in a simulated environment that accurately represents their real-world workplace.

VR training comes in a range of forms. Some implementations use room-sized spaces covered in video screens on which detailed renders of an environment are shown. Others require participants to don VR goggles so they can be “transported” to a different facility or location.

Meanwhile, other implementations involve a replica of a workplace - such as the cab of a truck or crane - where detailed video footage is then shown on screens in place of windows. The student can interact with real controls while observing how the vehicle behaves within the virtual world.

Significant business benefits for the energy sector

VR-based training is particularly relevant in the energy sector where it can provide some significant benefits.

The top six reasons it should be considered in 2018 include:

1. Low development costs: It is much more cost effective to build a virtual environment than to re-create a physical environment for training. It is also much easier to simulate emergency events with a VR environment than to do this in the real workplace. Also, once a VR module has been created, it can be easily and rapidly adapted to new models of any represented component, new technology or new working procedures, as well as be used for multiple roles across the workforce.

2. Improved effectiveness: Students are no longer reliant on the knowledge and skills of a particular trainer and all will receive a consistent and effective quality of training. This will improve skill levels and ensure staff are well equipped and confident when in the real workplace.

3. Immersive experience: Participants in VR training feel as though they are actually working in a real-world environment, not only for the representation of the working environment but also because they can operate in a virtual space in groups while sharing a coherent representation of each other’s point of view.  This is great for training in the use of machinery or repairing components, particularly in emergency situations.

4. Ease of delivery: In some situations, it might take considerable time to reach a remote worksite before staff can be trained on its operation or maintenance. Using VR, staff members can be trained on equipment before they get there and so will be immediately productive. Subcontractors can be certified on procedures before accessing worksites, and training can reproduce different working conditions (day and night for example) and be delivered in different languages.

5. Self-training and Monitoring: trainees can run their training course according to their planning and pace, so a thorough learning can be guaranteed as it will be much easier to organise one’s time. The progress of staff can be monitored throughout the training process to ensure they have achieved the skill level required for the tasks they will be undertaking. Anyone requiring additional training can easily undertake the VR course a second time.

6. Motivation: Using VR can be a fun experience. When people enjoy their training, they improve their motivation and engagement, leading to better productivity and safety levels.

A VR-powered training future

Use of VR training by energy firms is expected to increase quickly as its benefits become more widely understood. Improvements in the underlying technologies and declining production costs are also making it a very appealing option.

For any company wanting to embark on VR training, it is best to start with a small project so the results can be evaluated. Once this has been deemed a success, the technique can be rolled out into other areas of the company.

Some companies are also exploring the potential of a related approach called augmented reality (AR). This involves projecting information over a view of the real world, aiding staff when it comes to things such as repairs and maintenance.

Rather than having to pause and consult a repair manual, a technician could have the relevant details displayed before them as they work. This can have significant benefits through time efficiencies and work accuracy.

By making use of both VR and AR tools, energy companies will be able to significantly improve their training and staff efficiency during 2018. The time to begin is now.

Article by Giovanni Polizzi, Energy Solutions Manager at Indra.

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