Harnessing AR and VR is key for training the UK’s millennial workforce
16 Jan 2019
Our workforce is increasingly tech savvy so it makes sense, says Honeywell’s Sudhir Kamath, to incorporate this into workplace learning.
Human capital challenges for industrial sites are multiple and varied. They can range from the pace of evolving technology to demographic changes, but increasingly add up to one key point – the need to facilitate quicker and more effective knowledge sharing and skills acquisition.
Industrial facilities are unique and complex environments. While mostly automated, the criticality of some tasks during repairs and upsets still requires a high skill level to complete them safely and without unplanned downtime.
In addition, millennials are rewriting the rulebook for the industrial workforce. Educated, technology savvy, ambitious and mobile, they bring new opportunities for plant productivity and innovation, but also respond better to learning methods that are hands-on and directly relevant to the tasks specific to them. Training and best practices for the use of advanced process and automation technology must play to the strengths and needs of this group.
Workforce competency is a crucial concern for industrial organisations of all sizes. Competency improvement initiatives enable site personnel to complete field tasks faster with reduced risk, and change the way users learn and innovate. And with half of experienced engineers due to retire in the next five years, action needs to be taken to avoid skills shortages impacting business performance.
Solutions with benefits
In recent years, the use of technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – supported by data analytics – have helped companies address this issue. These solutions enable simulation of everyday tasks by establishing immersive and realistic virtual environments of plants while providing instructors and trainees with access to robust teaching tools.
Directly relevant to the job at hand, this approach offers a fast and safe way to learn new skills and has been shown to increase knowledge retention.
VR simulators contextualise jobspecific learning and allow trainees to safely experience the consequences of their decisions, 24/7. Evaluation, testing, and reports track the employees’ progress as part of a formal competency management portfolio.
Training and best practices for the use of advanced process and automation technology must play to the strengths and needs of this group
But it’s not just training these technologies help with. On-the-job learning is also expedited, allowing years of troubleshooting experience to be condensed into a much shorter time period. Hands-on instructions can be provided via mixed reality headsets to help experienced industry veterans to guide workers through work activities in real-time, from anywhere in the world via video call.
AR and VR competency offerings blend content and experiences with reality to address common issues encountered on the plant floor. Further, they connect people performance with plant performance. Plant managers get a more productive plant due to improved uptime, supervisors can assess staff on every scenario and better assign tasks, and maintenance staff have improved skills and expertise.
Competency initiatives that build job skills in plant personnel are without question a win-win, elevating the knowledge and quality of the workforce and increasing attractiveness of the employer to top talent.
Today’s complex industrial operations demand a fusion of advanced software and competent workers to capitalise on new opportunities. Industrial players must act now to maximise their human capital by providing the right skills at the right time to the right employees. There is an urgent need for companies to invest more in people – their greatest asset.
Sudhir Kamath is product manager, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions