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Not Just for Games, Virtual Reality is Now a Training Environment

Technology

By Rachel Burris, Communications Manager, NCCER, from NCCER blog

Virtual reality is no longer just fun and games … it’s now a way to learn new skills. Simulators used in training and screening processes are making an impression in the construction industry. With the shortage of skilled craft professionals facing the workforce, it’s crucial to be able to quickly evaluate the skill of applicants and train new employees or students.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines virtual reality as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” So not only are there sensory experiences that make the user feel like they are in the environment but their actions can also impact what happens. What does that mean to the construction industry? Training in a virtual reality simulator could provide valuable experience without the fear of injury, damaging equipment or loss of materials.

Simulators are gaining popularity in training centers within the industry. From welding to cranes to heavy equipment, there are a few areas in which craft professionals may have experienced virtual reality in either training or in a job interview.

How do simulators work?

An augmented reality welding system, such as the AugmentedArcTM, uses real 3-D objects and then overlays them with computer-generated images, giving the user a virtual reality experience to show what they are capable of during an interview or help them learn how to weld during training. An analysis is provided after the exercise for employers to see scores, graphs and even a playback mode to watch the weld from any angle. In the Cornerstone article, “Screen and Train Welding Applicants Faster with New Technology,” Steve Hidden from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. states, “It’s like a welding lab experience without the lab; to the user it looks and sounds like actual welding, complete with metal workpieces, welding arcs and weld bead” but it’s not using actual material resources.

Crane simulators, such as the ones created by North American Crane Bureau, are designed to help users feel like they are in the field while providing experience in a safe environment. They have multiple screens and include real-life parameters including weather conditions and a variety of progressive situations and loads. Simulators keep users safe while training how to recognize and respond to potential hazards. The technology gives users hands-on experience without putting wear and tear on expensive equipment. The program also measures the users’ skills and provides detailed training logs and immediate feedback.

Where are simulators being used?

Lord Fairfax Community College is already utilizing two simulators in their Workforce Solutions course which is designed to help students get a feel for the job. The course, first of its kind in Virginia, is helping fill the immediate need for heavy equipment operators. Students are guaranteed a job interview after successfully completing the course with a proficiency of 80 percent or more and receive a Workforce Solutions certificate of completion and an NCCER credential.

Soon to be launched by the Nevada chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a new education and training facility will use the region’s first virtual reality construction heavy equipment simulators. Lance Semenko, president of the AGC’s Nevada chapter, points out that not having a simulator training program can be a barrier to employment. The heavy equipment operator training program will be available to students from area high schools, community colleges and trade schools and successful completion of the course will result in an NCCER Heavy Equipment Operations Level 1 credential.

With virtual reality simulators making their way into training and assessment centers, the construction industry is utilizing new technology in innovative ways. Although simulators will never fully replace actual hands-on training, it’s a great tool to prepare for the next step.

Have you been trained via virtual reality? Or used a simulator during a job interview? If so, share your experience below.

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