A shortage of skilled workers is one of the most concerning issues in industrial leadership today and will probably remain so for some time. A workforce shortage prevails for many skilled trades, including many in my field such as welders, engineers and machine operators. Such shortages exist in other industries, as well.
But technology may have the answer — augmented reality and virtual reality as workforce training tools. AR adds digital elements to a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are supplemented by computer-generated input. VR involves an immersive, interactive experience generated by a computer that shuts out the physical world.
AR and VR technology has the potential to help businesses train workers more efficiently, and possibly even more effectively, than traditional training methods.
Put on uniquely engineered goggles and a headset, and you’re in a simulated work environment. The virtual aspect removes safety hazards so mistakes can be made without devastating consequences. In a nutshell, it’s an effective way to learn, in less time. It’s why companies such as Boeing, UPS and Walmart are using VR to train their workers with favorable results, according to CNBC.
AR and VR should be grabbing the attention of every leader in industry.
Shelby Hegy, senior marketing manager for the manufacturing sector at engineering software solutions provider, PTC, wrote in an article in Control Engineering magazine in 2018 that AR and VR are making great strides in worker training.
Hegy refers to a case study in which a large U.K.-based aerospace and defense company used AR to build a flexible workforce by creating work instructions, guided with the authenticity and imagery of AR to reduce total training time to just hours, at one-tenth of the cost. By its measurement, AR boosted training efficiency between 30 and 40 percent, and cut assembly time in half.
In another instance, a manufacturer used AR to connect field engineers with experts, voice telephone support and archaic service manuals. Conducting repairs and resolving problems by the intended goal of the first time they occur rose to 67 percent. As Hegy reported, “The engineers’ efficiency increased by 20 percent. The average time to resolve problems dropped by more than two hours.”
Addressing the skills gap
AR and VR tools have widespread use in other industries as well. UPS uses VR headsets to help drivers spot potential hazards while driving down a virtual road. Since adding the VR component, the retention rate has climbed to 75 percent, UPS stated in a release.
A gap of skilled workers in our labor pool is a challenge to many industries. An August 2018 article in the New York Times, “Manufacturers Increase Efforts to Woo Workers to Rural Areas,” included this statement by Tom Schabel, CEO of Alexandria Industries: “Skilled positions can remain open for months, and even unskilled positions can take 60 days to fill.”
Advances in technology, such as AR and VR, may be part of the solution needed to help fill this gap.
Eric D. Miller is the president of Miller Fabrication Solutions is a strategic partner offering metal part manufacturing and value-added solutions for global OEMs across oil and gas, mining, material handling, construction equipment and other heavy equipment industries. Eric is the third generation of family leadership for the Brookville, Pennsylvania-based business.