Imagine the exhilaration of scaling one of the highest off-shore wind turbines in Britain to install a new rotor blade.
You’d think that this kind of difficult and technical work could only be done by highly skilled professionals with bags of experience. It would be no place for a complete novice, right?
Virtual reality for real experience
Wrong – with new breakthroughs in immersive training technologies using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), anyone starting out in construction can experience such situations without the risks, dangers and costs.
By being immersed in artificial but realistic training environments, you can get the practical skills you need without having to be on site or using expensive and potentially hazardous tools.
It’s not limited to wind turbines either. The industry has hundreds of occupations that can benefit from immersive learning, from forklift truck driving to hospital design to laying out service lines in a skyscraper.
That’s the beauty of construction – there are so many different job roles and cutting edge technology can be a part of many of them.
How VR works
You’ve probably seen VR headsets in the media used for gaming or entertainment – but maybe not for the extraordinary versatility they bring to learning and training.
Put one on and take hold of a compatible handset, and suddenly you could be, say, arc welding a groove joint. You can see and hear everything that’s happening just as you would if you were welding in the real world – only it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake and there are no materials to waste.
Training using augmented reality operates in a similar way, but by overlaying video, sound or graphics on to the real world. For example, you could project your electrical wiring design on to the interior shell of a real building.
As it’s all artificial, it’s just a question of ctrl-z, undo, restart or reset to have another go. You don’t need a new parts or products, or wait months for the chance to use expensive plant machinery.
Game to train
It’s no accident if all this reminds you a little of playing computer games. Immersive training draws on some key elements behind gaming to make a fun and engaging learning environment, while encouraging students to collaborate, communicate and interact to solve problems.
Some virtual training systems involve several trainees working together in different roles to complete one task. A simulation could involve, for example, a crane supervisor, a crane operator and a banksman working from different screens to the same end.
You also get to see your progress more easily using immersive learning systems, which can track how well you’re doing – a bit like games stats. It means you stay on top of progress and get targeted support wherever you need it.
Good for you, good for employers
Big firms, like Laing O’Rourke are already saying that immersive learners are more safety conscious and accurate than other trainees. You can read more about the research in our report on immersive learning.
This way to learn is not only engaging and effective for trainees, producing work-ready employees with the right skills – but it’s more cost-efficient for employers in terms of tools, materials and supervision.
It creates opportunities to practise onsite skills that can be difficult to get in real life, and it shows that the industry as a whole is future-focused, using cutting-edge technologies to ensure that the UK has the highly-trained workforce it needs for tomorrow’s challenges.
Construction for the future
Employers in construction need talented young people who are ready for work. They also know that the next generation know, understand and want to use the latest technology in their careers.