On International Workers’ Day, celebrated on May 1 globally (but on the first Monday of every September in the US), we aim to dispel the myth that automation will “steal” blue-collar jobs. Instead, we believe that the blue-collar workforce will benefit from reskilling by training through extended reality (XR) technologies.
We often read in the news that blue-collar workers fear losing their jobs to automation. There is a deeper perceptive to this, however. Even though some jobs may be phased out because of sheer redundancy, the workers who did those jobs can be reskilled to take on jobs that simply cannot be automated, such as fixing a machine that’s broken down or interacting with an upset customer in a fast food restaurant. In fact, experts say that reskilling is the only way to stay ahead of the automation trend and prevent job loss. Also, a Gallup surveydiscovered that 74 percent of blue-collar workers are not actually worried about losing their jobs to automation.
However, we must focus on the fact that those who stay behind and do not reskill will be overlooked in favor of their reskilled counterparts. And if blue-collar workers are unable to make this choice or do not have the resources to reskill, it is important that their employers in industries such as manufacturing, retail, and construction take ownership to train their employees. One upcoming method that has emerged to ensure efficient reskilling is extended reality (XR).
What is Extended Reality?
XR is the combination of immersive technologies, such as virtual reality (a simulated environment created and viewed by wearing a headset), augmented reality (the overlaying of simulated elements in physical environments for improved visualization), and mixed reality (a mix of real and virtual worlds that allows physical and virtual worlds to co-exist). When trained through XR technology, workers can, for example, handle expensive equipment with greater precision, improve their interaction skills with customers, or visualize the assembly of a product better.
What are the Benefits of Using Extended Reality for Training?
Consider leafing through a 30-page booklet when trying to assemble a bed, for example. Now, consider the benefit of being able to visualize the bed as a complete structure, superimposed on the physical space of your bedroom and simply being able to put it together with instructions from an AI assistant?
This is one of the biggest benefits XR can bring to the table – a realistic view of the task at hand, allowing more efficient training of blue-collar workers. In 2018, Volkswagen announced that it would train its employees using augmented reality across all verticals – vehicle assembly, customer service, and onboarding. The biggest reason for this they said was the scalability and decreased error rate achieved using AR.
Another big benefit is the safety it offers. Instead of being exposed to dangerous equipment, construction workers, for example, can use XR technology to learn how to do their jobs and then enter the field. XR technology allows workers to make their mistakes in a safe environment. This way organizations can prevent losses from injuries and a better-trained, efficient workforce.
What about Resistance to Learning from Such Advanced Technologies?
Historically, whenever industries have adopted automation and technology advancement, workers have shown some form of resistance to accepting and adopting it. However, says Kyle Jackson, CEO and Co-founder of Talespin, creators of immersive experiences to enhance employee training, the reality is quite the opposite. “Results from our clients and the larger XR training community indicate that employees enjoy the engaging, hands-on nature of VR training. One study comparing training methods revealed that 85% of participants preferred VR training over traditional forms of training for the same technical task,” says. Talespin recently announced the launch of its new virtual human technology, a VR soft skills training tool powered by AI.
Which Industries Would Most Benefit from Reskilling Through XR Technology?
The applications of XR technology for training range from the military to manufacturing and mining to soft skills training to the medical industry.
“The energy and industrial sectors have been rapidly adopting XR to help workforces train for equipment installations, job site inspections, and maintaining detailed knowledge of tools and equipment. These industries all share core commonalities where XR provides immediate and substantial ROI because they have work environments that are hard to access, costly to shut down for training, and where simulation of dangerous situations can save money and lives,” reveals Jackson.
But it doesn’t end there. The future of work involves the application of advanced technologies even to soft skills development. Training to communicate assertively with an angry customer in a high-pressure environment can be beautifully simulated so that workers get to learn what works and what doesn’t when interacting with sensitive customers. In the office, XR can be used to simulate conversations between co-workers so employees can develop better working relationships and give managers the opportunity to handle their teams better.
As XR technologies become more prevalent and are embraced by companies, workers worldwide can move to a different level of expertise in their work. As mentioned earlier, workers needn’t worry about losing their jobs to technology; they should, however, be cautious about their better-skilled colleagues taking up their jobs. By making the business case for using immersive technologies for training, HR teams can ensure that their workforce is up-to-date with current skills, reduce turnover, and directly help in improving efficiency and the bottom line as a result.