Construction is a hands-on industry, but the pandemic forced builders to consider ways to digitize many of the processes that had been done by hand. Even construction training is being enhanced by technology like virtual and augmented reality to create a safer, more highly skilled workforce.
“There’s plenty of data out there about the benefit of learning by retention, by doing rather than just watching” someone, according to Sean Hurwitz, CEO of PIXO, a virtual reality company that offers off-the-shelf and custom training for various industries. “When you’re training people the traditional way, you’re having another person watch to see how they’re taking tests, maybe, but that’s not replicating the environment.”
“You can create anything in this 3D environment, and then imagine yourself in that 3D environment,” Hurwitz said. “We have a fall protection module where you have to go up an 80-story building. You have to first pick your harness. There are randomized defects on the harnesses, so you have to pick the appropriate one, and you feel like you’re 80 stories above ground.”
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Virtual reality allows trainees to gain experience in a low-stakes environment, but Hurwitz believes “the most valuable thing about VR is that you can change an emotion.” Trainees aren’t just learning a skill, they’re learning to appreciate what it takes to do this job.
The pandemic “absolutely accelerated and exploded the market,” Hurwitz said. Prior to the pandemic, virtual reality training was a “nice to have” feature that was considered a luxury. “Most people didn’t believe in it,” Hurwitz said, “and then we were faced with a pandemic where we can’t see each other, we can’t go into an office.”
The pandemic forced construction businesses to consider other options for training, including webinars, virtual classes, or more advanced technology like virtual reality. Hurwitz believes that the benefits of VR and AR as part of a training program will help it outlast the pandemic’s influence on in-person training. Once construction firms test virtual reality training, “the efficacy and value of VR is really what has accelerated” its adoption, he said. “Then they see the return on investment; it can be cheaper, faster” than traditional training methods.
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“There’s a huge skilled labor shortage, and the workforce is younger,” Hurwitz said. “They learn differently, and a lot of the younger generation is very familiar with it already.” Companies can distinguish themselves as innovators by offering this type of training to “entice the younger generation to want to get involved.”
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.