A Virtual View of the Skills Gap Dilemma

According to the 2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institution skills gap and future of work study, an estimated 2.4 million positions may go unfilled over the next decade. The potential economic impact of that growing gap is estimated at $2.5 trillion.

North Carolina businesses can attest to the challenge of finding and retaining qualified staff. Fifty percent of NC businesses report hiring difficulties and 60 percent of NC STEM-related and manufacturing companies experienced the same, according to the just-released 2018 Employer Needs Survey.

Immersive technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) [collectively called XR], are being used to address that gap. While most often associated with consumer gaming, the results garnered by VR’s fully-immersive environments and AR’s overlays over real world scenes are increasingly catching the eye of the enterprise.

Training has emerged as the leading XR use case across the enterprise. XR has a ‘wow’ factor that helps attract targeted populations. More importantly, XR has proven to be significantly more effective than traditional learning methods. Users are more likely to recall what they learn in a VR experience.

Global shipping giant DHL Supply Chain reports an average 15 percent or greater improvement in productivity in its warehouses utilizing AR glasses, while also reducing onboarding and training time by 50 percent!

Mooresville, NC-based Lowe’s is an early adopter of both AR and VR. Ross Neumann, head of Partnerships for Lowe’s Innovation Labs, noted in his presentation at the VRX2018 conference that Lowe’s finds VR particularly useful for simulating the numerous home environments a sales or service representative may encounter. Lowe’s also likes VR for helping customers envision bigger dollar projects, like kitchen and bath renovations. The company uses AR to simulate a realistic view of smaller dollar items, such as how to use a recommended tool, including how heavy it would feel in the customer’s hand during typical use times.

Engaged companies also report a less obvious benefit to VR for training. The use of current VR headgear (aka Head Mounted Display or HMD) isolates the user/employee from outside distractions. Whether viewing individually or collaborating in VR with a team, VR users are less likely to check their phones or respond to outside distractions while engaged in learning.

XR is still an emerging technology with continuously expanding proof-of-concept (POC) deployments. Companies actively testing or using XR are showing their enthusiasm for the real or anticipated return-on-investment. According to the XR Industry Survey 2018 conducted by Nielsen’s SuperData Research, 63 percent of current XR business users indicate they definitely plan to invest more in XR, while 32 percent of current non-user businesses plan XR investment.

So what does this mean for the skills gap dilemma? It means that competitive companies are looking to these emerging technologies beyond the initial ‘wow’ factor. Yes, XR helps companies fulfill a cultural desire to be seen as progressive in order to attract and retain target employees. But more importantly, POC projects are achieving the desired result for reduced training time, reduced onboarding expenditure and greater training retention. The skills gap has met its match in XR!

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