Overcoming the skills shortage with VR

28th January 2020
Alex Lynn

The UK is at the forefront of global innovation, with skilled engineers and electricians being called to work on projects all over the world. However, we’re experiencing a skills crisis that’s threatening the future of the construction industry. Here, HellermannTyton discusses how VR can help overcome this skills shortage and create a new breed of future-ready electricians.

The UK is in the midst of a skills shortage and the built environment is feeling the impact. Skilled trades such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering are in the middle of this skills crisis, and it’s thought that the electrical industry is one of the most affected.

A new labour market report has stated that in the next five years, it’s estimated that between 12,500 and 15,000 additional skilled electricians will be needed to accommodate sector expansion, but even if there was a 33% increase in new apprentices qualifying by 2023, there would be a shortfall of 7,500-10,000 electricians who would need to be sourced from elsewhere.

One way to bridge this skills gap and attract new talent is through the investment and implementation of virtual reality (VR). From being used as an educational tool in schools to attracting younger generations, here are three ways VR is helping the electrical industry combat the skills shortage.

One way VR is helping the electrical industry overcome the skills shortage is through its use as an educational tool in schools and colleges. When cable management companies, electricity suppliers and other businesses work with schools to innovate the syllabus and support them in core subjects such as science and mathematics, they’ll be combing education with entertainment, creating a level of edutainment that would revolutionise the school curriculum.

A recent survey by edTech platform, Bett found that 90% of teachers agree that technology helps improve the quality of learning, which further reinforces the importance of integrating innovation and technology with learning,

One solution leading the way is HellermannTyton UK’s VR experience located at its Cannock site. Through a pair of VR goggles, the user can explore five different scenarios, and see exactly how HellermannTyton’s products are used in a range of applications. This makes it easy for students to understand highly complex products and how they work in unique areas. From a virtual tour inside a wind turbine to the carriage of a train, students will have immersive, real-world experiences that will give them a taste of what working in the industry will be like. It also shows just how diverse the day-to-day job role for an electrician can be, making this a much more attractive career prospect.

It’s not only schools implementing VR as a learning resource, but companies looking to streamline and improve their training. VR is an excellent training tool for both current and new electricians in the construction industry, as electricians can experience simulated scenarios where they can practice using a range of products and methods in different situations.

Across many industries, training often drains both time and resources - this is even more so the case when companies rely on their best performer to train others. When a company chooses to adopt VR training, they can train both current and new hires without have to rely on additional staff or resources. Alongside this, VR can be used to train people whatever the weather - it doesn’t matter if there are adverse weather conditions, as all you need is a pair of VR goggles. Another added benefit is that these applications are usually available in a range of different languages, helping to overcome any translation barriers.

HellermannTyton are planning to position their VR technology as a training platform, so that they can showcase their products and demonstrate how they work in a range of different applications. This style of training will rely on ‘problem-based’ learning, where the user can use a range of different products to build a circuit, and see the aftermath in a simulated outcome.

It’s not only education and training that VR is changing in the construction industry - it’s also helping change perceptions of what it means to work in a skilled trade. The fact that the younger generation (Generation Z) doesn’t want to work in manual labour roles is contributing to the skills shortage, with many believing that there are cleaner, more rewarding careers available.

The results from the Construction Industry Training Board in the UK further reinforce this, as it had shown that 14 to 19-year-olds don’t see careers in construction as an aspirational choice and gave it a careers score of 4.2 out of 10.

One way to change these notions is through what Generation Z know inside and out, which is technology. Born in a time when technology was already established in their everyday life, it is now second nature to them. More and more companies are choosing to use VR goggles at job fairs and careers days to attract younger generations and dispell any preconceived ideas. VR will make careers in skilled trades look like an exciting and lucrative opportunity, which in turn will help overcome the problem of attracting and recruiting talent.

This has most certainly been the case for HellermannTyton’s VR experience, as its left users feeling both excited and surprised at the day-to-day life of an electrician, and the skill it requires. Electrical companies must consider new ways in which they can innovate, engage younger generations and place their business at the forefront of this new digital age.

The need for the UK to resolve the skills gap is critical, and advances in VR offers a potential solution to overcoming the skills shortage. Being used across a wide range of industries, VR can be used in a number of different ways, and adapted to suit a number of situations. From being used in schools, to helping companies train their staff and attracting new talent, the potential that VR offers is endless.

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