How VR Can Ease the Pressure of High-Risk Training
Employees who specialize in demanding and dangerous lines of work—manufacturing, construction, handling cargo, and other hazardous environments—face the constant threat of physical risk.
In these roles, on-the-job “hard skills” training can be costly and dangerous. But organizations increasingly see how virtual reality solutions can help them provide invaluable hands-on training safely, efficiently, and economically.
Far from being used primarily for gaming and entertainment, VR is growing rapidly as an enterprise tool. By PwC’s estimate, the industry will rise exponentially in value over the next decade, from $13.5 billion in 2019 to $450.5 billion by 2030.
VR can help reduce training time and use of resources. And in high-risk lines of work, its value as a teaching tool extends to literally saving lives—giving medical residents practice without involving patients and helping manufacturers and distributors keep their critical supply chains online while providing immersive simulated safety training.
Healthcare is under tremendous strain in the U.S., facing a predicted shortfall of 23,000 surgeons by 2032, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. A lack of training standardization among residencies and fellowships for both quantitative technical assessment and qualitative hands-on practice can lead to deficiencies in critical skills.
Nearly one in three surgeons can’t operate independently after residency, a recent University of Michigan study found. And mortality rates for lower-skilled bariatric surgeons are five times higher than for higher-skilled surgeons, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
But a VR-enabled experience can close that gap, giving practitioners realistic simulations of operating room environments to help them learn to make the right decisions without real-world stress.
At the Musculoskeletal Institute at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, orthopedics trainees are no longer bound to time-consuming practice on cadavers. Using VR headsets equipped with PrecisionOS medical software, residents can now practice procedures safely, in high fidelity, at a lower cost, and up to six times faster than before.
This VR platform gave users a critical advantage after the hospital suspended elective surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic: Their training continued to proceed with no lapse. And in the near future, directors at UConn School of Medicine foresee surgeons using VR with CT scans to identify damage or disease in patients before it occurs.
“It’s insane how quickly your body adjusts—I couldn’t believe it,” says Dr. Augustus D. Mazzocca, director of the UConn Musculoskeletal Institute. “Easily within a minute, you become part of that environment.”
At one of the world’s busiest airports, cargo handlers and other employees coordinate their work in a facility as long as six soccer fields. Using VR, employees can safely learn how to work with other teams, how to load and unload cargo, and even how to drive a forklift.
And when cargo itself is hazardous, VR becomes essential. Every day, one Spanish energy company delivers fuel from 1,000 trucks to 3,000 service stations in Spain alone (among 4,700 stations worldwide). The company’s drivers load and transport fuel to each station, where they unload it into fuel tanks.
On-the-job training traditionally involves inefficient, costly, complex processes that have to scale across the globe. Beyond the handling of a combustible product, few loading dock facilities or stations can go offline for employees to get hands-on experience.
In 2018, the company introduced a VR training experience that simulates the entire distribution process. Thousands of employees can now learn any aspect of loading, transporting, and unloading fuel at any time. Surveyed trainees said the VR tools were intuitive and easy to use. Every survey respondent said they found the training useful or very useful, and the vast majority said it helped them learn better.
The company’s drivers reported VR gave them seamless, true-to-life experience with little or no added learning curve to use the headset and the software itself.
The quick implementation of headsets and software makes VR a highly scalable and cost-effective tool for any sector. For any high-risk line of work, offering efficient, economical training while reducing personal risk—and getting this training up and running quickly—gives employees and customers invaluable support.
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