April 18, 2018
JRCS, a Japanese supplier of maritime systems, is the latest company to partner with Microsoft to test the HoloLens Mixed Reality headset for training purposes. Volkswagen recently became the first car manufacturer to go “all in” on Virtual Reality training for its employees across the globe. UPS, Walmart, Linde North America, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines—all exploring XR as a tool for training employees in lieu of lectures and slideshows. And it’s not just training; as we’ve covered extensively on this blog, organizations in nearly every sector are equipping workers with XR devices to assemble aircraft, repair equipment in the field, inspect vehicles, and more.
Why is this remarkable? Because workplaces are changing, and the workforce is getting younger. There is a reason some game developers are switching gears to enterprise content development—in just a few years, a generation raised on video games and technology in classrooms will make up 50% of the global workforce. There are 75 million millennials in the U.S. alone, all working age (roughly 18 to 35), and their outlook on life and work is very different from that of their middle-aged Gen X predecessors and the baby boomers reaching retirement. Millennials should matter to enterprises. They’re not just a group to be marketed to; they are desperately needed to fill over six million job openings in America, and they are essential to riding out the accelerating storm of disruption caused by technology in both enterprise and society at large. And yet, companies are struggling to attract, train and retain millennial employees.
Although millennials are the largest talent pool, they remain in short supply in some industries, especially the skilled trades. Companies are legitimately concerned about the growing skills gap but are using the same old recruitment and training techniques that are not aligned with the needs and values of millennials. And it’s hemorrhaging money: Last year, 45% of small businesses were unable to find qualified candidates for job openings, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. 60% of employers reported position vacancies of 12 weeks or longer, costing $800,000 annually between advertising and lost productivity.
Recruiting, onboarding and training a new employee is an investment—a worthwhile one if that individual becomes a loyal, productive worker but not if he or she is likely to change jobs. Millennials typically stay in a job for just three years or less. In a 2016 Gallup poll, six in ten (employed) millennials admitted they were actively seeking new employment opportunities outside their company. The yearly cost of such turnover to the U.S. economy? $30 billion. What do you do when your greatest source of skilled labor is also the greatest risk? The answer is not an open office layout or fun perks like snacks, pinball machines, etc. The engaged millennial employee is not so elusive, and millennials’ openness to switching jobs is not necessarily a negative quality.
Millennials’ attitudes about work
Advertisers have already started to turn away from Gen Xers and target millennials, so why not Human Resources? Imagine being in your early 20s. You grew up with the Internet and social media, had computers in your school classrooms, and carry your smartphone everywhere. You shop, socialize and entertain yourself with technology. How desirable would it be for you to work in a factory built in the 1970s or for a logistics company that still uses paper documentation? So, what do millennials look for in a workplace? Purpose, feedback, career development and, of course, technology. It’s not that income is unimportant to them (this is a generation of student debt and low wage growth) or that older workers don’t have similar preferences, but millennials have higher expectations for the sense of personal fulfillment they get from a job.
Millennials want to work for a company open to change, with fair managers who provide regular performance feedback. They want to feel a part of the brand and understand their work within the context of the organization’s greater goals. They are innately collaborative and eager to learn and expand their skills. More so than prior generations, they value an employer that provides excellent training and development opportunities; and 82% of them are likely to decline or quit a job with outdated technology (Penn Schoen Berland).
Digital natives and the declining life span of learned skills
Millennials are heavily influenced by technology. It affects their job decisions, satisfaction, and performance. They are always connected and expect instant access to information no matter where they are. It’s not unhealthy; it’s just how they learn and work best, and it makes them adaptable. Millennials are the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of technology than most senior workers, but they’re also a generation that will require continuous skill development in order to keep up with the pace of disruption in industry. This means that in addition to filling their ranks with millennials and transferring knowledge from veteran employees to new workers; companies will need to make sure employees are able to upskill, retrain and switch positions in the future as automation increases, certain industries decline, and new ones are created.
For millennials, learning a skill today doesn’t get one as far as it did 50 years ago. Change happens so fast due to technology advances, evolving business models, shorter product lifecycles, etc. that half of what one knew five years ago is now irrelevant and much of what was learned a decade ago is now obsolete. As Gen Z (ages 18 and younger) enters the workplace, skills will become less relevant at an even faster rate. 65% of the jobs the next generation will have to fill don’t exist yet—an even greater skills gap than millennials are facing. How do you prepare for a future where workers must be able to learn new skills on command and regularly retrain to remain employable?
Why XR is perfect for attracting millennials, intergenerational transfer of skills and future skill development
Augmented and Virtual Reality can resolve generational differences that make the transfer of skills from boomers to millennials difficult. For a generation that responds best to digital learning methods job hunting in an economy in which the pace of change is ever-increasing, XR is the perfect tool.
At many companies, training is classroom-style. Retiring workers may be asked to write down everything they’ve learned or put that knowledge into a PowerPoint presentation for new employees to study in classroom-like training spaces, but that doesn’t do much to stop the brain drain. Not only is it difficult to train for real-life scenarios this way, including emergencies, operation of heavy equipment and unique customer service situations; it’s also inefficient. Even if you could distill a career’s worth of lessons into a handbook or video, millennials learn best by doing.
Enter XR: Employees exiting the workforce can use smart glasses to record workflows, preserving their knowledge in a format that can be pulled up – heads-up and hands-free – by an inexperienced worker on the job or used to create immersive (virtual reality) training simulations. Smart glasses are an easy way for older workers to save their knowledge and new employees to absorb that information while working without risking productivity or quality. Developing VR training programs based upon a longtime worker’s real experiences is another way to effectively preserve, recycle and impart knowledge that would otherwise be lost. And the technology is attractive to millennials, 44% of whom believe their current workplaces are not “smart” enough (Penn Schoen Berland).
Millennials are more likely to accept and stay at a job where progressive technology is integrated into both training and day-to-day operations, especially AR and VR. The Oculus Rift, after all, was developed by a millennial for millennials. It has been shown that people of all ages pick up new concepts more quickly and retain knowledge longer through active learning, including immersive experiences. Millennials see the value of XR right away—66% believe VR training will allow them to train from anywhere, on their own time. Beyond training, millennials believe XR will improve collaboration, innovation and flexibility. In fact, 73% say virtual sharing tools are important to them. This is a generation raised on AIM and natural at using tools like Slack, a generation that shies away from phone communication but would work well together in virtual spaces. Millennials won’t be intellectually stimulated in an office that runs on paper. They won’t be engaged tied to a desktop computer from nine to five; but give them the technology to receive just-in-time training, access information at the point of need, and collaborate/work remotely, and they will perform at their best.
Though millennials are often derided by older generations as entitled, lazy, etc., they’re actually a more socially conscious and quite hard-working group open to new ways of working. So, why should employers accommodate their habits and preferences? In addition to becoming the largest generation in the workforce, millennials’ habits and preferences – to which XR technologies are conducive – are key to surviving and maintaining a competent workforce through digital disruption. What does it mean for businesses that XR will soon become a standard teaching tool at schools and universities? It means future workers will demand those tools. As a technology that can be continuously adapted to new training needs, XR is the future of on-demand training and retraining, the future of shaping the workforce.
The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.