Education, not Automation, is the Problem: 21st-century Job Training with XR

Written BY

Emily Friedman

August 27, 2019

Many people fear the day when drones, robots and self-driving cars will replace human workers. This is understandable and it’s not only delivery drivers who have reason to fear—computer algorithms (artificial intelligence) could potentially replace entire departments of human employees. Though many industries and job professions are experiencing existential crises, the future will not be jobless. It will, however, be quite different, with new jobs and more employee turnover (in pace with advancing technologies) requiring humans to be able to quickly and effectively train and retrain for new roles.

Today’s workforce is aging. Simultaneously, current workers and new members of the workforce (millennials and soon Gen Z) are being forced to compete against cheaper labor around the world, against technology and automation, etc. in a rapidly changing global (and gig) economy. There isn’t a lack of jobs; in fact, as certain jobs are being automated, other positions requiring higher (and often more technological or advanced) skills are being created. Today, millions of jobs requiring a trained human touch are going unfilled because there aren’t enough workers equipped with the skills to fill them. The problem isn’t automation; it’s education. What we have is a training problem and the solution is extended reality. This is why some of the world’s biggest employers are going virtual to build the workforce they need now:


Walmart is the largest company in the world by revenue, with 3,500 Walmart Supercenters in the U.S. alone and 2.2 million employees worldwide. How does a company of Walmart’s size and global presence maintain quality training across its stores? Virtual Reality.

Walmart isn’t just testing VR for training. With the help of STRIVR, the retail giant has been implementing VR training, purchasing 17,000 Oculus Go headsets in 2018 to roll out a nationwide virtual reality (soft skills) training program. 10,000 Walmart employees are using the VR platform already, and it doesn’t seem like adoption is slowing down. By putting trainees into simulations of real-life situations, Walmart has been able to reduce the travel costs associated with traditional training facilities. The company is even applying VR to determine promotions, incorporating the tech into the interview process to help identify employees with managerial potential.

Hilton Hotels

In addition to using virtual reality to allow guests to preview rooms, the hospitality giant is turning to immersive technology to modernize training for its upper-level employees. Last year, Hilton worked with a third party (SweetRush) to film a 360-degree VR experience in a full-service Hilton Hotel. The simulation allowed corporate staff to experience a day in the life of a Hilton employee, the idea being to help them understand the physically challenging and complex tasks of day-to-day hotel operations. Instead of flying executives from across Hilton’s 14 brands (Hilton operates in 106 countries and territories), executives can put on a VR headset and experience what it’s like to clean a hotel room like a real member of the housekeeping staff.

In this case, Hilton wanted executives to get a sense of the complex demands made of the company’s staff at its 5,300 properties and to encourage empathy. Role playing is a key component of hospitality training; relying on a network of trainers to deliver bespoke training around the world, however, is expensive and doesn’t ensure consistent training across the Hilton brand. The company is planning to expand its use of VR training, including piloting a conflict resolution program designed to improve service recovery.

Preparing for danger

JLG Industries describes itself as a manufacturer of “mobile aerial work platforms.” If that doesn’t make your heart race, then I guess you don’t suffer from Acrophobia. JLG designs, builds and sells equipment, including electric boom and scissor lifts used on construction sites worldwide. From a quick Google search, it’s evident that poor training on these machines or a mistake in assembly can lead to a lawsuit, so it’s not surprising that JLG is using VR to train operators of its boom lifts.

How does one safely learn to operate vehicles from platforms up to 185 feet off the ground and on giant arms? With JLG’s networked training program built by ForgeFx Simulations, multiple trainees in multiple locations can operate virtual boom lifts in the same virtual construction site without ever leaving the ground. JLG customers could also benefit from the program, which is much safer than training on a real machine and more efficient to boot.

In a similar use case, United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, said it would begin offering VR simulators this year through its United Academy. United began testing VR for training new hires at the end of 2016. Instead of lectures and pictures of construction sites, VR was able to transport them to the job site. Standing on the edge of the virtual job site, employees were given two minutes to observe the environment and identify any missing equipment. The user then had to make his or her pitch to the construction boss (an avatar). In these early tests, United was able to shorten its typically week-long training program by half.

More recently, it was reported that United Rentals is offering VR training to help its customers teach their own employees how to operate scissor lifts and other machines.

Six Flags

Six Flags, a global leader in the attraction industry, employs nearly 30,000 seasonal workers to move millions of people through its parks during the busiest times of the year. That means every year, Six Flags must train tens of thousands of people to work in admissions, retail, ride operations, and more. In 2015, Six Flags began seeking alternatives to traditional instructor-led training, which wasn’t adequately preparing temporary hires. Fearing that PowerPoint presentations and low-tech audio/visual approaches weren’t adding to the organization, Six Flags injected tablet technology into training at two of its properties. The learning module moderated the flow of training by discovery, introducing videos, a simulated tour experience, safety quizzes, and more using gamification. In post-pilot surveys, 89% of participants believed the tablets improved their understanding of the training material and 91% agreed that Six Flags needs more tech in its learning and development programs.

Further transitioning from instructor-led to more engaged training, Six Flags has since added AR and VR to the mix, creating a virtual park tour with guest hot spots that trainees can experience without physically leaving the classroom. You can imagine the VR tour is useful at Six Flags properties in colder climates or under expansion. The ultimate goal for the theme park giant is to increase engagement and improve retention by creating a more realistic job preview process in onboarding.

According to a new study by BAE Systems, 47% of young people (aged 16-24) believe their future job doesn’t exist yet. BAE also predicted that the top jobs in 2040 will involve virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Are students learning the skills that will be in demand 20 years from now? Only 18% feel confident that they have those skills, while 74% believe they aren’t getting enough information about the kinds of jobs that will be available in the future.

Some of the world’s biggest companies are heavily investing in augmented and virtual reality training solutions. Not all have purchased headsets in the tens of thousands like Walmart, but companies that want to maintain a competitive edge are looking to immersive technologies. AR/VR – the ability to create any number of lifelike simulations without real danger or risk, to simulate any working environment or situation anytime, anywhere – is a gamechanger not just for the organizations trying to bridge today’s skills gap but especially for young people anticipating the jobs of tomorrow that don’t yet exist.

Image source: VR Scout

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