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Soft Skills, D&I Training Go Virtual: The VR Companies Changing the HR Game

Written BY

Emily Friedman

February 10, 2022

Enterprises struggling to deliver critical employee training across platforms and geographies have been turning to extended reality. PwC predicts that 23.5 million jobs could be using augmented and virtual reality by 2030 for training, work meetings, and customer service. This includes soft skills, empathy-based training, and compliance training—difficult to teach even without the hurdles of a global pandemic.

Prior to March 2020, virtual reality was gaining in popularity for hard skills training. Not only is it safer to learn to drive a forklift or operate a machine in a virtual setting, but the technology replaces the need to requisition expensive assets for hands-on training. Soft skills, too, can be less risky and more comfortable to learn in VR. It’s the difference between learning from the real-life experience of a difficult customer and being able to practice all kinds of challenging customer service scenarios without angering a real person.

When it comes to anti-harassment or diversity and inclusion (D&I) training, well, just imagine a male colleague virtually stepping into the shoes of a female colleague, or a white employee participating in a meeting as a person of color—powerful stuff.      

Here are some of the companies advancing the use of virtual reality in HR training:

Equal Reality

Started in 2016, Equal Reality offers diversity and inclusion training in VR, including racial bias, gender diversity, disability inclusion, bystander intervention, and sexual harassment training. The company’s Virtual Reality Library supposedly contains everything you would need to run an immersive learning program and, according to the website, just two headsets (Quest, SteamVR) are enough to train 780 people. In addition, Equal Reality customizes “choose-your-own-adventure”-style apps, where the learner has to choose how to respond to proceed in a scenario. Customers like ExxonMobil, JP Morgan, and State Farm use Equal Reality to practice difficult conversations, experience unconscious bias, and build empathy for colleagues.

Make Real

Make Real creates “collaborative serious games,” XR training experiences, and other tools for changing behaviors. Its 20-minute D&I Perspectives training module consists of four real-world stories of everyday microaggressions in the workplace. The interactive journey takes you through an ordinary office with both 3D CG and stereoscopic film of real people voiced by actors. Make Real supports desktop, mobile and the Oculus Quest, and is compatible with the Immerse platform. Customers and projects include D&I training, onboarding, and safety training for EDF Energy, manager coaching at Severn Trent, and relationship management and manager intervention training for Lloyds.

Mursion

Mursion works with companies across 35+ industries to train employees to have challenging conversations at work by putting them in immersive simulations with “human-powered avatars.” Learners practice diffusing office conflicts, dealing with customers who refuse to wear masks, etc., with AI controlling the avatars' “body language, facial expressions, and lip synchronizations.” What makes the avatars human-powered are the trained specialists behind them playing multiple characters at once, many of whom are professional actors. CEO Mark Atkinson has spoken about the science of plausibility: In VR, by authentically replicating a real work environment as well as the race, gender, etc. of the other person in the room, learners are more inclined to suspend disbelief compared to a 2D experience. Mursion’s clients include Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Best Western.

Strivr

Strivr offers hazard identification, empathy training, and more in VR. Its Immersive Learning platform consists of software to create immersive content, remote content and device management, and analytics. The company’s services include curriculum design, implementation, and performance analysis. Strivr will even select, procure, and configure all hardware for you. Customers like Verizon, Walmart, and others in retail, logistics, manufacturing, etc. work with Strivr on immersive training for everything from emergency situations and D&I to sales and new hire onboarding. According to the website, one client was able to condense an entire day of safety training into just 15 minutes in VR, and 97% of trainees felt prepared for real danger following Strivr’s extremely realistic active shooter training.

Talespin

Talespin’s immersive learning platform features a no-code authoring tool, access to a library of off-the-shelf content (via the Talespin app), and a dashboard of learning performance data and skills profiles to help with career planning and talent management. Scenarios like decreased employee morale within Talespin’s Leading Through Uncertainty series are designed to teach managers fundamental communication and interpersonal skills by simulating “conversational role play with virtual humans.” The solution supports XR devices like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive Focus Plus along with desktop streaming and a desktop app. Talespin lists use cases around active listening, cognitive bias, virtual leadership, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, talking about identity, and more. The company’s clients include Farmers Insurance, Salesforce, Deloitte, Nestle, and UBS.

Vantage Point

Vantage Point’s VR platform targets anti-bias and sexual harassment training “for the modern workforce.” Wearing an Oculus Go, trainees are immersed in settings such as a holiday party, conference room, or open office where they’re taught to pick up on the nuances of common harassment and diversity bias situations. The idea is to connect the experience or feeling with an action using game theory and photorealistic characters. Vantage Point’s anti-sexual harassment training, in particular, consists of a dozen 10- to 15-minute immersive experiences (in four modules) and is compliant across seven states. The company’s clients include Comcast, Kuehne+Nagel, and Fremantle. Vantage Point’s current training topics include the Black Lives Matter movement (institutional racism), upstander culture, LGBTQI+ discrimination, microaggressions, gaslighting, and more.

Image sources: Fortune, Mursion, Fast Company, Strivr, The Helm

Further Reading
Beyond the Tape: How One Manufacturer is Creating a Skilled Workforce with Augmented Reality
May 27, 2022
Solving the Skills Crisis with Augmented Reality
May 25, 2022
The skills gap has become a skills crisis. Augmented Reality is helping industrial organizations enable on-the-job training, capture and scale expertise, recruit younger workers, and close the skills gap.