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Extended Reality Training Prepares Next Generation of Power Technicians

Aug. 14, 2019
Digital training is preparing the next generation of engineers and technicians to operate and maintain power systems.

New hire training and continuing education for more experienced technicians and engineers in the power industry are essential. In the purely industrial era, it has been challenging to give workers real-life experience safely and cost-effectively, without introducing risk to a customer’s job site. 

Now enter the world of extended reality training, a digital transformation of employee training and development using virtual and augmented reality.  

Technological advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offer new immersive training systems. These new technologies boost employee retention and engagement as well as give new trainees access to real-world scenarios in a safe virtual environment. Also, upfront investment in a tailored, extended reality training program is proving to increase skills while reducing annual training costs. 

For example, Aggreko, a global supplier of temporary power, cooling and heating, has used Simulation, VR and AR for technical training for nearly 4,000 new hires and experienced workers across the globe for a few years. This new option supplements conventional hands-on, instructor-led training and shows great promise. 

100% Safe 
Imagine a new hire learning how to adjust a power generator safely without the inherent risks of a true worksite. A VR and AR simulator offers the new hire a hands-on, real-life learning experience of performing at a customer’s job site with time pressures, stress, weather and distractions presented in a safe, simulated environment.

 In the past, attempts to achieve quality safety training in the power industry required extensive and expensive equipment to recreate a work environment, which in reality varied widely, given the breadth of industries and job sites to which technicians are deployed. Of course, to recreate these simulated sites effectively, the same dangers and risks of injury must exist in the virtual depiction and events created. 

Extended reality training solves many of those safety issues inherent in traditional training because the simulated training environment is 100 percent safe. The exercise allows people to practice the routine hazardous activities they’re expected to perform safely, without any real-life consequences should they make a mistake. And, service center managers have a clearer understanding of crew capabilities before dispatching a team to a customer’s workplace.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
It is vital to tailor an extended reality training program to the company’s needs. For example, Aggreko used AR apps to bring into the classroom the mobile-based operational and social behavior that’s encouraged in the field. By the end of 2018, mobile apps created with the mobile app platform Guidebook were used for more than 300 courses to 2,000 Aggreko employees across the globe. Instead of referencing a massive binder of training materials, employees can now digitally access handouts and handbooks with just a few clicks. Even photos and videos from an in-app social feed are currently in the palms of employees’ hands, which helps with understanding and recall, especially if literacy levels are an issue. 

Before embarking on virtual learning programs, make sure to train the training expert on how to code. For instance, Aggreko learned it’s more cost-effective to coach a training expert on how to code than to teach a JavaScript expert on how to design effective training solutions. Whichever vendor selected, always ensure you have a well-developed training program (both curriculum and functionality) before roll-out. 

Boost Employee Retention and Engagement
Since implementing extended reality training, retention and engagement rates for technicians improved significantly. Aggreko found technicians enjoy the exercise more because it is multi-sensory and interactive, without the intimidation or stagnation of a classroom. The employees embraced the concept of extended reality quickly and did not miss the in-person learning. 

Further, technicians report that the company’s training program fulfills the growth promise they received in the hiring interview.  Many report that most employers pay lip service to training, which is a key factor stimulating in-demand technicians to seek a new job – or in Aggreko’s case, to stay and continue to become better and better at their jobs.

Employees also shared that the technology removed communication barriers while helping them to feel more connected and invested in the training. Also, instructors liked how technology modernized the learning experience, allowing students to connect in new ways, such as sharing photos and comments on mobile apps.

A traditional training session requires workshop facilities, the physical presence of an instructor, students who must travel to the site, and myriad equipment necessary for robust class training. Expenses include expensive equipment, hotels, food, ground transportation, airfares and printing of materials. The approximate cost for one full day of training can be up to $500 per student when fixed costs are amortized over many years. 

By contrast, Aggreko today uses simulation-based learning to train new and experienced technicians overseas, and soon plans to use HoloLens, or mixed reality smart glasses, for training in the Middle East, saving tens of thousands in travel-related expenses. For U.S.-based training, Aggreko’s technicians have 24/7 access to AR technical training on their iPhones, saving the technicians’ time while keeping training costs down.

In conclusion, extended reality training offers practical training of needed skills using VR and AR technology in a 100-percent-safe environment. Aggreko not only found lower training costs and more engaged and loyal employees but now uses its extended reality training as a powerful tool to recruit  experienced power and refrigeration technicians – which supports the company’s ability to meet the high demand for its temporary power, heating and cooling solutions for major events and industrial sites the world over. 

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