Virtual reality (VR) has been a growing trend in many areas, starting with gaming and entertainment and progressing to architecture and building. One benefit of VR is being found in the HR (human resources) departments where it can be used for training and vetting of skills in workers. States are also finding use for VR in training and recruiting workers for employers within the state as is the case in Arkansas.
The AOSD (Arkansas Office of Skills Development), a division of the Arkansas Dept. of Commerce responsible for aligning the state’s career and technical education programs with the needs of employers, in partnership with Arkansas Community Colleges has a statewide program that is harnessing the power of virtual and augmented reality for career exploration.
Through a partnership with economic development platform TRANSFR, the program reached 205 students throughout the state during its first 6 months and now has plans to serve more than 4,500 students in 2022. Hundreds of students have used the virtual reality simulations to explore career and technical education options at one of 15 sites throughout the state.
AOSD notes that demand for talent is growing in industries like manufacturing, transportation, construction, and the skilled trades—professions that can often lead to long-term economic and career stability. However, students often lack awareness of the education or training options they need to get started. This statewide program can pair innovative technologies with existing career and technical education resources to help more students prepare for new career horizons—and meet the skilled workforce needs of employers.
At the core of this public-private partnership is a career path discovery tool, which enables students and jobseekers to explore a range of jobs in high-growth industries. The new career exploration program features hands-on virtual reality experiences, developed by TRANSFR, that provide students with an immersive, on-the-job view of a variety of technical roles and industries—including construction, skilled trades, warehousing and storage, hospitality, public safety, and automotive.
In 2021, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a new initiative called Ready For Life, which connects jobseekers, educators, and employers at a one-stop employment website that includes job openings and opportunities for continuing education. To roll out the career exploration program for students and workers statewide, the Arkansas Office of Skills Development assembled a network of community colleges, career centers, and workforce development agencies across the state—many of them in rural locations and under-resourced communities.
Among the employer partners supporting the program is Altec, a manufacturer and service provider that specializes in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment in markets such as electric utility, telecommunications and contracting. As part of the company’s effort to hire an additional 300 technicians across the country, Altec has sponsored the Altec Technician Education Program at Arkansas State University at Beebe. The program uses virtual reality to help students earn a Diesel Technology Certificate and prepare for technician roles within the Altec workforce.
The AOSD and Altec are leaders within a growing community of states, community colleges, and employers including Lockheed Martin, that are now leveraging the power of virtual simulations to boost employee performance, drive retention, and help workers develop hands-on skills required for on-the-job success.
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