Virtual reality isn’t just for highly immersive video games anymore.
Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas is bringing 15 Oculus Rift headsets to the region to offer a new way of demonstrating training skills needed in this and future economies.
Some of the training rigs will remain in their Abilene center, located in the Enterprise Building at 500 Chestnut St. There, people visiting the job center will be able to experience hands-on skills across a number of trades while standing still in a safe space.
Others, though, will travel throughout the Big Country with outreach specialists as Workforce Solutions attempts to bring these skills to workers in more rural communities.
“Our job is to inform these students on the career opportunities and pathways they can take,” said Brooke Bolterman, a career and education outreach specialist with Workforce Solutions.
“This is just an extra step for them to explore these opportunities with hands-on experience so they can get a better idea what duties they’d be performing on a day-to-day basis.”
How it works
First, there’s the headset. It covers the eyes, so when the participant looks around, they only see the virtual world they’re inhabiting.
The gear also includes a pair of hand controllers, with buttons and triggers. For this exercise, the triggers are the most important.
Once in the virtual world, you begin in an office. The program allows for about two or three steps of movement, but your body should remain stationary throughout the process.
After logging in, there’s a quick tutorial that’s as close to a video game as the program allows, asking the participant to grasp a block with a virtual hand (position the controller and hold the trigger) and throw it at three targets (lightly do a throwing motion while releasing the trigger).
Once that’s done, it’s time to move into the virtual workspace. A quick explainer guides the participant through a number of different career pathway options, including machinist, hospitality management, automotive repair and carpentry.
Within these subsets will be a number of interactive lessons designed to simulate the skills needed to do these specific jobs in the real world.
Safety and experience
Helping Workforce Solutions through the initial stage of providing this tool is TRANSFR.
Amanda Longtain, an education specialist with the company, was putting employees like Bolterman through the experience Wednesday to prepare her and colleagues for training others in the experience.
Workforce Solutions hopes to have these rigs out in the schools, with an eye towards working with both middle and high school students, by September, Bolterman said.
Longtain said the virtual training is aimed at reaching students interested in career and technical education in ways that are less expensive and much more feasible than real-world situations.
“VR gives exposure and knowledge about these skills … but it’s also affordable,” she said.
School districts without massive budgets wouldn’t be able to purchase all of the tools and materials needed to teach one student how to enter even one of these career fields, Bolterman said.
For example, a carpentry class of 15 students would need enough wood and other supplies to learn lessons. They’d also need access to a number of tools like drills, saws, clamps, safety goggles, hammers, chisels and many more items.
But with VR, a student can learn the basics of each and every tool without having to touch one. They can watch how wood is cut without having to clean up sawdust.
Timothy Chipp covers education and is general assignments reporter for the Abilene Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.