VR Training for Hard Skills: When There’s Only One Right Way to Do Things

When there’s only one right way to do things: that’s our motto, and that’s where we believe virtual reality training is best employed – teaching hard skills that must be applied consistently and accurately for an organization to succeed.

Why do we believe that’s the case?

There are several reasons, but one in particular stands out: Improvements in hard skills are easily measurable, both during and after training, when learning really counts. That proves training effectiveness and gives companies (and their learning and development professionals) a real ROI for their training spends – and a real reason to continue training.

Connecting Training to Action

Hard skills are related to technical knowledge and training, while soft skills include traits such as leadership ability, communication and time management. Here’s one real-life example of hard skills training using virtual reality. Delta Air Lines employs thousands of people in an important field known as ramp operations, which include walk-around inspections of planes. It’s a tough and inconvenient environment for training; safety is important, and taking planes out of service for training can be difficult.

Delta’s VR training in ramp operations starts by virtually transporting trainees to an arrival gate and allows them to initiate a walk-around inspection. Visual instructions and auditory cues guide learners through the experience. Delta employees can learn how to do an inspection before they ever go out on a ramp, and they can do it in a safe environment without interrupting operations and causing slowdowns.

Now, there is plenty of talk today about the use of VR in soft skills training (Google it and you’ll see). For example, check out this compelling study PwC wrote on soft skills training on diversity and inclusion completed in its own organization. As that study shows, when it comes to objectives such as engagement, comprehension, speed to learning and cost – all important – VR training for soft skills can be very successful. But when it comes to outcomes, measuring the effectiveness of soft skills training is much more challenging.

Let’s say that a manufacturing organization has decided to develop VR training in leadership skills for select executives, directors and managers. While evaluation might show that they were engaged by the training and they learned from it, how does that organization know whether they applied it to the company’s benefit? Whether, for example, better leadership skills led to greater employee retention? Even if the organization does see increased employee retention over time, it takes a lot of work to draw a line from leadership training to improved retention.

On the other hand, let’s say that same organization develops VR training for new truck loading personnel. They learn, they practice, they test and then they start work in the plant. At that point, it will be clear whether they can successfully apply their training and effectively load a truck – adding another dimension to measurement that’s not as easy to include in soft skills training.

In addition to measurement, VR training for hard skills offers other advantages. Immersive training comes as close as possible to the real thing, both in terms of simulated environments and hands-on experience. Where safety can be a concern, as in the Delta Air Lines example, VR training eliminates it. And hard skills training can include elements of gamification, which increases engagement and makes training fun. We’ve heard multiple anecdotes from clients about employees asking when they are going to “play games” again – and who says that about most training?

While soft skills can be taught through scenarios, for example, VR is never going to be as close to the real thing. As with training for hard skills, VR can offer a safe place to practice soft skills. But most often, applying soft skills training involves relationships and interactions with other people – not as easy to replicate in training as processes and procedures on an airport ramp or factory floor. 

Making the Right Choice

No one is saying that you should never use virtual reality for soft skills training. And VR can be combined effectively with other training modalities, too, for both hard and soft skills. For example, a class could begin with a video or instructor-led training, followed by an online skills assessment so trainers can get a baseline from students. The third part of training could then be a VR module so students can practice the actual skills they’re learning.

But if you’re interested in adding VR training to your playbook and your budget means you have to choose where to apply it (and whose budget doesn’t?), then use it for hard skills training first. And make sure you set up the right measurements to show its effectiveness not just in the classroom, but in the real world, too.

Want to learn more about implementing virtual reality for hard skills training? Get in touch with our VR training specialists today!