Date started: September 2021
Community colleges, high schools, job seekers
– Career Exploration: 5,120 unique users
– Virtual Training Facility: 785 unique users
– Virtual Training Facility: 4,500+ sims complete; 2,500+ mastered skills
Main use cases: Career exploration, precision measurement training, safety skills training, classroom learning
The mission of The Office of Skills Development (OSD) is to strategically invest in all levels of the Arkansas workforce, raising education and skill levels to improve economic achievement for workers and companies. Guided by the experience and insight of industry professionals, business owners, educators, and other stakeholders through the State Career Education and Workforce Development Board (CEWD), the OSD undertakes a variety of programs, including several statewide initiatives, in order to achieve these goals. Leveraging Transfr’s immersive work-based virtual reality learning platform gave the OSD new ways to educate students and job seekers about the many high-demand job opportunities the state has to offer. Transfr helps the OSD reach more students and help more job seekers discover new roles, setting the stage for future career and workforce development success.
Helping people find their unique niche in Arkansas’s evolving workforce is always top of mind for the OSD team. When the OSD rolled out several workforce initiatives, they determined that new and innovative methods were needed to reach their audience and enhance Arkansas’ workforce. There were numerous roles in high-demand industries going unfilled, and countless students and job seekers who needed the right knowledge and guidance to change their lives.
OSD Director Cody Waits says one of the questions that comes to mind when addressing how to make workforce initiatives successful is, “How do we integrate technology into workforce development?”
Awareness is always the first step towards helping someone find the right role, but existing practices were lagging behind the state’s ambitious programs. Traditional career fairs and other opportunities to learn about jobs, training possibilities, or open roles at local companies hadn’t kept pace with the state’s rapidly changing work environment.
“How is someone going to come talk to students about the programs they offer and have them make a decision without ever experiencing the job?” Cody asks. “ So, one of my first thoughts when I saw Transfr was ‘What a great opportunity to engage students differently by leveraging technology in a virtual environment!’ Now they can explore not just one career but a broad swath of occupations that exist and make their own decisions about what they might be interested in.”
A leading challenge when attempting to bring new workers into established trades, like manufacturing and construction, is dealing with outdated ideas about what those jobs are and how to train for them. On the student side of that equation, a high-tech offering like hands-on VR training simulations from Transfr can get students excited and drive engagement in career and technical education (CTE) programs.
The OSD’s Transfr headsets were initially deployed at 14 community colleges across the state (now up to 20 at time of writing), where they are used by adult students at the sites and by affiliated high schools. The response has been powerful.
“Students get pretty excited after they understand just what Transfr can do,” says John Bratton, an instructor at Arkansas State University (ASU) Three Rivers. “Once they understand the depth of the simulations within each occupation, they’re excited to use classroom sets and really dive in.”
Transfr simulations aren’t just driving interest in other fields, they’re also helping students in training programs build the skills they need to graduate and find great jobs in high-demand fields.
“The students were excited when VR was introduced — and the diesel tech program has lots of new shiny toys — but this is cool to add in,” says ASU Beebe instructor Connor Tate. “I had one student who was having issues grasping some of the material on a mechanical level, but with VR he was a natural. He could move at his own pace and really picked up the concepts.”
The mutual benefits of using VR in skilled trade capacities help students, schools, and vital industries: VR makes the trades seem more interesting and attractive to younger students and job seekers. Then, once they get into these programs, using VR helps drive success in acquiring key skills. As an added bonus, schools and training centers of all kinds can reap the benefits of Transfr without expensive facilities or costly consumable materials.
With Transfr headsets in place at community colleges and schools across Arkansas, more students and job seekers are aware of the unique opportunities that they could take advantage of in a variety of industries.
“Students love Transfr for career exploration,” Associate Director Stephanie Isaacs says. “When they are able to use that headset and see what’s involved in each job, you get a more engaging experience.”
Transfr’s potential for training and VR career exploration is apparent to other stakeholders in Arkansas’s workforce development ecosystem, who see its ability to help learners in high school and beyond grow and learn in ways that will help them take advantage of well-paying jobs in Arkansas.
“Lasting growth means engaging students early, building accurate and tangible awareness, correcting perceptions and ensuring students have experiences that will guide them throughout their education,” says Joe Rollins, Workforce Development Director, Northwest Arkansas Council. “Transfr absolutely does that.”
The OSD’s initial successes in high schools and community colleges have fueled increased interest in rolling out Transfr to more locations, organizations, learners, and people across the state.
“Part of our vision for the future is getting these headsets into our local workforce boards, correctional facilities, and industry partners,” Cody explains. “We know that there’s a population of underemployed and unemployed individuals who are looking to make informed career decisions. Transfr can assist in this.”
The Office of Skills Development strategically invests in statewide workforce development and ongoing training programs to help drive economic prosperity for individuals and businesses. This work and investments are positively impacting Arkansas communities statewide and strengthening families. Arkansas is a leader in workforce development and home to several world industry leading companies such as Hytrol, Walmart Inc., Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt.
Equipped with Transfr’s VR skills training and career exploration simulations, the State of Arkansas and Transfr are creating opportunities for residents that are virtually limitless.