The electrical construction industry is in crisis: Electricians are retiring at an unsustainable pace — the industry is dealing with a shortage of at least 500,000 electricians in 2022, which will only get worse. To help avert the crisis that a shortage of these vital workers would cause, Transfr partnered with TRIO Electric, a Houston-based electrical construction company, to build industry-leading hands-on simulations to augment TRIO’s own training programs and help empower schools and CTE programs of all kinds to get their local learners on the path towards rewarding careers in the Electrical Construction field.
We sat down with former Transfr Director of Instructional Design Kelly Novic and Electrical Construction subject matter experts (SMEs) Johnnie Parker and Myron Laurent on Upward, the Transfr podcast, to discuss how we built these new training modules, how they’ll change lives and revolutionize training for the industry, and dug into what makes these modules so powerful for learners and training programs.
Check out what these skilled experts had to say about building the future of electrical construction training!
Creating career pathways with VR electrical construction training
Electricians are disappearing: A huge proportion of electricians are set to retire in the next 20 years, leaving a projected deficit that employers are scrambling to avert.
“In the last year alone we had over 70,000 new job vacancies in the United States for skilled workers in the electrical construction field,” said Kelly. “These vacancies cover various titles from journeyman electrician to electrical specialist, but the median advertised salary is over $57,000.”
Every new set of modules Transfr builds is an immense undertaking; and the factors that go into that decision are diverse and complex. Any content area we build sims for needs to help learners from pools of undiscovered talent get on career pathways into a well-paying job in industries with serious growth potential. Electrical construction is just one of those industries.
How SMEs worked backwards to build the future of EC training
This was an ambitious project, but it had a solid foundation: TRIO’s preexisting electrical training curriculum which they had been using for years to train apprentices and help them be more effective the day they step onto a job site. The curriculum covered a wide range of vital skills for new apprentices, but translating those lesson plans to VR was no mean feat.
The Transfr Instructional Design team and SMEs, Johnny Parker and Myron Laurent — seasoned electricians who were intimately familiar with the tasks covered by the TRIO lesson plans — tackled the work of transforming the curriculum. They broke down each task into its smallest steps to make sure trainees could learn everything they needed to know in VR before trying it in the real world.
“We asked ourselves: What do you have to do to successfully perform each and every task?” Kelly explains. “What tools do you need? What happens when you do it correctly — what does it look, feel, and sound like? What happens when you do it wrong?”
Johnnie and Myron had their own considerations when turning the TRIO lesson plans into simulations. With a wealth of experience between them, it became a question of how to teach each skill and how to ensure that learners got what they needed to be successful in the field.
“One of the things that we struggled with was the fact that there are many ways to do certain tasks and we had to pick and choose what we thought would be the most appropriate,” says Myron.
With the tasks broken down into their most minute parts and the training outcomes ascertained, the simulation build teams could start creating the sims.
Benefits of VR electrical construction training
Electrical construction training in VR offers very specific benefits, specifically allowing trainees to learn in a safe, consequence-free environment; the ability to practice without classmates’ eyes on you; and eliminating the need for consumables for high-repetition skills.
“First of all, trainees get a safe environment,” says Myron. “You can have trainees repeat and repeat the modules without having to have a trainer or an employee safeguarding them making sure they weren’t hurting themselves or others or damaging equipment. Fantastic!”
In many CTE settings, students can feel highly self-conscious working in front of each other. Electrical construction is a highly male-dominated field, so it can be challenging for anyone not fitting the traditional mold of who and what an electrician is to get into the industry. However, one of the freedoms VR training brings to the classroom is the ability for students to practice until they get a task right, without the pressure of other students watching. Transfr sims give students the freedom to keep practicing on their own, knowing they’re getting consistent guidance and feedback.
“VR training is very consistently delivered,” says Myron. “We wouldn’t have one instructor putting emphasis on one aspect of a task and a different instructor putting emphasis somewhere else. It’s the same every time!”
Additionally, VR electrical construction training eliminates the need for one-time-use (consumable) products. Previously, students would use countless feet of wire and conduit, as well as untold amounts of other consumables. In VR, students can practice and make mistakes without increasing the materials costs for the training company.
“Construction materials are so expensive now!” says Johnnie. “With VR, all the tools and materials you need are right there: MC, wire, conduit… We’re not wasting anything and to me that’s real important because students are still learning critical skills, just without waste.”
A bright future for the EC industry
The impending electrician shortage is cause for concern, but not alarm, if groups like Trio, Transfr, and other employers, educators, and organizations team up to put the right training in the right hands. Careers in electrical construction can provide job seekers with stable work, income that grows over time, and a career progression that can culminate with training other electricians, running one’s own team, or even starting a company or going into business solo.
“If you want a job you can go and pick and choose your work and make the money you want to make over time, the electrical trade is it,” says Johnnie. “Just understand that you’re always going to be learning, you know? So if you’re willing to learn, then you’ll be set for life!”
Hear Johnnie, Kelly, and Myron in their own words
on this episode of Upward, the Transfer Podcast.