In the old days of teaching electrician apprentices (30+ years ago, when I started), things were very different: The multi-year process required textbooks, lots of tools and materials, and many hours of practical experience — some of it potentially dangerous!
The world of electrician training has evolved greatly since then! Today’s electrician apprentices and the people who educate them have a wealth of new resources at their disposal, resulting in a massively different experience for all involved. While it may seem counterintuitive to many experienced electricians and electrician teachers, virtual reality (VR) can be a powerful tool in their arsenal when it comes to giving rookies the skills they need to be safe and successful in the field (maybe even at an accelerated pace).
VR electrical construction training can never and will never replace human instructors — and hands-on practice in lab and workplace settings will always be part of the process of creating new electricians. However, there are several unique benefits that this pioneering technology can offer: Chief among them are increased safety (training green pre-apprentices with no risk of exposure to live electricity), reducing the use consumables or special tools (less wire, conduit, etc.) needed for countless practice repetitions, and the fact that simulations are constantly being updated with new content, making it easier to keep trainees ahead of the curve with the latest techniques and advances.
VR electrical construction training: Safe, effective
You don’t have to be an electrician, electrical construction teacher, or work in the skilled trades to know that working electricity can be dangerous, full stop. Some readers who’ve spent years in the industry may be reading this and think “I was trained under dangerous conditions and I came out alright!” And you did, but your past can’t be the future of an entire industry. Technology has evolved — the latest crop of trainees has new options that can keep them safer as they develop the skills they’ll need in the field as the difficulty and risk of what they’re doing increases.
Think about how many times an electrician needs to practice a technique to get it right. Even though trainees working in VR aren’t holding the same physical tools that they’ll be using in the real world, the super-realistic feedback cues in the VR simulations and guidance from a virtual trainer with unlimited patience helps ensure that learners develop the muscle memory needed to do every task safely and correctly, every time.
In VR, the virtual coach delivers consistent instruction backed by decades of subject matter expert knowledge (some of it directly from me), in an environment free of the traditional hazards of electrician training.
Additionally, the virtual coach has unlimited patience and is 100% consistent. Imagine it: An instructor could split up a group of students — some in a totally-safe VR setting getting consistent instruction from the virtual coach, while the human instructor gives the (now-smaller) group of students in the lab even more personalized attention. It’s a huge win for instructors who are already overworked, as it can be difficult to find qualified electrician instructors.
And for an illustration as to how well VR skills training works, the company we developed these sims in partnership with, TRIO Electric out of Houston, TX, did an in-house experiment. They put some of their office workers through the conduit-bending sims. The results speak for themselves:
“We actually put some of our colleagues who’ve never been in the field through the bending simulation,” explains Sam Chiarella, Curriculum Development Lead at TRIO. “And they were able to do it on the very first try.”
Edgar Anguilu, an instructor at TRIO, adds: “We’re talking about people who’ve been doing office work for a long time and never held a tool!”
The ability to get a basic understanding of a skill that used to take a high volume of consumables is a game-changer for electrical construction and countless other industries.
VR electrician training without special tools, consumables
The cost of everything is rising and the materials needed to train new electricians are no exception. VR electrical construction training helps learners build actual electrical experience without the cost of specialized equipment and tools or wire, conduit, or anything else that will get used up in a training session and have to be written off. Even in situations where learning materials could be repurposed for later building projects and actually put to use, trainees need ample opportunity to make mistakes, which could result in materials being thrown out anyway!
VR electrical construction training empowers learners, helping them become familiar with all of the equipment, tools, and materials they’ll encounter on the job without the costs of either outfitting another lab completely from scratch (or buying additional tools for your existing lab to give every student access to them) and constantly restocking supplies.
That’s not to say that adding VR to your program will completely alleviate your need for consumable materials — every electrician trainee needs to get their hands on the real thing at some point. But with hours of practice logged in VR, which don’t use any consumables, can help control costs for your program. And after all those repetitions, students will be that much more sure of themselves when they go into the field.
VR electrical construction training keeps students ahead of the curve
Electricians must be lifelong learners. If you’re a seasoned electrician, tradesperson, or skilled trades educator, take a moment and think back on how much your industry has changed over the course of your career. Pretty significant, right?
Now think of how hard it was for you to stay on top of those changes as you worked your way through the various jobs you’ve held. Well, those changes are still happening — and at an even more rapid pace! It’s almost impossible for one person to stay on top of everything that’s happening in a complex field like electrical construction.
With VR simulations from Transfr, you’re not alone. A team of SMEs and learning experts are constantly updating the simulations and expanding the number of available units, ensuring that your program stays as up-to-date as possible.
Additionally, it’s often a challenge to pull veteran electricians (with the kind of up-to-date knowledge students need access to) from the field. VR training allows your program to leverage the latest electrical construction knowledge and keep more of your skilled workforce on the job. (And, if your company works with seasoned electricians, VR training can also be an excellent option for continuing learning and professional development.)
I’ve seen a lot of changes in the electrical field over my career. I’m not threatened by the implementation of VR training and you shouldn’t be either! For the foreseeable future, there will always be a need for human electricians and trainers. But VR technology is here. As electricians, we strive to work smarter not work harder. VR training is another tool that you can use to improve the way you train current and future electricians.
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