A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting from the leaders in simulation-based training environment.

Greetings once again, Troubleshooters, and welcome to Troubleshooting Thursdays! If you saw last week’s post, you’ll know we were talking about using 3D tech training environment in immersive learning.

Just to recap, anything that allows training to be more experiential and life-like makes it more immersive. It doesn’t have to be technological; for example, role-play training environment and physical simulators are also immersive. But with the advent of state-of-the-art immersive technologies such as 3D, virtual and augmented reality, and life-like software-based simulations, it’s becoming increasingly easier to provide trainees with a life-like immersive experience generated by technology. And the more immersive a training environment is, the better the learning that takes place.

That’s important to Directors of Technical Training, of course, but here are three reasons it should also matter to manufacturing executives.

1. You can reduce your training investment without sacrificing quality

In the same way that video conferencing now lets people who are geographically far apart meet without paying for travel and accommodation, 3D immersive training technologies can help companies dramatically reduce their training budgets.

Training with digital immersive technologies opens up a whole world of training cost savings. It’s far less expensive than flying trainees into a central training site, putting them up in a hotel for a week, and buying them three meals a day.

Not only that, it doesn’t impact normal business processes. For example, your production line doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt while maintenance staff are being trained to do repairs on a critical piece of production-line equipment.

Finally, digital immersive training may reduce the most costly aspect of training—the employee’s paid, non-productive time. (As manufacturing executives well know, staff get a paycheck while they’re being trained, even though they aren’t contributing directly to the organization’s productivity during that time.) How? Well, if the software is engaging enough and doesn’t require an instructor, training can be done from the employee’s own computer at home, and even on his or her own time. In order for this to work, the program has to be engaging and the employee has to see the benefit to him- or herself. Basically, the more fun the training program is, the more likely trainees are to participate in the initial program and in periodic refresher courses. (Making it fun is where gamification comes in.)

If the training software is well designed and can closely recreate the real-life situation where the trainee will eventually end up, training quality will not be sacrificed. It’s just easier to mimic real life with immersive tech such as 3D and virtual and augmented reality.

2. Immersive digital training is safer than on-the-job training

The National Safety Council ranks manufacturing/production jobs and installation/maintenance/repair jobs third and fourth in the top five occupations with the largest number of workplace injuries resulting in days away from work. (Service jobs such as firefighters and police officers are first.)

Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance jobs are among the top 25 most dangerous jobs in America (they’re ranked 23rd). Electricians are ranked 22nd. General maintenance workers are ranked 16th, while first-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers are ranked 12th.

These occupations are even riskier for new, inexperienced workers. In 2013, workers who had been on the job less than a year suffered almost one-third of the nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses. Many of those cases required 31 days or more off of work. And those are just the nonfatal incidents.

Setting aside for the moment the terrible human cost of these incidents, employers need to know there’s a financial cost as well. Negligent employers who are careless about employee safety can face severe fines and penalties. Temps must be paid for while the injured worker recovers, or HR has to hire new replacement staff altogether. Employee morale and productivity suffer. The list goes on.

Immersive digital training mimics real life in every way except for the danger. It provides a safe place where rookie staff can learn from their mistakes without harming themselves, others, or equipment.

3. Better prepared employees equals smoother production

If you think injuries are expensive, you should check out the cost of production-line downtime. Well, if you’re a manufacturing exec, you already know. In some industries, downtime can cost a company as much as $22,000 per minute. And that’s just the tangible cost of lost production—there are also intangibles such as the effects of a company’s delayed responsiveness on its customers, the effects of increased stress on workers and machinery, the amount of time spent on playing catch-up instead of innovating, etc…

Keeping production equipment up and running as much as possible is critical to maximizing your profit. A training environment with immersive tech allows new workers to become better workers—knowledgeable about safety practices, prepared for any situation, able to keep a cool head under pressure. Whether they are machine operators or maintenance professionals, better training results in a smoother production cycle with fewer costly interruptions from equipment failure and accidents. And when equipment failures do happen, as they inevitably will, well-trained maintenance professionals provide more efficient maintenance, keeping plant downtime to a minimum. Given how expensive downtime can be, maintenance training pays for itself very quickly (and then some!).

We should mention that all of this depends on the quality of the training exercises. A course that’s poorly designed from an educational point of view won’t be helped much by 3D or any other immersive technology. On the other hand, a well-designed course with all of the elements that lead to quality learning and knowledge retention will in fact be amplified by immersive tech (as we saw last week). The fact that it’s immersive makes training that much more effective, especially for younger workers who were born into the digital age and are totally comfortable with all forms of technology. And the fact that it’s digital (read: cheap) means you’re going to get a lot more bang for your training buck.

That’s it for now, Troubleshooters. Have a great week, and be sure to tune in again next Thursday when we talk about data-driven decision making.

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