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From the Classroom to the Field, Augmented Reality Creates More Engaged, Confident Employees

By Walter Davis, Head of Talent & Learning Technology, Aggreko

Walter Davis, Head of Talent & Learning Technology, Aggreko

How much of what you were taught at high school can you recall today? Very little, I’m willing to bet. And yet, if you learned to ride a bike as a kid, it doesn’t matter how many years have gone by- you never forget.

Why? Because learning by doing lodges information far deeper than studying something in a classroom. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.

This phenomenon doesn’t end when you graduate. As we progress through our careers, tackling new skills and technologies, it’s vital we get plenty of practical experience to cement our understanding. From a training perspective, that ideally means giving every employee plenty of individual access to the actual technology they need to use and structuring their training around practical use cases. It means creating a direct through-line from their in-classroom training to their experiences in the field.

"AR programs don’t require heavy investment in new hardware or digital infrastructure. They can be delivered as apps for any smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, downloadable from your existing company store"

But traditionally, this approach was prohibitively expensive and tricky to scale. It could even make training riskier by giving learners free rein on fragile or potentially dangerous equipment, with real-world implications for their mistakes.

Augmented reality is changing all that

Many organizations already incorporate AR-driven technologies and applications at some level within their business. That may range from single-department deployment of augmented task flows, apps and “see what I see” video calling through to industrialized AR technology stacks or AR platforms integrated with CRMs, ERPs, and PLMs. Some companies even roll out complete software platforms to their extended enterprise network, supported by interconnected sensors, glasses, devices, and machines.

Typically, AR works in one or two ways. Firstly, by virtualizing specific machines so you can work with them in the same way you would a real one. Secondly, by overlaying relevant information, guides and documentation onto what you see in real life. This helps you understand what you’re looking at or access important insights to address the problem at hand.

For example, at Aggreko, we use this approach to allow users to pull up a fully digital compressor on a one-to-one scale, exploring how it works and going through all the same activities that they would if they were working with a physical compressor. The user can learn how to perform commissioning, decommissioning, maintenance, repair procedures, quality assurance and even safety tasks on the virtual product - all without access to a physical version.

One of the most attractive things about this model is its cost-effectiveness

AR programs don’t require heavy investment in new hardware or digital infrastructure. They can be delivered as apps for any smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, downloadable from your existing company store. Rather than pushing up your costs or giving your IT team more things to worry about, you extract more value from your existing devices.

When it comes to complete AR platforms, the vast majority have been developed with common enterprise applications in mind. For example, balancing single sign-on with stringent security and encryption.

All of which makes AR training a breeze to scale

Let’s go back to that compressor example. When it comes to sales, Aggreko has a strong presence in the North American market, but in some countries we work in, customers have been more hesitant. Often, they’ve not used compressors before and are unsure how this will benefit them.

With AR, we can roll out digital compressors to customers and support teams all over the world. We can guide them through how it works, including setup, decommissioning and so on. This allows us to provide valuable learning experiences both to customers and employees who are new to the technology – with minimal investment of cost or time.

If you have a large or dispersed team, you can imagine how a similar approach enables you to scale up training and support. Instead of building a new learning center with dedicated equipment in every location, you can simply widen access to your existing apps.

This direct access means employees can keep learning at their own pace, outside any designated training space or period. They keep on learning by doing.

And that learning support extends right into the field

Which brings us to the exciting next phase of AR training: the reuse of operational investments in training (and vice versa).

I mentioned that AR apps can be used to gain an on-the-spot understanding of how a particular machine or component works, or to pull up information relevant to the task at hand. There’s no reason to limit this to introductory training activities; it’s incredibly valuable when delivering operational support and sharing knowledge within your extended team, too.

Member of your tech support team stumped by an unfamiliar problem? Maintenance crew dealing with the failure of a component they haven’t seen before? With the right AR app, they can pull up a guide that perfectly replicates or works in tandem with what they’re looking at. They get the instant support they need to fix the problem on the first attempt, without panic, delay or the need to escalate the issue. In this way, you can repurpose the same technology for learning and operational use, squeezing even more value out of your investment while creating a more supportive and better-connected environment for your team.

But what do employees make of it?

Internally, our team has been very positive about the AR technology we’ve deployed. Engagement is particularly strong with younger employees and ambitious team members keen to close skills gaps, increase competencies and progress their careers without waiting around for the next scheduled classroom training opportunity.

In the long run, we expect this to impact on employee retention, too. As more and more people come to expect this kind of technology from their workplace, the companies who are slow to catch up risk being perceived as digital dinosaurs. When the benefits are so great and the downsides so few, it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t want to augment your learning and support.

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