Using Mixed Reality Solutions to Support Rural and Underfunded CTE programs – Bridging the Last Mile for Skills Training

March 20, 2024 12:24 pm

Manufacturers are eager to move forward following the economic decline exacerbated by COVID-19. One thing hampering their ability is the persistent shortage of skilled labor needed to fill the jobs critical to today’s manufacturers.

There are many reasons for this shortage, but the prominent ones include an aging workforce, rapid advancements in technology integration into manufacturing machines, and a general displacement of the workforce resulting from the pandemic. Workforce development has lagged far behind in preparing people for new Industry 4.0 living wage jobs in manufacturing.

Perhaps the silver lining of the pandemic disruptions to the workforce is the massive shift to digital training solutions which overcome many of the hurdles in traditional skills training.

Physical distancing and other pandemic mitigations have made face-to-face training and skill building nearly impossible in the traditional classroom setting. However, advancements in immersive digital training are allowing people to receive ‘hands-on-training’ remotely through a generation of mixed reality tools that bring immersive, high-impact training to the nearest internet connection.

Tools like augmented and virtual reality headsets are getting the most buzz these days, but they are just examples of the many ways to deliver high-definition, hi-impact immersive training in complex areas like advanced manufacturing.

An even greater advantage of these mixed reality tools is that they can be made available to rural and low-income schools as well as schools where the populations served do not traditionally enter manufacturing. Many of these schools cannot justify the investment in machine tools traditionally required for a CTE program focused on manufacturing.

The ability to work on complex machinery in a digital space allows the learner to ‘re-do’ activities until mastered, without the expense of real machine time, expert supervision and the cost of novice mistakes that accompany real tools training.

These immersive game-like environments give the learner control over their learning experience, and the muscle memory desired from hands-on activities in real world settings can be accurately mimicked in the virtual training space.

By introducing a training medium that can allow effective training with a significantly lower initial investment, not only are we able to adapt training as technology advances, but we can reach students that would otherwise never have an opportunity to pursue a career in manufacturing.

Digital training has the added benefit of scaling to any size audience, be available any place with internet access, and at the time and choosing of the learner. The data captured in these digital experiences is easily gathered for deep dive analytics to support the instructors or developers. Course developers have the benefit of these collected data to be able to accurately access the progress of an individual, while also evaluating aspects of the training across all learners.

As manufacturing and machine tool technology advances, digital trainings can easily be updated to keep up with such trends in ways that traditional hands on CTE programs cannot. And what is critically important, is that these tools support and enhance the role of the CTE instructor, allowing them to focus their efforts on critical understandings of manufacturing that immersive technologies cannot replicate, no matter how accurate.

Finding ways to inspire learners to pursue a career in manufacturing will continue to hamper the ability for the manufacturing sector to grow the economy — but technology is providing some of the tools we can use to close the gap.

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