Coconino County and the Workforce Development Board are leading the way in helping dislocated workers and students explore new careers through virtual reality.
Using a workforce development platform called Transfr VR, the program allows job seekers to experience working in a warehouse, a manufacturing plant, an auto repair shop and even the hospitality industry.
These short simulations are hands-on, allowing people to “work” in the space using motion controllers similar to ones available in V/R gaming devices. Therefore, in the automotive simulation, you don’t just observe what it’s like to change the oil in a car, you actually are doing that job in the virtual space.
“It’s great because a lot of times, people don’t know what they want to do professionally unless they already know someone in that industry,” said Ali Applin, Virtual Reality Program Manager for the County. “A lot of today’s youth are visual or experiential learners, and this is perfect for them because they can picture what a job actually entails.”
There are limitations, of course. The welding simulation won’t mimic the heat of a torch or the weight of protective head gear, but it can provide an immersive experience that’s valuable to both employers and potential employees.
“You are going to get a sense of whether you will like a particular career,” said Applin. “It avoids the situation of applying for a job – or even being hired for one – and then discovering it isn’t what they thought it would be.”
In addition to career exploration, there are also training and on-boarding aspects to the Transfr VR platform, with modules that range from how to read a blueprint to operating a circular saw.
This doesn’t replace formal training, but it does give new employees the space to learn things on their own, Applin said.
“One of the best parts of this program is that a lot of new employees are nervous about trying new things,” she said. “It can be intimidating. But when you are in VR, you can do a module as many times as you need to. You don’t need to feel like everyone is watching you while you are learning.”
The County has 15 Oculus headsets for the program, 10 of which are strictly for career exploration, with the remaining five having both exploration and training program modules. The simulation sets are loaned out for a period of up to six months and are being distributed throughout the County. Headsets are available at the County Health and Human Services offices in both Flagstaff and Page, and the Workforce Development Board is working closely with Flagstaff Unified School District, CAVIAT, the County Accommodation School districts and charter schools to provide career exploration as well as employee pipelines for area employers.
The County is the first in the state to use this innovative program. We congratulate them and the Workforce Development Board for boldly going into the future and providing tools that will help employers find the workers they need and employees discover the jobs they really want.