Over the last ten years, the energy industry has seen many challenges, not the least of which has been securing the qualified labor needed to maintain efficient operations. Major boom and bust cycles for the industry as a whole have only amplified the structural-demographic problems working against recruiters and making hiring and training challenging, causing employers to look for more efficient ways to attract, onboard and upskill their employees.

Many of the industries’ most experienced and skilled employees are ready to retire, or will be in the coming decade, turning focus to how employers can preserve historical knowledge. Knowledge that is not taught in a classroom, but rather through hands-on experience with the benefit of repetition and on the spot feedback. So, how to replicate and preserve decades of experience and knowledge while promoting maximum safety and protecting time and resources? Many leading organizations are following the lead of innovative manufacturers and retailers by turning to virtual reality training solutions.

Virtual Reality training solutions capture team knowledge into fully immersive virtual experiences that enable faster onboarding, higher levels of training retention and provide innovative ways to recruit younger staff.

The fully immersive VR environments allow employers to effectively screen candidates for challenging and complex roles where safety and resource preservation are of particular concern, by accurately assessing both skills and emotional response. VR experiences allow employers to gauge performance when faced with real-world scenarios. In hours, employees can experience what may take years for them to come across in the field, helping them be more prepared on the job.

Training challenges in the energy industry

For the oil and gas sector, getting new employees up to speed continues to be a major cost burden. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, for all industries, the cost of training a new employee independent of industry is estimated at approximately $4,125. Oil and gas employers see significantly higher costs as roles often involve working in higher risk environments like extreme weather conditions, with heavy machinery, at great heights, with high voltage equipment, at increased risk for exhaustion and fatigue, as well as fire and explosion and more.

Much of the cost of job training comes from time spent, but there are other, less obvious costs like those associated with utilizing inefficient methods that result in labor turnover, damaged equipment, injury training and the need for re-training. This is especially true for the highly technical roles commonly seen on oil rigs, around oil wells, in oil facilities, pipeline patrolling, leak investigation and more. The result is training that is often slow, risky, and ties up more experienced employees.

Virtual reality technology methods accelerate the speed of training while improving efficacy, maximizing production capacity and minimizing non- productive hours. By increasing efficacy of training, the odds of costly human error and safety and environmental hazards are reduced. The advantages of VR training include:

Locational awareness: VR provides opportunities for trainees to acquaint themselves with a work environment before they ever set foot inside them. Someone who has never visited a specific facility or location before can learn their way around first, avoiding stepping into a hazardous environment that may not be conducive to training before they are ready.

Knowledge transfer: VR can help bridge generational skill gaps that are common in today’s industry. VR not only is an enticing recruiting tool for prospective employers, but it can also help directly bridge the knowledge gap by using scenarios provided by the skilled workers to show trainees exactly how critical tasks have been performed by the veterans in the industry.

Recording and playback: Nothing is more important for quick and effective learning than effective feedback. Because the training takes place in a digital environment, each session can be recorded and replayed for later analysis and feedback, which helps trainees learn from their mistakes much quicker, while trainers can evaluate performance in a way that directly reflects the actual work itself. Analytics can be run against the captured data to identify trends and areas needing more attention.

Hazardous scenario simulation: VR allows trainers to introduce simulations into the training that would be impractical or dangerous for a trainee. VR provides important hands-on experience without the risk and costs associated with real-world learning. Thus, workers can be exposed to a wider range of learning situations, and training can be adapted to unique risk factors.

Unlimited use: Once a VR environment has been created, it can be used and reused on an almost limitless basis, greatly extending the potential for training and knowledge acquisition, while at the same time reducing the time and cost of off-site training.

Enhanced proficiency training: VR allows technicians to undertake proficiency training just prior to entering a work site, with details that match the actual environment they will be working in.

Improved engagement: VR fully engages the senses, preventing an employee from being distracted by outside influences and thus maximizing learning engagement and retention.

Typical use cases

  • New employee onboarding
  • Facility and working environment familiarization
  • Equipment location and identification
  • Emotional evaluation (testing for fear of heights, claustrophobia, motion sickness, etc.)
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Advanced skills training
  • Hazard identification
  • Inspection procedures
  • Maintenance procedures
  • Emergency response procedures
  • Safety and compliance training
  • Skills and environment screening

Virtual reality job training vs. legacy training techniques

Virtual reality allows employers to evaluate trainees’ ability to perform tasks in specific environments. A rig operator trainee can learn protocol to deal with an unexpected explosion, or a pipeline technician trainee can train on identifying potential leaks across a pipeline thousands of miles away from them. Knowing your employees’ capabilities before they are put into a real-world situation allows for better understanding of where additional time needs to be spent to minimize the skills gaps and critical errors caused by lack of experience.

A recent 2020 PWC study shows that employees completed VR programs four times faster than in-person training and 1.5 times faster than e-learning. In addition, VR training results in learning retention rates of up to 80% one year after training, compared to 20% just one week after traditional training.