Major retailers and e-commerce sites are kicking off holiday sales as early as October this year, and shipping/logistic companies are now scrambling to hire for the coming surge in demands. The biggest unanswered challenge? Training the tens of thousands of new hires to handle the largest and longest holiday shopping season ever, all in a month's time.
Enterprise VR is increasingly becoming the go-to solution for rapid training. Proponents say it has the capability to turn hours-long training sessions into 20-minute lessons while maintaining high knowledge retention rates. It also reduces the need for on-site training, freeing up capacity. Companies like Walmart have already used technologies like Strivr, a VR training platform, to train thousands of workers for holiday rushes like Black Friday, and that trend is only going to increase.
I caught up with Derek Belch, founder and CEO of Strivr, about the growth of enterprise VR training and the outlook for the technology heading into the holiday season.
GN: What kind growth does the logistics/shipping sector typically see during the holidays in terms of employment? What does this mean in terms of training and turnover?
Derek Belch: Each year, the logistics sector sees a big uptick in hiring around the holiday season. However, this year there's been an even more aggressive push for hiring workers due to two key factors: one, consumers' increased reliance on ecommerce for groceries and other consumer items due to COVID-19, and two, the holiday season starting earlier this year in comparison to prior years (kicking off with Amazon Prime Day on October 13/14).
Amazon, Target, Walmart, FedEx and many others have all announced plans to hire thousands of workers immediately. This will create an urgent need for these companies to quickly onboard, train and upskill workers so they can handle the challenges of holiday shopping demands. Even during a condensed time frame like the holiday season, training and turnover can go hand-in-hand: ineffective, inconsistent or non-scalable training processes for workers could quickly lead to worker disengagement, diminished productivity, and employee churn.
GN: How has VR been used for training in the sector to date?
DB: Strivr's VR-based Immersive Learning platform has been used in the retail and logistics industries to train employees on both hard (operational) skills and soft skills.
Truck loading/unloading. This has been a key area of VR training for logistics companies. With VR, employees experience and learn proper lifting techniques, situational awareness and how to maximize truck space when loading.
Picking/packing. Using VR, warehouse workers practice properly packing items into a box - from choosing the right box size to labeling. These Immersive Learning experiences allow workers to build skills in situational and spatial awareness, with an eye on improving speed and productivity.
Health & safety. Proper safety training is crucial to ensuring employee well being and prevention of accidents on the job. For many companies, this starts with teaching employees how to recognize unsafe behaviors and properly address the situation. Immersive Learning uses head movement analysis to make sure the learners are looking in the right direction (so they can identify unsafe behaviors in the scenario), and also leads them through the steps for effectively correcting unsafe situations.
Management and empathy training. Immersive Learning modules allow managers to practice key skills like communication, adaptability, resilience, coaching and empathy. In these types of modules, learners are asked to interact with/participate in critical scenarios (like giving constructive feedback or communicating a company restructure). At the end of the simulation, learners can watch and listen to themselves for self-evaluation, an important tactic for long-term retention of the material and to better assess their impact on other team members.
GN: What are the advantages of VR over in-person training?
DB: Here are four key advantages to VR-based Immersive Learning training:
Immersive environments allow for mistakes and repetition. Using VR, employees are fully immersed in real-world scenarios where they can practice "hard" and "soft" skills in a safe environment, without risk or consequence. In VR, mistakes are free. Employees can practice in high-stress environments and get mental reps with scenarios that will quickly become familiar in their role.
VR training has been proven to have faster speed-to-proficiency and higher time/cost savings. Traditional training methods such as powerpoints, video presentations, and classrooms are very time consuming, not always effective for retaining knowledge, and might not be practical in the current COVID climate. On the other hand, research has shown that Immersive Learning helps trainees retain information faster and more efficiently through its immersive environment and interactiveness. For example, Walmart uses VR to train employees on how to use and manage customer pickup towers. Prior to VR, pick up tower training took upwards of 8 hours and consisted of eLearning, hands-on training with onsite coaches and launch kits. With VR, pickup tower training time was reduced to approximately 15 minutes and eliminated the need for coaches to travel to store sites. By cutting down on the time spent training while maintaining high learning outcomes, businesses can see a reduction of cost spent on onboarding, training and inefficient work habits.
VR-based training can be done anywhere, anytime -- at scale. One of the big draws for VR-based training is that learning can be done on-demand. This means employees can learn and practice skills without needing to be in a specific location, or physically near anyone else. Not only does this decrease the need for employees or trainers to travel, but it also saves companies the strain of shutting down necessary business assets/operations in order to train. For example, an active manufacturing line no longer needs to shut down to train front line workers on safety if replaced with Immersive Learning.
Training modules provide beneficial learning data. Immersive Learning programs offer unique insights into how employees are performing and where attention is being spent. For example, eye tracking capabilities can show where a store employee is looking in a scenario to identify opportunities to improve customer service. Data can also be evaluated over time, enabling managers to help guide their workers on a path of continuous refinement and improvement. This opens up numerous avenues in workplace training that previous classroom or seminar training models simply cannot achieve.
GN: What are some kinds of training in this sector that can't easily be handled via VR?
DB: VR-based training is best suited for activities without significant or rapid movement. Skills training for delivery truck driving, for example, is not an ideal scenario to be handled in VR. This is due to the fact that the brain becomes confused when it perceives movement (from what it sees inside the headset), but the body is not actually moving. The disconnect between the brain and body over movement can become disorienting and uncomfortable for trainees, which is why modules are typically designed for more stationary scenarios.
GN: Which companies are we seeing deploy VR training?
DB: To date, Strivr has conducted more than 1.5 million training sessions in VR, with deployments at leading companies such as Walmart, Verizon, Fidelity, FedEx, and Sprouts.