In the world of corporate training and development, there is never a shortage of new technologies generating buzz as the next “must have” learning tool. Recently, simulator technologies have picked up steam as one of the industry’s latest and greatest innovations, and it’s easy to see why: Simulators allow employees to practice their day-to-day job functions in a more realistic, hands-on and interactive manner than ever before. At the same time, the question of whether to implement a new technology also comes with the question of whether the investment is worth it in the long-term.

When it comes to simulator technology, the answer has been a resounding “yes” for our team at The Academy, Bank of America’s onboarding, coaching and development organization for more than 80,000 employees in Consumer & Small Business, Merrill and the Private Bank. The Academy works in partnership with our human resources and learning and leadership development organizations to attract and retain talented individuals while helping them develop the skills they need to succeed in their current roles, meet the diverse needs of our clients and grow their careers.

The Academy uses many immersive simulator training tools — a first for the financial services industry. We think of our teammates as “co-pilots” for people’s financial lives; their job is essentially to ensure that our clients (“the pilots”) get where they want to go regarding their personal finance goals. Just like actual airline pilots, we want to help our clients navigate any situation (think long flights, bad weather, unexpected turbulence, etc.) to ensure they arrive stress-free at their financial destination

As such, we’ve been investing in a suite of simulators to ensure Bank of America “co-pilots” are prepared for both their first flight and their 1,000th flight. This suite of complementary simulators has been very effective in helping teammates prepare for their current roles, learn new skills and grow in their careers.

Here are a few examples of the technologies we leverage:

  • Platform Simulators: Hands-on practice environments that allow teammates to train on real world scenarios with the systems, software or technical tools they will use in their day-to-day jobs.
  • Conversation Simulators: Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), these simulators model realistic client interactions and enable enhanced role-playing opportunities, interactive coaching and on-the-job training support.
  • Virtual Reality Coaching Simulators: The Academy has piloted virtual reality (VR) technology with over 400 teammates to help build better “muscle memory” across our workforce. VR training modules can cover multiple training topics and have proven to be highly effective with helping teammates retain skills and improve the client experience.

As we’ve implemented these technologies, we’ve learned three important lessons about how it impacts our learners and the long-term value of our investment, including:

1. Simulator Technology Transforms the Learning Process by Providing More Fun, Rewarding and Memorable Training Experiences

Some of the most important measures of success for any training tool include positive feedback and strong levels of engagement from the people who are using them. In this case, our simulator tools have seen an overwhelmingly positive response from employees: We found that 90% of our teammates participating in the testing of our VR capabilities said they enjoyed the experience.

Gone are the days of simply clicking through a few PowerPoint presentations during onboarding. Simulators allow employees to fully experience their roles and practice their day-to-day responsibilities in a highly realistic setting. Employees who use simulator technology in their training report feeling more prepared and confident in their positions, which leads to a better overall experience for everyone.

This technology engages employees with a memorable and rewarding, two-way learning experience that creates a foundation for a positive experience in their role, which can also serve as a springboard for a long-term sense of fulfillment and success in their careers.

2.  Simulator Technology Drives Better Coaching Interactions And Personalized Learning Opportunities

While there is much to be said about the benefits of simulator technologies and the high-tech learning opportunities they provide on their own, the real impact comes when simulators are coupled with personalized coaching interactions to deliver a holistic training experience.

At The Academy, we have more than 230 Academy managers who deliver seven million hours of training, personal coaching and support to our teammates annually. With simulator technology, our coaches can quickly identify where there is room for improvement and determine the best fixes to help employees get there.

For example, our financial center client service representatives (CSRs) are responsible for helping clients cash and deposit checks. During these interactions, CSRs not only need to deliver a great client experience, but they also need to be on the lookout for fraudulent behavior. One of the VR modules we created helps these teammates practice check cashing and deposit interactions by being transported to a virtual Bank of America financial center and presented with a range of client interactions that replicate real-life scenarios. During the modules, CSRs must demonstrate that they can perform the proper identification techniques, determine when to escalate complex decisions to their managers and demonstrate empathy with clients. We have historically taught these topics as part of our onboarding programs through traditional methods like instructor-led discussions and web-based trainings, but now, with VR, we can expand and test someone’s ability to navigate life-like interactions before they interact with clients. As we do that, the tool acts as a performance diagnostic that identifies skill gaps so our Academy managers can provide targeted follow-up coaching.

Coaching is a crucial element of the training process that elevates the learning experience and allows employees to receive personalized guidance while also troubleshooting scenarios with teammates who have been in their position. Every time we create opportunities for incremental coaching interactions across our business, we improve the confidence of our teammates, the level of service and expertise we deliver to our clients, and the career prospects of our teammates.

3. Simulators Enable Business Agility

Simulators are some of the most innovative, flexible tools we have at our disposal as learning professionals. These technologies have played an important role in training during the coronavirus pandemic as they allow companies to quickly adapt to changing environments or business needs, and often they can be accessed both at home and in the office.

At Bank of America, we have trained, upskilled or redeployed over 40,000 teammates across the company to support government programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and to protect our team’s health. In some cases, these changes took place overnight and simulator technology was essential in helping people get up-to-speed in new roles quickly.

These types of trainings have also helped us decrease our overall onboarding time and increase employee confidence when interacting with clients. By creating more efficient training and increasing employee knowledge retention and proficiency, companies can reduce overall onboarding costs and drive better business outcomes. This will be especially important as businesses everywhere look for ways to help employees develop new skills they will need to be successful in a rapidly changing world.

It’s essential to provide employees with an exceptional learning experience. By challenging ourselves to use new technology and continuing to develop and refine our training methods, we can continue to grow as learning professionals and build a future full of opportunity for our teammates and our businesses.