Companies are doubling down on training and skills development for their employees. More than half of human resources (HR) managers who responded to a recent survey by TalentLMS and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said their learning and development (L&D) budgets have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Nearly 70% of respondents said they expect those budgets to grow even more this year. 

Among those respondents, 85% understand that training programs are increasingly necessary to close growing skills gaps. It’s vital that companies assess what in-demand skills their workers and prospective employees possess while investing in training and upskilling programs that address the shortages they unearth. But closing these gaps will require more than just education and training. It will require genuine motivation and interest from the employee. And while passion cannot be taught, it can be discovered.

According to research by Deloitte, nearly 90% of America’s workforce are not passionate about their work. Only one-third of employees feel engaged, and most workers have little interest in embracing unexpected opportunities or seeking out new challenges. This is a problem when research also suggests that worker passion drives “extreme and sustained performance improvement” for both the employee and their company. The flood of corporate investments in training and development programs will mean very little in the long run if employees are not inspired to learn new skills or are not motivated to put them to use. 

So how can employers ignite a passion for learning and upskilling among their workers? They can begin by providing them with an authentic look at the potential career paths new skills can uncover. 

Unlock Potential With Immersive Learning

It’s difficult for most workers to imagine themselves in unfamiliar roles. However, recent advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology are providing learners with opportunities to glimpse these possible futures for themselves. Indeed, interest in immersive learning training programs is growing rapidly. Even amid the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations spent $1.3 billion on AR/VR training systems in 2020.

VR headsets allow for 360-degree views inside advanced simulations, enabling learners to feel as though they are in a physical environment and engaging in real tasks and scenarios. It’s one thing to read about what it’s like to operate a multi-ton crane hoisting an 800,000-pound piece of equipment, but it’s another thing entirely to see yourself doing it. That’s the power of VR training. But the benefits go far beyond providing learners with a safe way to learn how to perform dangerous or complicated jobs. VR can allow for real career exploration, with users testing out a variety of jobs and seeing which ones generate a spark of passion.

Consider Transfr’s work with Coastal Bend College, for instance. The Texas Community College has partnered with five junior high and high schools across South Texas to use VR in their workforce readiness programs. These schools are finding that VR is opening their students’ eyes to careers they never would have considered otherwise. In assessments before participating in the VR program, the jobs students envisioned for themselves in were often limited to those of their family members or neighbors. It was less about what they were interested in more about what they could simply see in front of them. VR is widening their perspective and encouraging them to pursue careers they may actually be passionate about.

States like Alabama and Arkansas are also using VR to not only train workers but expose them to job opportunities they may be totally unaware of. Through the state’s workforce development agencies, workers have access to VR career exploration modules that acts like a career speed dating app. Users are given quick but detailed glimpses into a variety of occupations, generating interest and motivation to then move on to the training necessary to pursue those roles.

Moving Forward

Companies could benefit from taking a similar approach and coupling their upskilling initiatives with interactive and immersive career exploration programs. The best learning happens when it’s driven by learners’ passions and perspectives.

It’s time for employers to assess more than skills and competencies and instead let their employees’ curiosity be their own guide. By identifying and nurturing their people’s passions and helping them build complementary skills, companies can help employees unlock their full potential.