The modern learner was raised on technology, expects instant access to information, and thrives in a work environment with robust career development options. Employees across generations value career development more than ever before, with 87 percent claiming it’s highly important to them in their jobs, according to Gallup research.

Employees are looking to their employers to help them build job-specific, interpersonal, and confidence-building skills so they can elevate performance and succeed. Yet recent research by Deloitte reveals that only 36 percent of those new to the workforce feel they’ve been given the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in their roles. Talent development leaders are under pressure to provide the training that will support individuals and positively affect overall culture. Learning and development teams are becoming pivotal players in driving innovation and growth in their organizations.

Simultaneously, organizations must scale learning quickly with less time available to train on the job and a competitive drive for employees to be as efficient as possible from day one. One-on-one training is effective — especially if you have an excellent trainer — but simply isn’t realistic for most companies, and it’s definitely not scalable.

Immersive technologies enable a fundamentally better way to properly equip your employees to excel at their roles. Real-world simulation provides real-world behavioral change in the workplace in areas of onboarding, training, upskilling and retention.

Training Reinvented

It has long been a conundrum for organizations: employees can’t get good at something without practice. Books, lectures, quizzes and homework can never adequately prepare workers for how to respond when face-to-face with a customer or making quick decisions in a real-life scenario.  However, true life practice can be risky and expensive. Exposing learners to realistic situations in live training can be extremely costly and quite hazardous. And putting unskilled trainees on the floor or in front of real customers runs a big risk of negative brand impact.

To further complicate things, training can be logistically challenging to orchestrate and can disrupt business beyond simply taking employees away from their jobs. The status quo of training today rarely involves doing, but typically involves lobbing information at employees and hoping it sticks — a scenario no one really likes, least of all the employees.

Immersive learning proves there’s a new way: a training model that doesn’t force employers to choose between scalable learning and effective learning. Virtual reality (VR) can speed up onboarding by giving employees instant familiarity with their work environment. VR is highly effective for on-the-job training — not just new training but ongoing learning throughout an employee’s career. Additionally, VR is the most efficient and low-risk method to train on safety procedures and customer empathy.

Measurable Insights

Successful leaders will be those who can measure the learning benefits and the business impact of their efforts. Collecting data is critical to metrics gathering and traditional L&D programs create mainly qualitative feedback. In fact, LinkedIn Learning research reveals that employee survey results are the biggest way most companies today measure learning, followed by attendee ratings of their own satisfaction following instructor-led classes. These are highly subjective metrics.

Thanks to the data-collecting ability inherent in VR, businesses can better map their L&D efforts to quantifiable results and benefits. According to the same LinkedIn Learning report, 73 percent of talent developers name “increased performance in metrics” as the number one way they could prove success of their L&D programs. VR learning provides the path to measurable results.

Real-life Applications 

Across major industries from power supply to food production to retail, companies are using immersive technology to revolutionize their L&D programs to better develop their workforce and align it with business goals. Ultimately, VR gets learners closer to reality than any other training medium, with less risk and expense.

Operational Efficiency

Retail environments have a complicated cadence. There are various areas of a store or restaurant where employees might interact with customers. Customer interactions can happen behind a counter, on the floor, or even in a restroom.  Even for the largest retailers in the world where uniformity is paramount, every shift contains a trove of unknowns. And training for these unknowns cannot impact operations.

VR is being used today to train front-line managers in a popular U.S.-based chain of restaurants to manage the logistics of the business without impacting operations. The simulation includes a realistic representation of seating areas, service counters and food prep stations for accurate and comprehensive training throughout a restaurant. Managers get hands-on and visual training of the key things they should scan for and monitor in the actual workplace.

Safety Procedures

To train workers on safety, companies are often forced to interrupt business to give learners realistic, tactical practice. VR puts learners in an immersive, realistic environment where they can practice spotting hazards and making safe decisions. It provides an effective tool for influencing the safe behavior of team members, in a scalable way, without disrupting the company’s operations. This is happening today in various applications across multiple industries, from the auto manufacturing floor to the conveyor belts of leading food producers.

Employee Onboarding

Before ever stepping into a new work environment, VR enables learners with first-person experience on the job site. By placing them in scenarios that will quickly become familiar in their role, new employees begin to acclimate to their new positions. The immersive VR experience can be used to speed up employees’ familiarity with their new environment and culture before they’re thrown into the mix.

In the utilities space, VR is being used to train new hires on safety, quality, production and culture. Learners observe safety meetings, visit job sites and experience a plan review with a crew. Then, they’re tested on what they learned before having to perform the job on their own.

Customer Service

Customer-facing employees aren’t simply genial faces of your brand. Their ability to practice critical thinking quickly determines their impact on customer experience, as well as your business. Quickly assessing customers’ needs relies on communication skills, empathy and emotional intelligence — all things that can be taught.

Financial services companies are leveraging VR to help customer-facing employees practice interactive skills in realistic environments. A learner can be “transported” between a call center and a customer’s living room. This allows the learner to witness the customer’s environment, facial expressions, and personal perspective. Building empathy begins with truly understanding the point-of-view of an otherwise faceless person.

Emergency Situations

Training store workers and other types of associates how to react in rare emergency situations, such as robberies, has always been tricky. You can present them with a list of protocols and conduct role-playing exercises, but it’s impossible to predict how one might react in a real emergency situation — except with VR.

Retailers can use VR to create realistic training for retail store employees on situations such as snatch-and-grabs and armed robberies that have traditionally been extremely challenging to teach to. Giving employees a real-time experience of a dangerous situation allows them to experientially go through the critical steps of de-escalating a high-risk moment.