Virtual Reality Being Used to Benefit Jobseekers as Part of Classroom Instruction

Denene Mozzachio - Instructor ·

EDSI is thrilled to announce a new virtual reality tool now available to jobseekers participating in pre-employment workshops in three offices in the Philadelphia, PA area. The idea came about when a company executive saw a demonstration of the technology on a Vice News YouTube video, and that started the ball rolling. The video highlighted tasks that were designed to teach prison inmates life skills so that they could return to the community after serving 20+ year terms. Through virtual reality, it has been proven that sometimes it’s easier to learn how to do things like use a grocery self-checkout kiosk or operate a smartphone, for example.

Now, this same virtual reality technology is being used by EDSI to help jobseekers with interviewing skills and conflict de-escalation scenarios. This “high-tech realism,” also known as a Full Immersion Training System, was produced by NSENA and is comprised of a WiFi-connected laptop computer and two towers that link to a headset and joy sticks that the user can operate to realistically gain or improve life skills. An Instructor simultaneously controls the presentation with responses as the client explores the program.

Reactions have been very enthusiastic among our users (Non-custodial parents, WIOA and EARN participants) being offered the opportunity to use the virtual reality technology as part of EDSI’s workforce development programs. They love being able to leave the normalcy and predictability of the classroom and get outside their comfort zone with this unique technology. This hands-on experience is realistic, yet individualized, and each client has their own personal interaction. Here’s what one jobseeker, Dominic Cryor, had to say about the experience:

"The VR was very realistic, and even frightening when we did the walk the plank ice breaker. Even though my mind knew where I was, it seemed very detailed, if not like real life. We enjoyed ourselves and laughed a lot, but it was valuable. We learned even though it was fun. It’s a nice break from a regular classroom too."

While EDSI is at the forefront of using virtual reality in workforce development, it has already been increasing its influence in numerous industries. Many employers use it to simulate job interview scenarios and task modeling. As an early adopter in workforce development, we are exploring ways to expand the programs into more aspects of our Job Readiness curriculum. The future may see EDSI working closely with NSENA to develop more modules for our employer partners in order to help customize training and services in the areas of placement and retention.

EDSI’s Director of Innovation, Will Owen, explained that immersive technology really gives users targeted training and real-time, hands-on knowledge, preparation and experiences to simulate a variety of life situations.

"We’re thrilled to be able to offer immersive simulation experiences to our jobseekers as a way to enhance our existing training options. In workforce development, the perception is that sometimes we are slower to implement new technology, but we believe in meeting clients where they are and offering a variety of learning methods. We see this technology as a life enhancement tool to help them reach their goals and we’re committed to continuing to innovate at a pace that makes sense for our clients … our goal is not to overhaul, but to enhance."

Since grant funding is used to purchase the VR equipment at retail cost, it’s a fiscally modest investment that has the potential to bring long-term, positive results. We’re lucky enough to work with great community partners who see the value in this and offer us discounted rates so that we can continue to develop programming that fits into our budgets and meets the needs of our clients.

Although it would seem to make good sense to offer this technology to each of our locations, not all of our offices have clients who are interested, and that’s okay. It continues to be important for us to take a close look at who has excitement around using this technology, while also studying the local population’s needs to determine who would most benefit from this type of instruction. So, for now, it will be offered on a limited basis, with continued exploration into which other offices/programs might benefit in the future.