The New Normal Skills Economy (Part 1): How Augmented Reality Is Used to Train Specialized Workers

Dramatically shortening the onboarding process with lessons that last

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06/15/2021

Colin McMahon

 

As the world begins to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, many industries (including print) have been greatly impacted. In this series, we will focus on the increasing pace of technology and how certain developments will help print companies overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow. Welcome to The New Normal Skills Economy.

 

 

Training as a concept has existed for centuries. It always requires at least two people: a student and a teacher. Sometimes this teacher is a book—or, nowadays, a video—but the function is the same. One entity instructs, the other listens and (hopefully) learns. There is an incredible science to learning, one that we do not have the time to fully explore today. The main takeaway is this: Training is learning, and not all learning methods are equal. Anyone who has ever tried to assemble furniture using only a minimalist catalog can tell you that with a poor teacher, even simple processes can be slow and require more effort than should be necessary.

 

Source: Basic Knowledge 101

In the print industry, training can be far more complex than assembling a new deck chair. Print operators often have to maintain giant machines working at minimal-to-no down time, making sure there are no problems occurring or could emerge on the horizon. New, short run jobs are onboarded, processed, and overseen—and every second lost can mean a loss in revenue. Print naturally demands trained technicians and these have been in increasingly short supply for some time, a problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated.

With fewer skilled workers, this creates a real training problem. Without the teacher, how can the student learn? What if the teacher works in a facility multiple states away? What if the teacher works on another continent? These issues have been challenging print companies for years and have slowed productivity while consuming resources that should be spent elsewhere. With augmented reality (AR), many of these challenges can be fixed.

 

Augmented Reality as a Training Tool

AR has been seeing increasing success as a training tool, with a lot of growth coming in the past year due to the pandemic. As workers were forced into new situations, often with reduced onsite personnel presence, the advantages of AR became more apparent. The difference is all in the experience. Learning from a book is a passive experience: the student reads the words, attempts to put them into cognitive context, then acts on the lessons. Traditional 2D video is not far removed. In both scenarios, the learner must watch/read and hopefully (over time) they learn.

With AR, the student directly experiences the lesson. It literally is overlaying the scenario into the real world, in real time. This makes focusing on the task much easier, as there is no easy method to look away or zone out. AR also tends to be much more interactive, as many experiences walk the student through the process, step by step, offering feedback at numerous checkpoints. Look at this video below to see AR in action for aero vehicle maintenance and performance checks. If it is good enough to keep a plane in the air, AR can help keep print running smoothly.

 

 

How Augmented Reality Democratizes Learning

While this may sound terrific, it still does not directly address the scenario: “What if there is no teacher in the room?” Or does it? Many AR training programs allow trainers and supervisors to screenshare with the student, effectively seeing the same thing. So, while basic commands can be mapped directly onto the real world, more challenging variants can also be addressed without grinding the whole product line to a screeching halt.

A supervisor in the UK, for instance, could link into an AR headset being used in Utah (provided there was a sound internet connection). No travel, no phone call, just an instantaneous “show me the problem. Okay, let’s fix it” procedure. The visual is crucial. Even explaining simple procedures over the phone can add layers of complexity that slow the process. Same with opening Zoom and running back and forth to check on a printer’s status.

Many AR solution providers saw the pandemic as a chance to show off what the technology can do. With an AR-empowered workforce, print companies can better spread their skilled labor knowledge among employees, creating stronger, more effective training programs that will reduce onboarding, conserve resources, and maximize productivity. In the new skills economy, AR is going to be a key system of knowledge transfer that separates industry leaders from industry laggards.

 

 

In the next part of this series, we will examine how certain print software providers are structuring their complex solutions to be more user friendly and, thus, more intuitive to clients who may not necessarily have programming backgrounds.

 

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