In a bid to boost training and employment opportunities, the construction sector in New Zealand is using VR technology.

The Ministry of Social Development has partnered with Joy Business Academy (JBA) to develop the Skills for Industry Virtual Reality Training and Employment Tool. Its aim is to improve job opportunities and help employers in the construction sector, upskilling people anytime and anywhere.

"Jobseekers can try out tasks like driving a dump truck by using the virtual headset," said Minister for Social Development Hon Carmel Sepuloni.

"They can make an informed decision about whether it’s a job they’ll like to pursue before going on expensive training courses. These tools also work well for some people where mainstream education doesn’t, particularly for those with limited literacy and numeracy skills."

Minister for Employment Hon Willie Jackson said the tools would appeal to young people. "Three-quarters of the construction workforce are millennials, so it’s important to find tools they relate to," he said. "Virtual reality is their thing. It’s about getting people into work. It matches people who need work with employers who need staff."

Construction sector in New Zealand

JBA founder and CEO James Coddington said education has been evolving beyond the classroom whiteboard for some time.

"This kind of VR education is  new on a global level," he said. "One of its biggest advantages is full immersion – no other medium can give users the feeling of ‘being there’ better than VR. The experience fully captures learners’ attention, and in doing so boosts their retention of information.

"They develop physical memory and retain new information through the repetition of practical skills. It saves trainees and employers time and money, because it reduces typical basic training from four days to 45 minutes."

He added that through simulation, interaction, and immersion, VR can make users more empathetic.

"Untethered VR accommodates different learning styles. Learners who have developed compensatory skills in place of literacy can leverage their abilities to train and qualify for employment."

The tool is intended to be piloted with a small group of MSD industry partnership employer and provider partners. The aim is to eventually roll it out to the wider construction sector.