"Cool" Maintenance Training
Virtual reality and augmented reality are playing increasingly growing roles in training and hiring for leading apartment companies.
As a clearer understanding of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) comes into focus for consumers this year, some apartment companies will see that VR and AR (or mixed reality) is likely to be among the top employee training buzzwords for 2022.
Though not new concepts, mixed reality applications gained a lot of momentum through multiple channels in 2021—not to mention Facebook renaming its parent company Meta, short for metaverse, which is playing a growing role in these visuals.
Consumers are also experiencing it through video conferencing, email, social networking and live streaming, giving proof that it’s not simply a fad.
Lincoln Property Company began using virtual reality training products from Interplay for some of its maintenance staff several years ago and is finding it to be a cost-effective way for teaching “hands-on” repairs and installations for things such as HVAC-related work.
Companies are finding it far exceeds engagement compared to webinar or computer screen tutorials and it also costs far less when subtracting the expense of flying employees into a centralized office for a few days.
Its primary cost is the VR headset (about $800 plus a $100 annual enterprise fee) with Facebook’s Oculus being the name brand; there are less expensive and adequate alternative products from companies such as Pico.
Lincoln Property Company’s VR Hands-On Training
Lincoln Property Company has 700 apartment communities in its portfolio and began using virtual reality training products from Interplay for some of its maintenance staff several years ago.
Training platform provider Interplay is serving over 2,500 maintenance associates with 24/7 access to more than 200 hours of career-accelerating, simulation-based training content in HVAC, plumbing, electrical, appliance repair and safety.
Margette Hepfner, Chief Operating Officer, Lincoln Property Company, said that Lincoln continues to offer a variety of training methods, including with in-house and outsourced trainers. Its supplier partners also provide free training.
“Our technicians have a wide variety of skillsets and backgrounds so it’s best to find the right training method for them,” she said. “But we had no centralized training platform, and Interplay gives us that.”
For tenured maintenance techs, “Interplay offers them a chance to brush up on a few skills on their own time,” she said. “The entire program gives us a controlled environment. It’s training on an individual level and is not classroom based.”
Hepfner said that the platform is easy to use and to navigate.
“The feedback I’ve been getting is mostly very positive,” she said. “With training that is on-demand, we don’t have to invest as much in flying in a subject matter expert for certain topics, for example.”
She said her maintenance supervisors have been very impressed with the content; they were part of the company committee that recommended using Interplay.
“Having Interplay means we don’t have the risks of techs having to rely on inconsistent training materials, such as what they might find on YouTube. As a company, we don’t have to spend all that time going in and reviewing those YouTube videos for accuracy or weed out any videos that might have been taken by amateurs who just wanted to post something.”
The courses are presented in bite-sized pieces of information and students must pass each section with a 100% score before moving onto the next lesson.
Lincoln Property Company also uses Interplay to upskill employees who are interested in learning new skills or start a new career. For example, a porter might know a few aspects about plumbing, but has never been formally trained in plumbing repair.
“This gives them a chance to grow their careers,” she said.
One negative thing that Hepfner has heard is that some advanced classes involve as much as eight hours of training, “which is a lot when you are learning on your own,” she said. “But you do get to go at your own pace.”
Virtual Reality’s ‘Cool’ Use at Job Fairs
Additionally, AR and VR are giving companies a competitive advantage during recruiting—and what industry is not looking for any edge it can get during this persistently tight labor market?
Companies are finding it to be an attractive hook during hiring—a perk to workers, according to Matt Stevens, Managing Partner, Deloitte, who studies the concept. “Virtual reality is novel enough today that it’s viewed as ‘just cool’ in job candidates’ minds,” he said. “It’s at the point that forward-thinking companies are ‘leaning in’ on the idea of using it.”
VR is also attracting attention at job fairs. Potential hires can experience roles virtually before taking them—a move it hopes will get workers to stick around a little longer, Business Insider reported.
“[MGM is handing out] VR headsets at its employment centers and job fairs so candidates can see if a job matches their expectations,” according to Business Insider. “It’s part of a plan to cut attrition in an industry experiencing especially high turnover amid a pandemic-induced labor shortage.”
Deloitte estimates that by 2024, 25% of company office meetings will have a virtual reality element to them; and by 2025, about 70% of employee training will include VR in some way.
Mixed Reality: Just What is It?
The distinctions between VR and AR boil down to the devices they require and the experiences themselves. AR uses a real-world setting while VR is entirely virtual. VR requires a headset device, but AR can be accessed with a smartphone. AR enhances both the virtual and real world while VR only enhances a fictional reality.
Despite these differences, these concepts are often spoken of together in technology circles are referred to as “mixed reality.”
According to PC Mag, VR and AR “accomplish two very different things in two very different ways, despite their devices’ similar designs.” VR is an immersive reality replacement, whereas AR adds to reality, layering graphics and information onto the real world.
Whereas virtual reality replaces your vision, augmented reality adds to it, PC Mag wrote. AR devices, such as the Microsoft HoloLens and various enterprise-level smart glasses, are transparent, “letting you see everything in front of you as if you are wearing a weak pair of sunglasses.”
AR has a distinct disadvantage compared with virtual reality: Visual immersion, according to PC Mag, writing, “While VR completely covers and replaces your field of vision, AR apps only show up on your smartphone or tablet screen, and even the HoloLens can only project images in a limited area in front of your eyes.” —P.B.
Paul Bergeron is a freelance contributor to NAA's units Magazine.