Virtual reality (VR) is shaping up to be an asset in developing future workforces. VR provides a new and exciting opportunity for transferring knowledge, skills, and experience. Recently, VR work experience games were launched in Victoria, designed to engage young people to work in the disability sector. This was the first initiative of its kind in Australia, but will no doubt pave the way for more opportunities nationally.
Disability is a growing area that needs more support workers, and development of those people quickly and effectively. These needs come from an aging workforce and the creation of 70,000 new jobs over the next two years, to support the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). VR technology provides a significant role in responding to these concerns. Furthermore, sporadic usage of technology in the workforce stands in contrast to the strong presence of technology in the lives of youth. They have grown up with technology and expect to use it as they enter the job market. Therefore, when they discover a vocation that does not use technology, interest tends to wane and they disengage.
The disability sector is seeking to overcome this issue through VR, to train and engage youth. What VR provides is a simulated interactive safe learning environment, which can replicate the real world. VR technology is already being used effectively in emergency services, the military, mining, and construction. It provides replication of a complex situation, allowing practice with people and equipment in a safe version of that environment. VR gives trainees much needed confidence, by offering a chance to practice responses to risk-related events in a safe way. Moreover, knowledge for many people is often primarily constructed through physical interactions with the real world. VR, with its capacity to immerse participants in a real-world narrative through accurate simulations, allows knowledge and insight to be constructed through both physical and perceptual immersion.
There are a couple of initiatives already in development and practice. Workforce Plus recently launched an eight-month VR trial with 380 young people across Victoria. Throughout the trial period Workforce Plus plans to work with disability employers, youth employment, and training agencies to introduce disengaged youth to the sector via simulated work experience. Labelled as “cutting-edge” and “innovative”, the project is part of the federal government’s Empowering Youth initiative. Workforce Plus is also looking for disability providers who would be prepared to provide actual work experience placement afterwards. Additionally, House with No Steps (HWNS) has been awarded $200,000 in funding from the National Disability Services, Innovative Workforce Fund. This funding has been provided to develop prototype VR learning tools for disability support workers. In partnership with the Centre for Social Impact, HWNS will prototype VR learning tools in a 12-month project. This is only the start of the use of technology to engage youth in the disability sector. It will be exciting to see what they come up with next. For now, though, VR is a useful tool to ignite interest in young people, and encourage them to consider the disability sector.