Are Augmented and Virtual Reality the Answer to the Tech Training Challenge? [Commentary]

Photo:Denise Rondini

Next to finding and retaining technicians, one of the biggest challenges fleets face is keeping technicians trained. While vehicle manufacturers and suppliers say they provide a variety of training in a variety of formats, fleets say they still struggle to make sure their technicians have the training that allows them to repair trucks as efficiently as possible.

The problem has become worse in recent years, as vehicle technology seems to be changing at a dizzying pace.

Speaking at the recent American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference and Exhibition, Kenneth Calhoun, fleet optimization manager at Altec Industries, said bringing more technology into the shop —specifically augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — can be one solution.

These technologies are likely to be readily adapted by younger technicians who are already using them in their gaming systems, but who are less likely to have grown up tinkering with their own cars and therefore may lack basic mechanical skills. These younger technicians also have an expectation about having technology tools available in the workplace. If they can use technology at home, why can’t they also use it at work?

As fleets work to bring younger people into their operations as technicians, they are going to have to look for ways to make training more engaging. According to Strivr, a firm specializing in immersive learning, one of the benefits of training with virtual reality is that it “activates the same neural pathways in the brain as in the real world.”

Augmented reality and virtual reality are not the same thing. Augmented reality is a technology that overlays digital information on a real-world situation. Basically, it enhances the real world by providing additional information, images, text, etc. With virtual reality, the technician is immersed in a computer-generated reality – the user is in a completely digital environment.

AR and VR training are becoming more widely accepted and less costly. In addition, with AR and VR, training can take place anywhere. Instead of sending technicians to supplier training courses, in some cases fleets can download the training and share it with their technicians, who then can explore it when they have time.

ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council has bought into these new technologies and currently is working on an app-based game fashioned after its SuperTech competition.

AR and VR are not meant to replace existing forms of training, but rather to supplement what fleets are already doing. It is likely that some technicians will not be comfortable with these new technologies, and they are not right for every training situation. However, if you have not begun to explore how AR and VR can be integrated into your training regimen, now might be a good time to start. The technician shortage is not going to go away any time soon, and having these high-tech training methods could be a great recruiting tool for the next generation of techs.

About the author
Denise Rondini

Denise Rondini

Aftermarket Contributing Editor

A respected freelance writer, Denise Rondini has covered the aftermarket and dealer parts and service issues for decades. She now writes regularly about those issues exclusively for Heavy Duty Trucking, with information and insight to help fleet managers make smart parts and service decisions, through a monthly column and maintenance features.

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