Adapting training for Generation Z

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 16

As the rail industry looks to start recruiting Generation Z, Simon Rennie, general manager of NTAR, describes how virtual reality can be used as a useful method of training digital natives.

What a great time to invest in learning technology. It’s a good sound-bite that an iPhone 6 has 120 million times the computing power of the Apollo missions. Proof, if required, that high-quality hardware and software has become consumerised, miniaturised and cheap. Equally, the last year has seen multiple virtual reality (VR) and hand tracking devices hit the market – priced within reach of domestic consumers.  

Put together, this means that investments in learning technology can be focused more on the content that supports knowledge and competence rather than the wires and tin that will sit in the corner depreciating wildly while contributing little to skills development. 

The learning experience 

Many of 2016’s apprenticeship intake will have been born this century. Post-millennial ‘Generation Z’ are true digital natives (it’s possible that they wouldn’t recognise a VHS cassette), so in the context of the rail industry, adoption of CAD-based training that simulates and recreates environments and systems is pretty much a bare minimum to appeal to new talent as well as aligning to the learning styles of young learners, placing greater emphasis on interaction, instant feedback and engagement through gamification. Equally it can be used as a vehicle to showcase the industry to compete with aeronautics, automotive and telecoms while contributing positively to people agendas and evidencing commitment to investment in learning. 

Quality, safety and control 

Beyond showcasing an industry and appealing to hearts and minds, there are powerful reasons to adopt advanced learning technology for both new entrants and existing staff. 

Software packages underpin consistency of delivery and content can be used on mobile devices, allowing training material to be taken easily into the workplace. Equally, high-end simulations can be developed into fault-finding tools and automated change control applied when engineering changes are implemented – all while simulating hazardous situations in an entirely safe environment.  

Harnessed with intelligent monitoring, software drives ownership of learning, effectiveness can be monitored and online competence assessing reduces classroom effort. Refresher training requirements can be identified and carried out in a far smarter way. Interactivity stimulates knowledge retention, encouraging greater self-participation providing material for revision, reference and practice.

Timeliness and cost 

Trains are expensive things and are at their best when carrying passengers – VR is an excellent quality substitution for access to specialist assets that are inaccessible or only accessible out of hours (at premium rates). 

Equally, while the primary driver in developing training must rightly focus on quality, there is also real opportunity to reduce time to complete – call it the interactivity dividend – while the ability to use a training environment as opposed to a depot allows an increased ratio of delegates to trainers where specialist equipment can be viably simulated. 

Finally, trees of the world can celebrate – technology allows a substantial reduction of paper-based training materials – although anticipate the need to address a cultural addiction to paper that at least some non-digital natives (both trainers and trainees) will need to be weaned off. 

The pitfalls 

Technology is not a silver bullet. Misdirected, today’s innovation initiative is tomorrow’s expensive door stop. Take heed that: 

  • The pace of technology evolution is fast – if technology has a three-year lifespan then the buying process needs to be sufficiently fast-paced to avoid obsolescence coinciding with deployment
  • Learning technology won’t necessarily reach the gamified heights of Grand Theft Auto, so a VR environment in its own right is only going to hit the mark if it’s allied to robust learning outcomes so there is substance as well as form behind the tools used
  • We live in a safety critical environment. VR in particular isn’t always transferrable into the workplace (because of its reliance on vision-obscuring goggles), so building immersive environments for all circumstances does have its limitations
  • Technology requires love and attention – it will break, require maintenance, upgrading and spares in a way that a flip chart doesn’t. Allow for this to avoid embarrassing silences when the equipment asks for a Windows upgrade at the beginning of a course.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Colin S   01/09/2016 at 15:36

I welcome this article in identyfing some of the issues that all organisations will face with Gen Z/Millenials and potential solutions that may form part of a truly blended approach. The need for a robust analysis of the training need, together with identification for the most appropriate training media, wherther it be e-learning, emulation, simulation, gamification or practical hands on experience, places the responsibility quite rightly on the training/curriculum design. The use of these components in isolation to the compentency and knowledge requirements can lead to a fragmented training system that is neither efficient or effective. Thank you RTM for "talking training".

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