The shortage of skilled workers is a well-known and understood phenomenon, but augmented reality (AR) can play an essential role in shaping the future of work. The World Economic Forum calculates that ten million manufacturing jobs cannot be filled due to a growing skills gap. The current aging workforce exacerbates that shortage. According to the United Nations, by 2050, one in four people in Europe and North America will be 65 or over. That drain where skilled workers retire leaves a vast knowledge gap in industry.
To make the challenge even more complex, the work required has become more specialized, meaning training new workers takes longer. As a solution, many organizations are turning to extended reality (XR); TechRepublic claims that as many as 91 percent of businesses are already using or planning to adopt XR technology. XR is a catch-all to refer to augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality.
In the latest PTC Talks webinar, Pontus Blomberg, Connected Worker, XR Expert, discussed the future of work in the world of augmented reality. He explained that talent attraction is a significant problem and a major barrier to growth. The investment needed to train green workers takes several years to recoup, and if the workers cannot be retained, that investment is lost. Clients of Accenture are keen to find out how they can enable broader XR capabilities.
This problem must be set against the broader business landscape, where despite these workforce challenges, there is still an increased drive to improve workforce efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenue. The burning question is how to achieve this amidst the inability to attract and retain talent. Companies often attempt to solve this dilemma by engaging in siloed pilots that touch upon different technologies; some adopt head-worn devices, and others use mobile devices to leverage new technology and media. The outcome is that they often end up with a nice demo that cannot be scaled across the organization.
How to ensure that any solution is scalable
According to Blomberg, the solution is to build awareness around the technology and its capabilities. This allows people to understand what needs to be done for them to communicate and start pulling towards the same goal. It is also crucial to involve the end users who will work with this new technology, gather their feedback, and get their opinion on what is working. For example, many companies believe that head-worn devices allow for hands-free work, but it may also be that that device is not suitable for the task at that time and place.
Leveraging new visual enhancements such as XR can be an excellent way to reach your goals, but it must be undertaken without creating a massive IT project. It needs to document experienced workers' learning, put that into media resources, and leverage existing XR guidance. These enhancements should not be forced upon the user; they should be there if needed. It is not an effective use of their time if you compel workers to consume media, movies, videos, and AR guidance on topics they already understand.
There are several factors to consider when developing XR training scenarios. What existing publications can be used, or whether to establish strategies for head-worn or mobile tablet devices? It is often tricky to digitize PDF paper printouts to be viewed on a head-worn device because the existing information may need to be standardized and structured. Another consideration is the ability to consume the media. A PDF instruction that is 50 pages long would have to be stretched to several hundred steps on a head-worn device. In contrast, fewer steps would be required on a smartphone or tablet because those devices can consume more information on the screen or display more information simultaneously. The user interface limits what can be consumed and how much at a time.
How can you retain the knowledge of skilled workers?
Over the years, experienced workers accumulate a wealth of knowledge that is of great value to an organization and must be captured. PTC has a good solution called Vuforia Work Instructions, a suite that includes Vuforia Capture, Vuforia Author, Vuforia Vantage, and Vuforia Insights. This allows the workflow to be captured, digitalized, and sequenced. The operator records it step by step as the work is executed, and then this information is edited, authored, and published.
This knowledge can be available as a link or a QR code within existing instructions. In this way, delivering rapid results with this new approach and technology is simple. There is no need to modify or change existing workflows to adopt digital step-by-step work instructions. Instead, you can use the tools with Vuforia Vantage. As you consume it, the software automatically collects the data, allowing the user to report, and that information is then fed into what is called Vuforia Insights. From Vuforia Insights, you can export this data and put it into an analytical component to start providing analytics.
How do we move to a robust, scalable, repeatable business process?
Implementing XR strategies can present new challenges for companies unfamiliar with the technology. However, provided you focus on where the problem and value are and prioritize what is critical to organizational goals, the ability to deploy and scale can be achieved successfully. With a stepped approach, you can instantly start benefiting by adopting Vuforia Work Instructions and applying this to high-value use cases. Identify those cases, prioritize them, make experiences for them, and start benefiting from the visualization and the XR capabilities. Then, start capturing data, learn how to treat this, and understand how it works. At the same time, build out the digital foundation and the dynamic capabilities on a system level. Determine how to handle the different kinds of content you need and then grow and mature.
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