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How businesses are adapting to online training

Digital workplace is quickly expanding with new ways of learning

The pandemic has forced thousands of businesses across Ireland to embrace remote working with many also striving to develop more sustainable ways of doing business. While some people will return to the workplace when the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, many aspects of the way business is carried out will have changed forever. This includes the way training is delivered.

“Since businesses around the world went into lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19, the shift towards remote working tools has been rapid, with a proliferation of Zoom-type meetings, webinars, lectures and other forms of online training,” says Pat O’Connor, managing director of virtual reality training simulation specialist company VRAI. “Once the crisis abates, that expansion of the digital workplace is likely to continue.”

This shift has also been witnessed by Skillnet Ireland, the national agency for workforce learning. "People have embraced online training and learning and adapted well to it," says Tracey Donnery executive director for policy and communications at Skillnet Ireland.

“All 70 Skillnet Ireland networks moved their training and upskilling supports online since the emergence of Covid-19. They moved in a very agile way, moved to grasp the technology requirement and deliver the programmes in a new way. Over 40,000 people and 18,000 companies have enrolled and availed of online training in 2020 so far.”


Helping companies to respond quickly to Covid-19 was a priority. "Within four weeks of the first lockdown we had developed Mentors Work in conjunction with the SFA, SBCI, and Microfinance Ireland, " says Donnery.

“That involved online one-to-one business mentoring for businesses badly affected by Covid. We helped them look [at] their business plans, what they needed to do, diversification, cost cutting and so on. Over 300 companies availed of the programme.”

Another offering was aimed at workers who had been badly hit. “One we are very proud of is Skills Connect which was designed to support people who are affected by Covid-19 by helping them with reskilling to move into other areas. We now have 500 companies committed to providing work placements for them. Future in Tech is an initiative with technology people to help people acquire the skills to transition into the ICT sector in entry-level roles, or perhaps more senior where they already have transferable skillsets.”

Remain popular

Online learning will remain popular beyond the pandemic, Donnery believes. “It will enhance and complement classroom training. Everyone has been focused on switching to digital as quickly as possible. They are now moving to improving the design in terms of what works best from a user-experience perspective. Ireland could become a global centre of excellence for online learning and training, particularly in the area of augmented reality [AR] and virtual reality [VR]. There are some great companies in that space in Ireland and we will see that increasingly coming into use in online training.”

Those technologies are already being embraced by leading organisations around the world, according to O'Connor. "The world's largest employers such as Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations and leading European militaries, are now using our VR simulation training platform to transform the modern workplace," he says.

“Data-driven VR simulation training reduces risk to employees, improves training outcomes and provides a scalable solution for how to train people remotely. This training can be done at scale in authentic virtual environments, without the need for downtime on operational equipment, with less need for instructors and less travel costs associated with training.”

Covid-19 is not the only reason for this shift. “For people such as frontline medical personnel, offshore wind technicians, or workers in manufacturing settings, there is a need to train, prepare for, and mitigate risk,” O’Connor explains. “Traditional e-learning tools cannot prepare someone to climb a high-voltage electricity pylon in a storm or fix a blade on a wind turbine as high as the Eiffel Tower, 100km offshore in the North Sea.”

And there are other advantages. "A recent PwC report showed that VR training outperformed traditional training in the key metrics," he adds. "For example, v-learners completed training four times faster than classroom training, were four times more focused during training than their e-learning peers and the training is less than half the cost of classroom training when done at scale.

“When people train using our data-driven VR simulation platform, large datasets can be gathered to ensure that employees are getting the training they need to stay safe. We are seeing outstanding results that are correlating with other independent reports on the efficacy of VR simulation training. It is leading to faster, more effective learning, more engaged learning and more efficient learning.”

The use of VR in training in Ireland has just received a boost with the launch of the Immersive Technologies Skillnet. “The objective of this network is to expand the immersive technology capability of Irish businesses,” says Donnery. “It is a learning network for businesses of all sizes in the immersive technologies sector. Member companies work collaboratively to share best practice and to respond effectively to the specific skills needs of the sector. We are hoping it will drive a lot of innovation in creating better learning experiences.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times