• In France, the association France Immersive Learning, which was notably co-founded by Orange, is promoting VR solutions to companies and training organisations.
• For major corporations like Natixis, Vinci and Alstom, virtual reality is no longer a dream, but a real element in training programmes.
Perched on the 25th floor of the Natixis headquarters in Paris, a new VR lab opened its doors for the first time in late 2022. The 300 square-metre space, which is entirely dedicated to the provision of virtual-reality training to employees of the corporate and investment bank, has highlighted the growing uptake of a technology that has been struggling to win over mainstream users since the launch of the first Oculus headsets more than ten years ago. “We are on the verge of the massive adoption of these technologies”, points out Nicolas Dupain, the president of France Immersive Learning, an association founded by the Cnam (Conservatoire national des arts et métiers), Orange, Natixis, UPEC (Paris-East Créteil University), Défi métiers and Agefiph, which has brought together major players in the sector. “If you set aside gaming, the main market for virtual reality is education and training,” adds Dupain. “Today, stakeholders who wish to set up courses of this kind, which require equipment, pedagogical engineering and content creation, are faced with quite a journey. So it is very important that they think in terms of training strategy. If they don’t, VR remains an occasional diversion.”
More attractive training courses
Natixis employees, who come to the lab in groups of eight, are now being trained in procedures to evacuate the tower, using the CASE application for autonomous headsets in learning situations, which has been specially developed to manage XR (extended reality) training sessions. It is expected that some 9,000 of them will have completed this course by the summer. “We realised that there is often a 50% rate of absence at mandatory training sessions. With this solution, 100% of students are turning up. This is due to the attractiveness of the new medium, but also positive word-of-mouth recommendations and the density of content in the sessions. At the same time, ten percent of employees are asking to retake the course, because they find it to be an enjoyable experience”. Onboarding, continuing education, and modules for public speaking and technical skills: virtual reality and the quality of immersive technologies are opening up new horizons for professional training. Major corporations are increasingly adopting the technology, notably the rolling stock manufacturer Alstom, which is also planning to open new VR labs. Accompanying this process, France Immersive Learning is promoting the technology to trainers and companies, which are rapidly developing the capacity to independently set up their own programmes.
Virtual reality is also a tool for inclusion, enabling companies to train staff with headsets that reproduce their working environments.
Work safety training
Knowledge managers at Omexom, Vinci Energies’ dedicated energy transition brand, have decided to internalise the development of virtual reality applications. “For our group, which has a zero-accident safety policy, virtual reality is particularly well suited to the training needs of technicians working with high voltages or at height,” points out Elena Getman, a multimedia educational engineer at Omexom. “We began by developing modules for transformer stations, because that is where staff are most at risk, and we are now offering them for electrical enclosure maintenance and risk identification on transformer station construction sites.” For users, they offer an additional means of raising awareness, which enables them to learn from their mistakes.
“Virtual reality is also a tool for inclusion, because it enables large numbers of workers, including those with a low level of education, to learn by doing,” points out Getman. “This was recently the case in Brazil, where we were looking for a different means to include our teams of fitters in training programmes, which we did by deploying virtual reality modules at construction sites.”
Hybrid tools offer an interesting solution for applications of this kind to work without resistance from users – some of whom are not comfortable with VR: notably technologies for mixed reality headsets, which are still in development, but are expected to mature over the next five years. As Nicolas Dupain points out, “Everybody is waiting for mixed reality to take off”.