Virtual Reality Training Immerses Ag Students in Welding Skills

By Jamey McIntosh, Realityworks Product Manager

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the American Welding Society’s August 2019 Welding Journal

High school students practice basic welding skills on virtual reality welding simulators, which offer immediate, personalized feedback on fundamental techniques.

Welding is all around us. It is in the appliances we use to prepare our daily meals, the transportation we use to get around each day, the bridges that enable us to get from place to place, and the buildings we live and work in.

In fact, 70% of all manufactured products feature welded parts, with a variety of jobs in manufacturing, production, construction, and more depending on employees with welding skills (Ref. 1).

Like welding, we see the impact of agriculture on a daily basis. Agriculture is responsible for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicine we take, and the homes we live in.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, in 2015, agriculture and related industries contributed $992 billion to U.S. gross domestic product; jobs in farming, horticulture, food science, and more depend on employees with agriculture knowledge (Ref. 2).

Agriculture is as vital to our lives as welding — and in education, the two courses of study often go hand in hand.

At Realityworks, we strive to create learning aids and develop programs that engage today’s students in high-demand career pathways and help them develop industry-needed skills. To do that successfully, we communicate regularly with education and industry representatives, paying close attention to their program needs and the hurdles they face as they train our future workforce.

The Need for Welders, Ag Skills

When we entered the welding education space five years ago, the American Welding Society (AWS) was estimating a growing skills gap in the welding industry. The organization concluded that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 290,000 professionals, including inspectors, engineers, welders, and teachers (Ref. 3).

More recently, AWS Foundation Executive Director Monica Pfarr noted that within the next decade, there will be a need to fill nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs, yet a gap in key manufacturing skills would “likely result in some two million of those jobs going unfilled.” Pfarr also noted that the welding industry alone is expected to produce at least 5000 new jobs each year in the United States (Ref. 4). In short, the need for welders remains strong.

Marana High School Welding Instructor Kenton Webb explains to his students how to use a live welding training tool to fine-tune their welding techniques in the booth. The tool provides video game-like guides inside the welding helmet to guide students as they practice.

Similarly, agriculture careers are in high demand. When we started creating agriculture learning aids two years ago, employers were struggling to find qualified candidates for a number of growing careers. In 2016, there were 21.4 million full- and part-time jobs related to the agricultural and food industries; the USDA reported that between 2015 and 2020, there would be almost 58,000 annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in food, agriculture, renewable resources, or the environment (Ref. 5). However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cites there are only about 35,000 new U.S. graduates with expertise in these areas each year (Ref. 6).

Importance of Training Tools, Learning Aids

When we talk to welding and agriculture educators today, we hear the need for training tools and programs that engage students in these in-demand fields and help them develop basic skills efficiently and effectively.

Today’s career and technical education (CTE) instructors often need to be experts in a variety of fields, and if training time isn’t abundant or even available, the training tools themselves must be relatively easy to learn, and they must produce quantitative data.

With the help of her instructor, a Wisconsin high school student practices welding for the first time on a virtual reality welding simulator

Another need we often hear about is for learning aids that offer career exploration opportunities for those who are unfamiliar with potential job options. Welding may no longer be thought of as a “dirty job,” but welding instructors tell us there are still plenty of students who could benefit from exposure to this in-demand career.

Agriculture instructors battle similar assumptions regularly as well, reporting that students often don’t understand exactly what agriculture encompasses and don’t know of the variety of agriculture careers that are available.

Are these misconceptions because fewer students are coming to CTE courses from the farm? Perhaps. One hundred years ago, a third of Americans were farmers; today, fewer than 2% are (Ref. 7).

For those working to equip today’s students with the skills to succeed in these high-demand careers, finding teaching strategies and training tools that engage students in these pathways and expose them to needed skills will help develop the skilled workers our workforce needs.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the American Welding Society’s August 2019 Welding Journal.

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