Technology + Workforce Development
by Vaishnav Kuruvanka
January 17, 2021
When I think of the main catalysts of economic growth in our country, I think of the three following structures: education/workforce development, public/private infrastructure, and democratization of financial markets/services. In many ways, the continued success of our nation is contingent on our success in these key areas. As our country comes into closer competition with China, a country with 1.4 billion citizens, our collective ability to train our population of ~330 million citizens in areas of strategic and societal interest will grow in significance. Luckily, we have seen new technologies and structures be created that make workforce development more accessible, efficient, and customizable.
This essay will take a particular focus on the potential role and application of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies in workforce development.
Before continuing, I will roughly define AR and VR. AR is a digital layer of applications that are integrated into our normal field of vision. Snapchat’s facial filters/decorations and Pokemon Go are examples of AR. VR on the other hand is a completely virtual environment that is experienced separate from the tangible world. An example of VR would be a game like Beat Saber. Both technologies require hardware, most commonly in the form of a smartphone or headset, and software content to be displayed. In 2020, there were roughly 80 million monthly users of augmented reality and 50 million monthly users of virtual reality technologies according to eMarketer, a market-research company.
Starting in the mid 2010’s, with Meta’s, née Facebook, acquisition of Oculus in 2014 and Microsoft announcing its commitment to HoloLens in 2015, virtual and augmented reality technologies were pushed into the center frame of public discussion. Both Meta and Microsoft have pursued distinct routes to market, with focuses on consumer and commercial applications, respectively. Since then, we have seen increasing investments pour into the space as well as everyday applications emerge. AR is understood to have a larger total addressable market over VR, but development and content creation in the space is more difficult to advance.
It is important to understand that both technologies are in early stages of use cases and development. As interest increases and talent floods into the fledgling space, the applications are close to limitless in areas of gaming, education, retail, healthcare, industrials, energy, defense and more. In the realm of workforce development, it will become possible to train entire workforces with simulations and visual aids once the content is created. Digging deeper, these technologies can be used to train employees with customer interactions (retail), medical students with surgical procedures (healthcare), mechanics to install/maintain new equipment (industrial), students to learn technical sciences (education), soldiers to train for missions (defense), and a plethora of additional applications. It is key to notice the potential for AR/VR to provide hands on, interactive learning experiences that suit most styles of learning. It is undeniable that offering various combinations of learning modes will allow us to inclusively educate and train the blend of unique backgrounds and intellects our country is home to. The ability for these experiences to be easily customized will also reduce learning curves and therefore training costs.
Outside of providing a distinct learning mode, these technologies can be used to train workforces at any time and any place around the world. As hardware prices taper and workforce development comes into the limelight in much of the developed and frontier world, these technologies will allow countries to boost economic productivity by allowing specialized trainings to become more accessible, inclusive, and convenient than they have ever been. These technologies have the potential to economically activate populations around the world through accelerating the proliferation of specialized skills. All in all, AR/VR can completely transition the way we consume information and develop new skills.
It is in the hands of the private sector to accelerate the adoption of these technologies so that experimentation can formally take place and lead ways for our workforces to benefit. After all, it is in the best interests of corporations, main street workers, governments, and consumers to improve the efficiency of labor forces. Even further, as economic tensions rise between China and the United States, our country’s ability to maximize each individual’s economic output will become a key focus granted China has a population greater than four times America’s. As a result, our dependence on these technologies to develop a robust workforce will only grow in intensity, making virtual and augmented reality in many ways essential to our country’s long-term success.
As with any emerging technology, AR and VR will require time, investments, talent, and risk-takers to push forward progress and build on its current utility. We seem to be on the right track as Meta, Microsoft, and a variety of startups are channeling resources into the space and making what were once dreams a reality. Here’s to a future where VR/AR headsets are as commonplace as smartphones.