Steel and mining company ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA) has incorporated virtual reality (VR) technology into the apprenticeship and training programmes at its Vanderbiljpark plant. The VR training solution, which has been operational since December, is currently used to determine whether new recruits have a fear of working at height.
AMSA talent management and innovation manager Terrence Harrison explains that the VR solution, in addition to recreating the experience of being at height, also monitors physiological responses such as heart rate, as well as screening recruits for colour blindness.
Performance management consultancy LRMG digital business development executive Leigh Kandier explains that the solution was a collaborative effort between LRMG, its long-time client AMSA and animation and game development studio Sea Monster.
He notes that AMSA approached LRMG for a solution that would ensure zero harm to trainees, eliminating working-at- height fatalities, while also incorporating digital technology.
“AMSA had found that, once recruits had finished the three-year training programme, several newly trained employees were actually afraid of heights or unable to work at height. A significant percentage of people would freeze or panic, ultimately endangering themselves and others in the vicinity.” He comments that, in some extreme cases, this led to injuries or even fatalities, which AMSA found grossly unacceptable, leading to its search for a novel solution.
Harrison adds that AMSA’s secondary concern was to reduce the amount of money spent on retraining recruits, once their fear of heights, or their inability to work at height, was identified.
He notes that the decision to look at VR technology was based on two factors – firstly, the fact that knowledge retention is better when the learning material is applied in context, and, secondly, the fact that VR allows for practical application without placing trainees at risk. He stresses that the programme is not used to preclude applicants that are unable to work at height, but rather to redirect their learning to areas in which they are better suited.
Sea Monster client service head Lebo Lekoma notes that AMSA’s solution is the first industrial roll-out of a VR solution for this specific dilemma in Africa, and one of the very first in the world. He notes that Sea Monster’s experience in game design was applied to mimic the actual Vanderbiljpark plant and lasts between 10 and 15 minutes. Within the “fully immersive game experience”, participants are required to take an elevator up 190 m and then complete a series of simple tasks, while at height. He notes that the development of the gaming experience draws on a variety of elements and concepts, including psychology and biometrics.
AMSA first approached LRMG for a solution in October 2016. The parties recognised that expertise was available locally, and Sea Monster was approached around June 2017. Kandier notes: “After some in-depth discussion pertaining to AMSA’s exact requirements, as well as members of the Sea Monster team mapping the layout and dimensions of the plant, the VR development process took about 12 weeks.”
Harrison adds that AMSA added some four-dimensional elements, using a programmable logic controller to integrate a raised platform, vibrating plates and fans synchronised to the Sea Monster software.
He notes that this solution will be expanded to AMSA’s other training modules in time, ultimately resulting in a comprehensive training scenario, where a trainee would have to complete all eleven courses included in the global fatality prevention standards.
Lekoma suggests that the training and education space is one of the biggest growth opportunities for digital technology, specifically VR and augmented reality, given the cost- and safety-related benefits involved.