Employers: workplace training must move with the times or risk losing staff

How immersive technologies can help to upskill and retain staff in the midst of a talent and recruitment crisis.


Traditional workplace training isn’t fit for purpose – this is the finding of several surveys looking at employee and HR attitudes towards training and upskilling.

In CoachHub’s Global HR survey 73% of business leaders said employees don’t feel they receive enough training and development, which shows that people simply aren’t getting enough out of traditional training methods.

These feelings were mirrored in Immerse’s ‘Upskill Ultimatium’ report, which found that almost half (49%) of HR professionals questioned believe today’s training deployment is not fit for purpose in the current hybrid working environment. Furthermore, two thirds think that organisations that fail to employ cutting-edge training technologies will struggle to attract and retain talent.

In the same report, 48% of employees said they’d move companies if they weren’t receiving the level of training they need, also noting that they hadn’t learnt anything new through workplace training in the last 12 months.

Weaknesses in traditional workplace training

During this extraordinary time of pandemic induced self-reflection, many are re-assessing what they want from their work and potentially joining ‘The Great Resignation’. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever for employers to respond to the needs of their staff.

This includes taking a long, hard look at their current workplace training offering and how it can be improved. They must ask themselves how to keep employees engaged, how to ensure information is retained and also, how to measure the return on investment.

Employees are no longer content to sit through standardised, ‘one-size-fits-all’ training sessions. Instead, they want a more engaging, personalised approach to their workplace learning.

“Traditional training often means a combination of uninspiring and tedious instructor-led and online courses, and while these have their place, they turn people off and have only modest value,” says Simon Hepburn, CEO of the UK Cyber Security Council.

“Good training, whether in cybersecurity or any other field, involves a variety of materials using several different types of media and making it interesting for the learner. The more innovative, interesting and fun you make it, the more people will remember it.”

Immersive training can fill these gaps

Immersive technologies can help end this current learning drought, as for many they’re a new and novel way to approach training.

This is highlighted in Immerse’s report, with over half (58%) of employees questioned saying that immersive technology would make training exciting for the first time ever. A large number of HR professionals (64%) also believe that on-demand immersive training could enhance workplace productivity.  

As everyone moved to working from home, the pandemic created a renewed focus on data and technology when it comes to learning approaches. A wide range of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) training solutions are now available to employers today that take advantage of everything from head-mounted displays and glasses through to 360° video and holograms.

They’re also being used in a growing variety of training scenarios, from health and safety, technical skills and employee onboarding, to people and leadership skills, corporate culture, and assessment and recruitment training.

“Our technology’s being used by the likes of BP, Shell, DHL and GE Healthcare, and there’s also a shift towards HR functions in everyday businesses embracing the technology,” notes Tom Symonds, CEO, Immerse.

The benefits of training with VR and AR

Integrating immersive technology into training offers many benefits. For example, it can offer real-time feedback and stimulate complex situations where human emotions will be shown through avatars, which is good for cognitive skills and technological competences.

“Technology like VR and AR allows more practical training to be introduced,” highlights Claudia Crummenerl, Managing Director, People and Organisation, Capgemini Invent, “which can be hard to recreate in a traditional learning environment and can in turn support knowledge transfer between employees.

“And for those working in dangerous or expensive situations there’s a clear safety and cost benefit to creating immersive environments in which people can make mistakes and test their decision making,” she adds.

Immersive training’s biggest hurdles

Immersive training is becoming more accessible thanks to the growing range of pre-made templates now on the market. However, the expense of implementing and managing this kind of training still remains the biggest barrier to uptake.

These types of sessions take time to put together and are often complex to run. To set these up correctly, businesses need employees with the necessary skills, as Crummernerl points out.

“We are seeing downsides, with the costs of devices like VR glasses a significant bottleneck. Moreover, in the beginning the development effort is high. Employees or trainers who plan or conduct immersive sessions need to have the relevant skills, and in comparison to more traditional digital training via Microsoft Teams or e-learnings these technologies are quite new and more complex to set up and understand.”

Another concern from businesses relates to the generational make-up of their workforce. Immersive training isn’t for everyone, and some organisations hold back from investing amid concerns that employees from an older demographic would be hesitant to join these kinds of learning sessions - instead preferring a more traditional set-up.

The future of workplace training

At a time when recruitment is dealing with the upheaval caused by people re-assessing their priorities, it’s more important than ever to provide a training offering that appeals to potential employees and engages and up-skills existing ones.

The answer may well lie with the immersive training sector, which looks set to continue growing. Juliane Sterzl, CoachHub’s VP of sales UKI, expects to see yet more technological advancements in the coming years, particularly around the use of AI in digital coaching, while Crummernerl expects to see a merging of the gaming and training industries.

All those we spoke to agree, however, that the future belongs to the organisations that effectively upskill their workforce today, and those that shift their approach to immersive learning will enjoy a significant advantage.