What do you get when you combine a compromised supply chain, exacerbated fuel costs, a labor shortage, and a huge surge in online ordering due to a pandemic? A perfect storm for the manufacturing and retail industries — and a major challenge for warehouse employers who have to train leagues of new workers, quickly and under pressure.
The conundrum of warehouse training is not exactly new, though. It’s always been essential to the bottom line and the health of the logistics workforce to train warehouse employees quickly, efficiently, and well.
It’s always been challenging, too.
The warehouse floor is fast-paced and full of hazards, and there’s simply no latitude for brand-new employees to learn by making mistakes on the job. Yet, that’s exactly how they’ve always had to learn.
The call for more effective warehouse training
Consider that the number of warehousing and storage employees has doubled in a decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor. Add in the fact that warehouses are ramping up production to meet increased demands, and more people are quitting their jobs than ever before.
More new employees often means less experienced employees, and it also means more people on the warehouse floor, creating workplace congestion and a greater risk of injury — not to mention compromised efficiency. These factors underline why warehouse injuries are on the rise and workplace deaths are at their highest in a decade.
There is tremendous pressure to better prepare the workforce, and status quo training methods are no longer a good-enough solution in this high-risk arena. Fortunately, like everything else, warehouse training is being disrupted by technology, and in particular, Virtual Reality (VR).
L&D leaders in manufacturing and retail now have a better way to prepare warehouse workers before they go live on the job.
Why VR is so effective for warehouse training
L&D is not just an expense. It can yield real operational improvements. The most sophisticated organizations are the ones investing to see yields and productivity increases, declines in safety expenses and claims, and effectiveness at packing and shipping. If you really do these things well with your training, from a measurement perspective, you can generate incredible ROI.Steven Hussain, Director of Community Workforce Programs, Prologis
Virtual Reality immerses the learning in a highly realistic experience and enables repetitive practice, so warehouse workers learn the right skills and protocols to be more efficient in their jobs and proficient in safety knowledge. VR training can significantly reduce training times, safety incidents, and the time it takes to get new employees to an acceptable level of productivity.
In particular, VR provides three specific types of awareness:
- Spatial presence — In a well-designed VR experience, the learner loses track of the fact that they’re in an artificial environment and experiences it as though it were really happening. To be effective, the design of that experience includes convincing visuals, often filmed in the real warehouse environment. It also includes a realistic soundscape: the rumbling and beeping of heavy machinery and the sound of co-worker voices in the background, for example.
- Self presence — Within the VR experience, the learner doesn’t take a passive role. They have agency within this virtual world, able to take actions and interact with the environment. For instance, the learner might be prompted to load boxes onto a truck, and by taking this action, receive feedback on how well they performed.
- Social presence — The learner can also interact with other people within the environment, having conversations and taking decisive actions. An actor portraying a co-worker, for instance, might demonstrate proper lifting technique, then step aside to give the learner a chance to try it — virtually.
With these three types of presence, the learner becomes mentally immersed in the warehouse environment as if they were really there. They embody the experience they’ll have on the warehouse floor or loading dock, gaining valuable, repetitive practice before they hit the actual floor.
Most importantly, while they are learning, they have ample opportunity to practice repetition and make mistakes in a realistic environment without safety risks.
The 3 areas of warehouse training VR can impact
There are three major buckets of learning opportunities that VR-based warehouse training can provide:
Increased efficiency and productivity for workers and workflows
VR warehouse training can be very successful when it comes to improving efficiency metrics. It can help workers practice proper packing quickly in a safe, low-stakes environment. Truck loading is another area where warehouse logistics teams can create cost savings when package handlers are properly trained in lifting techniques, situational awareness, and how to maximize space when loading a truck.
Customer use case
F500 Grocery chain – Distribution Centers
Reducing time to proficiency
One major retail grocery chain implemented Immersive Learning in VR in their distribution centers. They saw a boost in productivity in the very first week of onboarding new hires with Immersive Learning, and cut the time to proficiency for new hires by nearly 50%.
Obviously, safety is paramount in warehouse environments, where heavy equipment and other hazards present constant risks. According to 2019 data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, out of every 100 full-time warehouse workers, 4.8 were injured that year.
VR is specifically excellent for hazard identification because it can track the head movement of learners wearing headsets to identify when they’re looking in the wrong place during a training module. VR can also give employees valuable experience with how to handle unsafe situations before they or coworkers’ actual lives are on the line.
Within the VR experience, they practice making the right choices and taking the correct physical actions — building situational and spatial awareness skills in a safe environment, so productivity is increased, but danger is lowered. This leads to safer workplaces as well as reduced costs.
felt more prepared to handle safety hazards at a multinational food processor
Improving the experience on-the-job
Knowledge transfer is critical, but the younger generations don’t necessarily learn the same way that the older generations learn—nor do they want to. If you’re not speaking their language as an organization, with tools like VR and video conferencing, you’re behind.Derek Belch, Founder & CEO, Strivr
As a younger workforce starts to replace an older one, the warehouse employee pool is increasingly filled with people with high technological expectations of their training. VR is a natural solution and one in which they are primed to learn.
And VR isn’t just about physical and decision-making learning opportunities. It’s also a chance to develop better team building and coaching skills for managers, who must often rely on soft skills to best manage the warehouse environment and team.
VR improves soft skills such as communication, empathy building, de-escalation skills, and culture-building. Managers responsible for productivity and performance gain valuable practice with problem solving and giving feedback in a virtual environment that closely mimics a real one.
In addition to helping build better managers, VR also can help new hires adjust to their role more effectively by providing a realistic preview of what it’s like to do the work.
Warehouse roles are tough, but when new workers have the right expectations, the company reaps major benefits, especially in reduced turnover.
Customer use case
Global logistics company
A global logistics company used VR to provide a drastically more realistic job preview with Immersive Learning, which resulted in a 2x retention of package handlers. Read more about the benefits of VR training programs for operations.
The true cost savings of Immersive Learning
VR makes warehouse training more effective, but it’s not just valuable because it’s engaging and fun. A well-designed VR training program leads to higher operational output, less safety risk, and ultimately, lower turnover.
Want to learn more about Immersive Learning opportunities and advantages? Listen in on a conversation with Prologis’ Director, Community Workforce Programs Steven Hussain and Strivr Founder and CEO Derek Belch about how efficiency in warehouse logistics can bring tremendous ROI, and how Immersive Learning is helping organizations improve their efficiency at scale.