JetBlue uses STRIVR to enhance training for technicians at JetBlue University (JBU), where in 2017 the College of Technical Operations trained 1,802 technicians. We recently sat down with Andy Kozak, Manager of the College of Technical Operations at JBU, for a conversation about VR as it relates to JBU. We learned a little more about his background, what excites him about using VR at JBU, and some advice he would give someone who was trying to bring VR into their business for the first time.
STRIVR: Tell us a little about your background
Kozak: I’ve been with JetBlue for 16 years, and I have been in the airline industry for 36 years. I am a lifelong aircraft mechanic, and fell into the training world when I started providing on-the-job training (OJT) for technicians at a prior airline. At JetBlue, I started as a tech, and while I love working on aircraft I followed my passion as an OJT instructor again to teach other people how to do so. A couple of years later I was asked to run the department, and have been heading up the JetBlue College of Technical Operations ever since (almost 14 years). My time at JetBlue has been the coolest of my career.
STRIVR: What originally attracted you to VR? What got you interested/excited?
Kozak: I had never worn any VR gear before, and as an older generation person, I frankly thought this would be for the younger crowd. But when STRIVR came and gave the initial demonstration, I volunteered to go into the headset, and was awestruck at how real it looked. While I was in the headset they were talking to me about what I was seeing and what to expect, and my mind immediately jumped to my job: how could we use this in the technical operations side of the airline industry? I wanted to ask 1,000 questions right then and there.
Technicians by nature are very tactile. But for training, traditionally they sit in a classroom 8 hours a day, weeks at a time, listening to an instructor. I’m always thinking about how we can engage them better in training. Also, when I do OJT training, I’m at the mercy of the operations group (my counterparts who work on airplanes), and I must make allowances to borrow airplanes to teach on. Seeing VR for the first time, I thought it could take those limitations away—I wouldn’t have to rely on operational counterparts for access to a real airplane to do OJT anymore.
Most importantly is the long-term vision for effective training. As I talk to younger technicians who come in the business, they don’t want traditional training where they sit in a classroom for 8 hours a day and weeks on end. They want to be engaged, and my initial thought was that with VR, this is the way they want to learn. We could move away from conventional training, and could push the boundaries on a new age of learning.
STRIVR: You have just implemented VR at JetBlue University. What was the reaction from your employees seeing this type of technology now available in a training environment?
Kozak: We have a VR setup here in Orlando at our training campus, as well as kits in Boston and at JFK. The initial reaction was very positive—it was cool and allowed them to continually practice. When they moved around the airplane in the VR training experience, they had a voice guiding and instructing them.
When my fellow crew members tried it for the first time, I saw the same moment when I had put it on for the first time. It’s not traditional training, it’s not sitting in a classroom or watching video. They could do it at their own speed, and they didn’t need an airplane to do training. They feel like they’re getting 1:1 training when they put headset on. They feel like they’re part of the training and that’s really connecting.
I’ve now started engaging other JetBlue crewmembers and showing them the technology: pilots, airport ground crews, inflight crew.
STRIVR: What kind of impact do you see VR having on JetBlue Crewmembers and within JBU going forward?
Kozak: I really look at this as effective training. Am I providing training to my technicians that is current, relevant, and effective? Is it allowing them to do their job safer and in a more confident way? These are the things I look for when I go through evaluations—did they feel more confident if they went through this training session vs. another training session. For me, the measuring stick is effectiveness.
We don’t want airplanes sitting on the ground or delays. If there is maintenance work to be done, we must do it in a safe and timely manner. Can we make it efficient? The more we prepare technicians, the more efficiently we can fly. And that’s better for everyone.
From a training perspective, we’ve basically been training the same way going back to Aristotle. A person stands up and gives a lecture on what to do. It’s just not engaging anymore. This generation learns a different way. So why are we telling a generation who is smart and tech savvy how they should learn? I ask them—what is the best way for you to learn? We have to supplement training with more OJT, more technology like VR. We have to adapt to them. How about the next generation after this one? What will they want? We constantly have to adapt and evolve.
STRIVR: What advice would you give other Corporate University managers who are just getting into VR or just exploring?
Kozak: The first thing I’d say is that I wish I had something like this 10+ years ago. I would tell someone that while this is clearly new technology, it is new generation training. Don’t be afraid to try it. The older generation may be a bit fearful or apprehensive of trying new technology. But once you get into it, it’s very eye opening.
Also, listen to people you’re giving the training to. Get as much involvement from the people that are actually going to be using it, so they get maximum benefits out of it. For everyone who has put it on so far, there has been an “aha” moment. They get engaged, they get excited. And I love that. You want them to look forward to coming to training. This is your company investing in your employee’s future. Taking extra steps investing in technology goes a long way for the people working for you. We should be going out and getting the best tools and delivering the best training so they do their jobs better.
I’ve been doing this a long time—employees want to learn the same way they live their life. The better we can marry the two (employee needs & technology) the better the outcome. If you invest in learning and show your people that you want them to be great, they will pay you back tenfold, beyond even what they might think their abilities are.
STRIVR: What’s been your experience working with STRIVR?
Kozak: You can see the STRIVR passion for VR is infectious. It’s really cool to be a part of this and have STRIVR help us out moving into the next generation of training. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had working with a business partner. I wish every company we have ever dealt with was as prepared, paid as much attention to the details, and was as fun to work with as STRIVR.