Photo by Ashley Cowan

A Look at the Future of Training

Published June 15, 2021

With a large number of young, new employees coming to Newport News Shipbuilding, X67 Manager Robb Schrock and his team were looking for a way to train faster and more effectively.

The solution? A partnership with Business Transformation and Technology’s Dogfish Labs to create training environments using virtual reality.

“According to industry standards, retention from classroom training is about 20%,” said Schrock, who manages non-nuclear inspectors. “Full immersion training like virtual reality is 70% retention. It’s a no-brainer.”

Dogfish Labs and X67 began working on the project in February. Prototypes were created for virtual reality training with static scenarios and basic ship compartments – one for X67 inspectors and another that was already in development for X11 fitters and X18 welders for confined space training was refined.

With feedback from prototype users, work started on a larger project called ObserVR – which is being designed to support all trades. Leaders from across the company have participated in demos with the virtual reality tools.

“The idea is to tailor training to your trade’s particular needs through this customizable training platform,” said Jovan Celar, an engineer and product owner in Dogfish Labs.

Although the prototypes were developed primarily to gather feedback for the ObserVR project, they have proven to be valuable training tools for hundreds of shipbuilders so far.

With space at a premium at NNS, the virtual reality headsets make training portable and accessible across the waterfront. “Since this is cloud based, a supervisor can build it at their desk and upload it to the cloud. Another person in the field can download it onto a headset, and you can train people instantaneously as long as you have a 5-feet by 5-feet area,” Schrock said.

Virtual reality also allows shipbuilders to experience training – and make mistakes – in a safe environment, building “muscle memory” for proper and safe practices, according to Schrock.

For example, during confined space training, if a craftsman or craftswoman enters an area that isn’t safe, the screen goes dim and they will hear ringing in their ears as if they are about to lose consciousness. “You’re not going to forget that experience,” Celar said.

He pointed out the new generation of shipbuilders – and prospective shipbuilders – is made up of “digital natives,” and tools like virtual reality will help keep them engaged, excited and motivated.

“We’re using the latest and greatest technology to build ships and figure out how to do it in the safest and most efficient way,” Celar said.