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What are the key components of successful upskilling programs and how is XR training primed to execute such programs effectively and at scale?

Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, and the Internet of Things have disrupted the way we work and run businesses. In this “fourth industrial revolution” technological transformations have outpaced skill advancement of the workforce. The introduction of automation is threatening to render many manual and even cognitive jobs obsolete.


Incidentally, there is a paucity of talent qualified to work in this new digital economy, creating a significant skill gap. In a 2019 survey of future work needs by McKinsey & Co., 87% of executives surveyed reported currently experiencing or expecting skill gaps; with negative implications for the future growth of the organization. Globally, 375 million workers will need to change occupations or develop advanced technical, cognitive, and collaborative skills to meet company needs or risk being replaced by new hires.


Unanimously, upskilling is viewed as an effective and proactive approach to overcome this hurdle. Upskilling, i.e. development of new skills that employees might need in the future to perform the same or new roles. New hires who come at a significant cost, can only temporarily fill a skill gap. Upskilling capitalizes on retaining the talents and experiences of existing employees and prepares them for changing job requirements; while still benefiting from improved efficiency and productivity resulting from the adoption of new technology.


Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and other big techs have already allocated significant capital towards upskilling. In a series of articles discussing workplace transformation, PWC has outlined six key elements of digital learning that drive its upskilling programs.


Shared Reality: Employees are more likely to buy-into an upskilling program when senior management lead by example - gaining new competencies themselves and demonstrate advantages for all involved stakeholders. When leaders are deemed credible, workers explore commonalities in their drivers, and attitudes i.e. create a shared reality. Upskilling programs are more readily accepted within communities of shared reality as individuals are invested in achieving the shared vision.     


Spaced Repetition: Acquisition of new skills carves new neural pathways in the brain which get pruned and cemented as the skills are practiced repeatedly over time – priming it for long-term retention, recall and transfer. Designing opportunities for such spaced repetition of new skills into the employee’s daily work routine will reinforce learning.


Citizen-led Innovation: To foster innovation, organizations should empower employees to make decisions about learning, and applying skills that are valuable to their work. When individuals are allowed to engage in areas of interest, there is an eagerness to fully participate and creative solutions and innovations organically emerge.


Authentic Informal Leaders: Early on in the upskilling program some frontrunners will emerge. Individuals who are eager to master advanced technology, actively immerse themselves in the knowledge, and voluntarily engage in training others should be recognized as Authentic Informal Leaders (AILs). AILs can be instrumental in aligning their peers to the organization’s vision.


Social Nature of Learning: The upskilling initiative must also be cognizant of the social nature of the learning – providing platforms for interactions and deliberations, trading and testing ideas. Learning can be further enriched when the team brings forth ideas and experiences from diverse educational, social, and organizational backgrounds.  


Self-awareness: Upskilling is mostly focussed on the mid-career employees (35-50 years) whose motivation to learn is expansion of competencies and employability. Assessments should therefore evaluate the impact of learning on relevant metrics such as productivity, acumen, and confidence. The ultimate goal would be to develop self-awareness in the employee about skills that have been or are yet to be gained, which in itself may stimulate the development of an AIL.


Immersive learning solutions using Virtual (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) have gained popularity as effective and economical means to deliver upskilling at scale.   


VR/AR technologies allow for repetitive learning in interactive, real-life-like environments which can be easily designed to incorporate the above-mentioned elements of digital learning. Within VR/AR environments, variation in individual responses trigger specific feedback, allowing the user to gain self-awareness from the tailored learning. The freedom to experiment, and make mistakes without risk of loss or damage improves confidence and promotes innovation. Current and future teams can train together in the same environment from anywhere in the world; enhancing a sense of connectedness to other learners, and to the larger organization.  

In addition to being cost-effective to deliver at scale, the use of VR/AR environments for upskilling programs is reinforced by significant advantages over traditional methods in terms of efficacy, effectiveness, and retention of training delivered.


It is inevitable that technological advancement will restructure the labour market and workers at all levels need to co-evolve with the systems they interact with. Automating tasks requiring lower-order skills is expected to free up 30% of employee time, that can then be utilized for higher-order processes such as evaluation and innovation. Only organizations willing to invest in upskilling and creating infinite learners will be resilient to future digital disruptions.   

- Gayatri Aravind - Learning Scientific Advisor and Dark Slope Science Director

Dark Slope