How Augmented Reality Will Help Close the Skills Gap

Don Tennant

If you want to get a really good idea of what the future holds for the realm of training and education, take a look at that realm through a pair of augmented-reality goggles. That’s one of my takeaways from a fascinating interview I had recently with David Houle, a futurist, speaker and author of the newly released book, “Entering the Shift Age: The End of the Information Age and the New Era of Transformation.”

Augmented reality involves placing digital information or imagery over a visual of the physical environment. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept and you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around it, think of it as watching the game in a football stadium, and wearing special glasses or goggles that enable you to see a yellow first-down line on the field, as you can on TV. Houle predicts that augmented reality will replace some forms of education at lower costs, and I asked him to elaborate on that prediction:

There’s a cliché that there’s a skills gap in this country, so I’ll use that as an example. I have said higher education is the next big bubble—tech was the first, real estate was the second, higher ed is the third. Let’s say you’ve been a Chevy mechanic all your life, and the Chevy dealership closes down, and the only job you can get is at the Honda dealership. But the Honda engines are so entirely different from the Chevy engines that you have to go to go to a 26-week training school. Instead, you put on a pair of augmented-reality goggles, circa 2014, that has all of the schematics of a Honda engine built into it. So since you are a trained mechanic, you just follow the schematics in the goggles to figure out how to work on that engine.

Houle said another way of thinking of it is in terms of self-directed learning in a corporation:

Being a Chief Information Officer isn’t just about the information. It’s about the aggregation of the knowledge base that’s being created daily by the company. How can that be quickly manifested? Well, the thinking of the professionals who are your readers needs to be, how can augmented reality accelerate the learning curve; allow someone to better prepare for a sales call, a presentation, fill in the blank; better train older workers in new technologies; better fill the skills gap relative to the hiring process? In other words, if you have any experience in gaming, and you have three-dimensional decision-making, hand-eye-coordination capability, then you should be able to step right up, put these goggles on, and do this job.

I asked Houle for his thoughts on what’s causing the skills gap. His response:

The problem is you have to find the exact right person, or you have to spend some money for training, which companies are loathe to do. So here’s the skills gap problem: No. 1, not everybody should have a four-year college education. A 14-year education should be exalted—people should be trained to do skilled work that can immediately result in a job. No. 2, you’ve got a skills gap because you’ve still got a real estate problem of a non-mobile work force. Sure, there may be 50,000 jobs in North and South Dakota, but I can’t sell my house here in Atlanta. So that mobility issue has to be part of this. No. 3, in the downsized corporate world, there’s no longer a focus on training, because that’s been dispensed with. Private enterprise is increasingly looking at the educational system to provide them with talent. And the educational system doesn’t realize that it’s not ready to be blown up, and reconfigured. The educational system is moving at one-tenth the speed of the corporate system, so it’s already behind, and it keeps falling further behind. So there’s inevitably a skills gap, because the educational system is not evolving and transforming itself as quickly as the world around it. There’s no doubt about that.

I asked Houle why the focus on training has been dispensed with, and he said it has to do with the disappearance of the concept of the corporate career:

If you’re a public company, it doesn’t help you with your quarterly profit reports on Wall Street. The recession is the other part of it—there isn’t the paternalistic corporate sense toward employees anymore. The concept of a job is only a 300-year-old concept. You didn’t really have jobs, or management, before the industrial revolution. And when the industrial revolution arrived, the only management model was the military. The concept of the job is now going away after 300 years. We’re all becoming much more independent contractors, more globally-connected. In that environment, it’s much easier to tap into talented people on the outside and contract for them than it is to set up in-house training.

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Jan 10, 2013 7:02 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:
For once, I'm glad I wear glasses. Doubtful that anyone will wear goggles during most waking hours, but if similar technology can be adapted to eye glasses - and still have a low profile - it could very well be adopted by the masses. Ditto for contact lens. I could certainly benefit from some augmented reality. As a person horrific with matching faces to names it would be great to see an augmented name tag on everyone I encounter. The problem here isn't really a skills gap. We have the skills to build the technology - at least the transferable skills if nothing else. The problem is that it requires a huge capital investment to make something like this reality. It also requires risk because being the first to market isn't always the best position to be in. You don't have the luxury of learning from other people's mistakes. This type of thing is very exciting. I agree with Houle on the overall job situation (lack of loyalty between employer and employee, lack of investment in training, etc). On another note, as someone who lived in Hawaii I find humor in his name. If you ever visit and see snickers at the hotel lobby it's your name. Reply
Jan 10, 2013 11:38 PM JasonSprenger JasonSprenger  says:
Skills gaps have emerged in the economy and are getting worse. One solution is to invest in career and technical education (CTE), which has proven to deliver a return in terms of improved student achievement, better career prospects and earning potential, more community vitality...and of course, more trained workers to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. At all levels, businesses, educators, policymakers and more should engage to develop and execute programs that further this kind of education. The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new group of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a means of bridging them. For more information, or to join the effort, visit www.iwnc.org. Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC Reply
Jan 12, 2013 5:19 PM Outsourcing Guru Outsourcing Guru  says:
The only solution to the skills gap is more H-1bs. End of story. Reply
Jan 14, 2013 1:41 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says: in response to JasonSprenger
Interesting that the primary mission of the IWNC doesn't appear to be "importing and exploiting lower paid foreign workers" unlike a half dozen other industry groups. So thank you IWNC for apparently attempting to find genuine solutions to any skills shortages. In the healthcare field, my youngest sister just completed a degree in radiology. She has a 2 year degree and 1 year of unpaid intern experience. I advised her to move down here to Florida because she would undoubtedly be able to find a job. We have a large number of retirees needing medical services so it seemed logical. After three months of looking for a job related to her degree here, she began a job at slightly above minimum wage as a hostess two days ago. She is discouraged and talking about moving. I am concerned that colleges over-sell these shortages and then flood the market with skills that were perhaps in a shortage for a time - until the laws of supply and demand kicked in. The system isn't working. We are saddling students with debt and very few prospects. Reply

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