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Walmart, FedEx make case for VR training

The payback from virtual training may be improved retention and shorter training times. An hour-long training period can be reduced to 10 minutes, in some cases, says Walmart.

Walmart might be a good place to measure the impact of virtual reality in HR. About a year ago, the retail chain added an active shooter module to its VR employee training program. On August 3, a mass shooting in its El Paso store occurred.

Walmart's VR training includes the "Avoid, Deny, Defend" method developed at Texas State University, which outlines actions to take such as escaping, protecting yourself or preparing to fight in response to an active shooter. Following the El Paso shooting, Walmart got feedback from employees at the store about the VR training.

"The associates were very forthcoming in saying that we saved people's lives," said Heather Durtschi, senior director of content design and development at Walmart. The employee feedback was unsolicited, she said.

Walmart uses VR technology to provide ongoing training in store operations for store managers and employees. All of its stores have been equipped with Oculus Go headsets.

But VR training is not protecting Walmart, which has 4,759 stores, from lawsuits by victims and their families.

One such lawsuit was filed Monday in El Paso District Court by the mother of Leonardo Campos, who was in the store shopping when the incident occurred. He was one of the 22 people killed by the mass shooter. The lawsuit claims that Walmart did not provide adequate security and says the store relied on local law enforcement.


Texas State University ALERRT program video

The lawsuit alleges that Walmart previously "had an armed, off-duty police officer protecting the premises and patrons at all times" but stopped doing so to save money.

Making the case for VR in HR

The El Paso shooting came up at the HR Technology Conference & Expo in Las Vegas last week, in a session on VR in HR where both Walmart and FedEx officials presented. They made the case that VR provides a deeper experience than classroom or computer-guided training, and has a strong ROI because it can reduce training times as well as increase retention.

FedEx is using VR in its safety training, said Denise Abbott, vice president of human resources at FedEx Ground in Coraopolis, Pa. The training includes the proper way to load and unload trailers as well as how to work in the general warehouse environment.

The VR training helps prepare workers for the job ahead. "We found this to be an opportunity to give them a much closer look at what the work actually was," Abbott said.

VR simulates actual warehouse operations, said Jefferson Welch, managing director at FedEx Ground University, the firm's corporate training program. "It's impossible to demonstrate or simulate in a classroom environment some of the moving components that we have in our facilities," he said.

Abbott said that its retention rate, as measured by assessment testing, "improved notably for those who went through the [VR] immersive experience."

In terms of cost savings from injury reduction as a result of VR training, Abbott said that's "where we are building our business case right now."

Compressed training times

Walmart's Durtschi said they have some training programs that can take nearly an hour and have to be completed by 1.5 million store associates. But VR's immersive experience can reduce this training to about 10 minutes. "You can do the math as to what the savings would be," she said.

You can do the math as to what the savings would be.
Heather DurtschiSenior director of content design and development, Walmart

Walmart and FedEx are both customers of STRIVR, a start-up based in Menlo Park, Calif. One attendee asked about the cost of getting started.

Derek Belch, the CEO and founder STRIVR, said creating a custom VR training experience with a decent production value may cost $40,000 to $50,000.

Walmart was asked about its response to the lawsuit filed over the shooting in El Paso. In an email, Randy Hargrove, a firm spokesperson, said: "We will never forget this tragic event, and our condolences go out to everyone who was affected. Safety is a top priority and we care deeply about our associates and customers. We will respond as appropriate with the court."

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