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Aging workforce - Leveraging AR for training and remote assistance

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Ken Thomson's picture
Director, Utilities Solutions Aquitas Solutions

An accomplished Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Supply Chain professional, Ken Thomson brings over 20 years of experience in asset driven industries with special focus on Utilities. As a...

  • Member since 2021
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  • May 3, 2022
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Within the utility industry, the US, UK and Canada all face an aging workforce as shown below in the 2021 Bureau of Labour Statistics:

In the US utility industry alone, 26% of the employed workforce is at an age that can retire now. The US Dept. of Labor estimates as much as 50% of the energy utility workforce will retire in the coming decade. The US is not alone in this situation, in 2021, 48% of the Canadian utility workforce is over the age of 45, while the UK reports more than half its workforce is over the age of 45 (52%).

Ref: https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm

How will we manage these potential skill gaps? Companies will need to attract younger tech-savvy (unafraid) employees to fill these gaps. In the utility industry, despite rigorous training and certification, much is still learned on the job, “in real life” as we say.

With the incredible acceleration of computing and network power into handheld or laptop computers, is the time now to fully embrace an Augmented Reality training solution. These powerful platforms allow experienced technicians (remember the 26% that can retire now) to transfer their acquired knowledge by recording step-by-step instructions on how to perform routine and even critical maintenance highlighting the intricacies that only come with decades of experience.  The Augmented Reality capture process allows for the many years of experience to not be lost when the experienced technicians retire.

Not only do these platforms allow for the quick transfer of knowledge, but they also permit the ability to easily create job libraries that can be linked within your Enterprise Asset Management systems, or perhaps accessed through a Learning Management System. With these job aids and easy access in the field, a competent but inexperienced technician or apprentice can review the step-by-step repair guide while looking at the equipment.  These job aids can also be used to on-board technicians quickly because there are more “hands-on” training modules.

Taking this one step further is the ability to “Expert-Call”. Using these same platforms can enable real time communication with an expert should the need arise with both the field worker and expert communicating virtually while viewing the same equipment. Most available options allow markup facilitating a quicker repair by directing via arrows, annotations and/or highlighted areas.

There are multiple benefits to this type of approach

  • Faster more reliable repairs.
  • Safety - an informed worker is a safe worker, avoiding potential dangers when working in an unfamiliar piece of equipment.
  • Education - shared knowledge accelerated through leveraging available technology
  • Talent Acquisition / Retention - Ability to attract a younger generation through job fairs while validating industry is investing in current technology.
  • Centralized Training - Technicians are all receiving the same training through the job aids.
  • Consistency in Training - everyone can be taught the same way with the same approach.

How is your utility addressing this, are you adopting any of the AR platforms offered in today’s market?

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