Empowering Young Job Seekers

by Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), SalMar ASA, Måsøval Fiskeoppdrett AS, Aqualine AS

The goal of this project is to explore how VR/MR can empower and inform young job seekers and contribute to their inclusion in the job market. The VR/MR experience allows job seekers to immerse into different workplaces, try out typical tasks and get feedback in a safe setting, thus mastering the corresponding real-world situations.

Applications for health care, office/startup and fish farming industry have been implemented for Google Cardboard. The fish farming and processing industry was chosen for further development due to its importance for the Norwegian economy. This resulted in the ‘FisheryVR’ app for HTC Vive and a variant for Hololens. A separate app simulating job interview with 360 videos for Cardboard/Gear VR is under production.

The FisheryVR app simulates an area of a typical Norwegian fjord, including floating fish cages, a control and feeding station, a boat and a fish-processing facility. The tasks in the fish farming part include (a) maintenance checks of ropes and knots on the cages and (b) remote fish feeding and supervision being at the control station. The fish processing facility is located on the shore, and the user can drive the boat and moor at a nearby pier. The tasks in the fish processing facility include © fish sorting, (d) packing and (e) fillet cutting. Before entering the facility building the user goes through a health-and-safety area to put on the uniform and wash hands.

Each task in the application is accompanied by a 360-degree video filmed at the real workplaces. The videos feature either an introduction to a specific task or simply perform the function of better reflecting the real working environment.

At any time, the user can access a description of each task and get feedback on his/her performance. This information is accessible via a virtual tablet attached to the user’s belt. Each task is divided into activities that need to be performed to complete it. The user can collect different types of points for each activity. For example, the fillet cutting task consists of the following activities: washing hands upon entering the facility, washing shoes before entering the fillet area, cutting 20 fillet pieces, cutting fillet pieces correctly, and washing shoes on the way out of the fillet area. The app gives different types of points. These types are specific to different industry branches and derived from job announcements as the most wanted skills in the corresponding industries. In the mentioned example of fillet cutting, the user can earn ‘skilfulness’ and ‘hands-on ability’ types of points for cutting all 20 fillet pieces. At the same time, the user can earn ‘accuracy’ points for cutting the fillet pieces correctly.

The prototypes have been through several intermediate evaluations among young job seekers, career counsellors, high-school students and other stakeholders. We used questionnaires, focus groups and interviews to collect the data. Both job seekers and counsellors have been very positive to the concept. The vast majority of testers agreed or strongly agreed that such apps should be available for job seekers and as a part of career guidance at schools, could give a better confidence in performing work tasks and a better understanding of different professions.

The stakeholders

The project is a collaboration between Innovative Immersive Technologies for Learning (IMTEL) research group and lab at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU); Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), including young job seekers and career counsellors, SalMar ASA, Måsøval Fiskeoppdrett AS, and Aqualine AS.

The project started when our Innovative Immersive Technologies for Learning lab received funding from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare administration to explore the potentials of VR/MR technologies with gaming elements for motivating and empowering young job seekers in 2017. In collaboration with local industries, especially in the fish farming and processing sector, we have developed a research-based methodology and VR/MR applications. Several bachelor, master and PhD students from different disciplines (IT, psychology, music, pedagogy) contributed to the project. The local companies provided us with details of their day-to-day operations, some 3D models (e.g. of fish cages), participated in 360 filming, provided input to job interview scenarios. The companies will be able to use the apps for recruitment, initial employee training and customer demos. Young unemployed and career counsellors participated in the application development and provided us with frequent feedback. The FisheryVR app is already being demonstrated at various job fairs and career events. This and other apps will be made available to unemployment offices and schools, and based on the results of subsequent evaluations, additional industries and workplaces will be added and represented in VR/MR, using the methodology we have developed. As a result of this project, we have contributed to research on using VR/MR for workplace training and career guidance for vulnerable groups, such as young unemployed.

The lab

IMTEL/NTNU is the leading organization and the initiator of the project. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology is the leading technological academic institution in Norway. Innovative Immersive Technologies for Learning (IMTEL) group (led by Prof. Ekaterina Prasolova-Førland) researches immersive technologies for learning in several contexts, ranging from university education to emergency and medical training and workplace training. The group has founded and actively uses ‘Lifelong learning’ VR/AR lab that is now a part of the NTNU VRlab network connecting NTNU campuses in Trondheim, Gjøvik and Ålesund with innovative VR learning spaces. The lab is a top-modern and unique research facility devoted to educational immersive technologies without equal in Norway. The lab serves as a hub for cross-disciplinary research activities, including students and researchers from IT, Teacher education, Geography, Music, Psychology, Cybernetics, Medicine and other disciplines. The group collaborates actively with representatives for industry and public sector.

Professor Prasolova-Førland who is leading the IMTEL research group/VR lab and the project, has been working with educational virtual worlds and immersive technologies since 2002, with nearly 100 publications in the field. She has been involved in developing educational virtual reality applications for a wide range of stakeholders, including aquaculture industry, hospitals, schools and the Norwegian Armed Forces. She has founded Women in VR/AR Norway and frequently gives public speeches and interviews on immersive technologies for learning and training.

Impact and innovation

The project was made possible by a unique collaboration between academia, public sector and private companies. It is highly cross-disciplinary and is in the intersection of the fields of VR/MR, education, advisory science, psychology, education and fish farming. The project allowed our lab to perform research into developing VR/AR applications for workplace training and career guidance for young unemployed. The methodology we have developed and knowledge collected during this project will contribute to related work in the VR/MR field.

The project has a strong focus on diversity and inclusion, is led by women and is targeted at increasing job market inclusion and participation among vulnerable user groups, such as youth with social anxiety and mental health issues. While there have been projects exploring workplace training and interview training in VR/MR, these have been mostly targeting established professionals and older demographics. Our approach of using immersive technologies to motivate, empower and inform young job seekers, giving them a ‘job taste’ of different professions, is therefore unique and innovative. The young unemployed, many of whom suffer from dyslexia, language difficulties, anxiety and low self-esteem, will be able to explore new workplaces and train on unfamiliar situations in a visual, engaging and immersive environment, in a safe setting and their own pace. In addition, simulation of the working tasks and environment in the fish farming and processing industry is hardly explored.

The project received a lot of publicity in Norway and abroad, including Norwegian television and other media: