StrataTech Education Group, a leading operator of skilled trade schools, launches an all-new virtual reality training program called OcuWeld. The program, which uses Oculus Quest 2 technology, will be among the first to use this revolutionary technology for students to practice welding skills outside of the classroom.
The program launches at a time when demand for skilled trade workers is at an all-time high in part due to the recently passed Infrastructure Bill. The bill, combined with President Biden’s Build Back Framework, will add an average of 1.5 million jobs per year for the next 10 years, according to The White House.
OcuWeld is a new and innovative virtual reality (VR) welding simulator designed from the ground up by expert welding instructors for welding students. The program allows students to learn the time-consuming and highly physical tasks of prepping, grinding, and joining materials in a virtual environment that mimics classroom lab training.
The growing pace of digitization is shifting the paradigm of education to lifelong learning that requires a continual evolution of technical skills and training. Alex DeClair and Chris Schuler, directors of the welding programs at Phoenix-based The Refrigeration School, Inc. (RSI) and Tulsa Welding School (TWS), say today’s students have different needs, and infusing technology into programs is now imperative in the modern education space. Similarly, Chase Lane, VP of Transformation for StrataTech, understands the need for digital transformation in education and its role in addressing the nation’s critical infrastructure needs.
“It’s time that higher education meets the needs of its students rather than vice versa,” said Lane. “Digital is transforming education and ensuring that these technological advances reach the skilled trades is extremely important to StrataTech and vital to the growing needs of our labor force.”
Eliminating access, safety, and cost concerns, OcuWeld’s virtual environment provides students the academic benefits of accessibility, autonomy and amplification. Students can access OcuWeld anytime, anywhere without WiFi. OcuWeld VR training empowers students with the autonomy to practice and build skills across a variety of welding processes and rely heavily on muscle memory to gain proficiency. Finally, OcuWeld engages students with the ideal blend of gamification and education. Students enjoy learning in a fun and highly interactive and dynamic environment that mimics real-world applications.
“Students who spend extra time outside the classroom perfecting their skills are often the most successful,” said DeClair. “But, due to the restrictions associated with practicing welding, whether its access to materials, equipment, or a safe working environment, many students struggle to supplement their learning outside of the classroom.”
OcuWeld will launch at TWS in Tulsa, OK and RSI in Phoenix, AZ in January, with plans to roll out to all other StrataTech campuses later in 2022. Upon enrollment, every TWS or RSI student will receive an Oculus Quest 2 pre-loaded with OcuWeld software and will be trained on how to use it in conjunction with their curriculum. Each OcuWeld lesson addresses a specific welding process, a particular weld position and corresponding type of material. The OcuWeld environment will provide students a narrative description, voice over, demonstration of the weld to be performed, and real-time and post-lesson feedback on their performance. In a beta-test, more than 45% of students reported they would use this regularly to support their learning. Additionally, more than 50% of students said the simulation was realistic or very realistic compared to real world welding.
“As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that we infuse technology into our programs and curriculum to meet the changing needs of our students and their future employers,” said Mary Kelly, President/CEO of StrataTech. “OcuWeld will not only help our students get additional training, it will also position them to meet the growing demand for skilled professionals.”
Fueled by what has been coined “The Fourth Industrial Revolution,” many companies are also looking to upskill employees to keep up with new demands as technology changes. As StrataTech continues to develop educational content for OcuWeld, they will look to partner with other educational institutions and businesses whose skilled tradesmen and women require specific training or continuing education.
“StrataTech will continue to explore innovative methods to provide students the best possible training outcomes, and employers highly qualified skilled candidates that meet hiring demands,” added Kelly.
Virtual reality welding training has been demonstrated to provide strong educational benefits, but prohibitively costly to use at scale, especially for employers looking to train staff in a very specific skill. OcuWeld is designed to work natively with the Oculus Quest 2, reducing the cost of delivering high quality VR weld training more than 100-fold on a per-student basis. Additionally, OcuWeld contains modules for all major manual welding processes and weld positions. As StrataTech expands OcuWeld’s capabilities, they will work with employers to meet the needs of specific training.