Move to boost SA’s trade skills using virtual reality

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US-based training company Interplay Learning is looking to equip up to one million South Africans with essential trade skills using virtual reality (VR).

The Texas-headquartered provider of online and VR training for the essential skilled trades announced yesterday that it is creating better economic conditions for individuals and closing the skilled trades gap for businesses in Africa.

According to the company, Interplay’s online 3D and VR simulations for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning), plumbing, electrical, solar and facilities maintenance workforces will rapidly prepare one million South Africans for careers in the skilled trades by 2025.

It notes that an additional five million people on the continent will be trained in the future.

VR training is the digital simulation of lifelike scenarios for training purposes. Trainees enter a 360-degree, active learning environment, experiencing sights and sounds that dissolve the barrier between virtual and actual reality.

The announcement comes as unemployment continues to escalate in SA. The economy shed more than 270 000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2021, with the unemployment rate climbing to 35.3% and 7.9 million unemployed people, according to Statistics South Africa.

Roping in Ranyaka

Interplay Africa will roll out online training programmes in communities across SA, starting in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Gqeberha is situated in SA’s second largest metropolitan district by area size, and was selected because its business chamber is composed of more than 2 100 companies and many require skilled workers, says the company.

Interplay is partnering with South African non-profit urban planning consultancy Ranyaka Community Transformation with the intention to implement the training in communities across the country.

It notes Ranyaka has a national footprint in 21 communities in seven provinces and is also the implementation agent of the Nedbank Proud of my Town initiative that pursues holistic, sustainable community transformation.

Ranyaka works hand-in-hand with residents, civil society entities, faith-based institutions, businesses, all levels of government, academic institutions and local change agents to co-create places where all people can prosper.

Interplay, in partnership with Ranyaka, plans to offer companies upskilling for existing employees and will also notify unemployed skilled workers about the training programme through various local channels.

The US-based firm points out that Africa has long experienced a shortage of skilled trade workers, and SA presently has a 35.3% rate of youth unemployment, while 60% of all unemployed have never worked a day due to a lack of skills and no job availability.

Interplay Africa’s online and VR technology is changing this by democratising skilled trades training within Africa’s cities and suburbs, including some remote areas where bringing in equipment for hands-on learning isn’t possible, says the firm.

It adds that learners will practise on-demand, hands-on skills through Interplay’s platform that enables them to be job-ready in weeks.

Challenging the status quo

“Interplay Africa allows us to approach the unemployed and give them a glimpse of a different future, accomplishing what was previously impossible due to lack of technology,” says Johan Olivier, CEO and co-founder of Ranyaka.

“It is accelerating the skills development process by providing a higher level of digital exposure and technological advancement. Interplay Africa is re-imagining career training for the next generation, and this is substantially increasing the speed of training and heightening the competency level of skilled workers.”

“Interplay Africa is a beacon of light that is positively changing lives, making communities better places to live, and improving the economy,” says Doug Donovan, founder and CEO of Interplay Learning.

“We have brought our strong instructional design and technology for accelerated learning to South Africa and soon the entire continent of Africa. With an affordable virtual reality headset, coupled with our software, we are delivering a world-class training centre into any community, and that’s only possible with this leapfrog technology.

“While VR is the centrepiece, it is amplified by our online training modules that are accessible, highly-relevant and feature jobs that are in every single community. Interplay’s foundational learning opens up limitless possibilities for users in Africa, while our ability to make tech training affordable and available to all democratises it. There’s no ceiling for these career paths.”

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