Using virtual reality to train professionals in the nuclear sector
Giving learners ‘hands-on’ training is a crucial part of any vocational programme. In the nuclear energy sector this is made more challenging given the high levels of licensing and regulation in place which makes access to practical, on the job training impossible for anyone who is not already an employee in the sector.
Utilising the advances made in Virtual Reality (VR) technology, Bridgwater and Taunton College are creating a learning environment that replicates a nuclear plant in microcosm: PRACTICE – Practical Reactor Activity Centre; Thermodynamics, Instrumentation, Control & Electrics. This new programme enables individuals to experience first-hand the demands of the nuclear workplace – without being in the ‘licensed environment’. They can learn about and rehearse highly technical operations and develop appropriate industry behaviours, all of which can be perfected in a safe setting.
Working with national and local employers, Bridgwater and Taunton College aims to create a highly-trained, professional, technical workforce for the nuclear sector. The College supports a range of learners, from those entering the industry through to those studying degrees.
When the College applied to the Ufi VocTech Impact 2017 funding, it was clear that this project had the qualities that Ufi looks for. The project meets a real need which chimes with local and national economic priorities, addressing the shortfall of skilled workers in the nuclear sector. It also opens up access to new learning opportunities for a diverse range of adult learners using technology in a way that can be easily scalable.
Meeting industry needs
There is huge competition for specialist skills in the nuclear industry that are already in short supply across the UK. In Somerset the decommissioning of the existing facility at Hinkley and construction of a new one is creating demand for up to 25,000 jobs. The facilities and courses at the college have been co-designed with employers to ensure they meet their requirements and to guarantee that learners are equipped with the professional and technical skills they need to put them on track for a successful career in the sector.
Creating routes into employment
Training in the sector has previously been limited to employees working within nuclear installations. The project has opened up access to a whole new audience of learners, with VR being used to inspire young people to consider pursuing a career in the nuclear sector as well as to support career transition by engaging those already in employment to upskill or re-train.
Solving practical problems
The VR system exposes learners to situations that otherwise would be impracticable to re-create such as working in a confined space or using complex lifting operations within a nuclear plant.
The use of such technology has challenged the way that training in the nuclear sector has historically been delivered and assessed, bringing theory to life in a hands on and engaging manner that allows learners to ‘rewind’ and analyse their performance. They are able to learn from their mistakes and from each other in a safe environment. This process deepens understanding and supports more informed decision making when they are re-immersed into the scenario for a second or third time.
The VR nature of this project enables learning to be accessed without any geographical limitations, it readily supports distance learning and can be replicated in all major nuclear training hubs across the country and, potentially, globally. This gives Bridgwater and Taunton College a clear path to scaling their project and a sustainable business model.