The Economics of VR Construction Training

Safer worksites and increased productivity could benefit your bottom line.

This could be a good time to consider introducing VR into your construction training programs. The prices of many of virtual reality headsets are coming down and you can even pick up a higher-end headset and base station for less than $700. (The more sophisticated, simulator-type training systems will still cost you anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, however.)

At the same time, VR training companies are adding more programs that simulate various construction tasks. Serious Labs, for example, recently introduced a new aerial virtual reality training program for scissor lifts and boom lifts. (United Rentals has helped fund some of these developments.)

To determine if VR is a good investment for your company, consider all its potential impacts to your bottom line.

VR enables heavy equipment operators to gain and polish skills in a very safe environment. “You can’t tip the equipment over, you can’t fall out of the basket, because the basket is just a couple of inches off the ground,” said Loretta Foley, director of United Academy, United Rentals’ training arm.  With additional practice time, operators have fewer expensive accidents on the job site. 

But there’s more to the VR economic equation. “People are recognizing that VR is not just about safety, it’s also about increasing productivity,” said Drew Caruthers, construction and earth moving product manager, CM Labs Simulations, in a webinar hosted by Construction Business Owner magazine.

One big advantage with a simulator is time transfer. New operators can learn the basic controls on the simulator rather than taking up valuable time in the equipment itself. “Or you can use it to completely train people and then use the crane itself to validate what they’ve already learned,” said Caruthers.

A VR system also allows training to continue even if bad weather would preclude such work in the field. At the same time, it can simulate many different types of bad weather and emergency situations, providing operators with more comprehensive training.

“One trainer can manage multiple simulators, because there is no problem with safety."

Drew Caruthers, Construction and Earth Moving Product Manager at CM Labs Simulations

Simulators make trainers more efficient because they can handle larger classes.  “One trainer can manage multiple simulators, because there is no problem with safety,” Caruthers added. With the self-paced nature of simulator programs, students can advance at their own pace, so faster learners won’t be held back by others who take longer to learn. Both of these factors enable companies to get operators out to job sites faster.

VR systems can be used for training on many different types of construction equipment, making it easier to cross train employees and ensure that a company always has an operator available when it needs one.

Caruthers said that companies that have implemented VR training find that they’ve reduced their training costs and time. They’ve also had fewer people fail the practical tests because students can practice until they build their skills and confidence levels. Some companies have even found a new revenue stream by leasing out their simulators to other companies looking to train employees.

Caruthers advised companies considering a VR simulator system to look at it with fresh eyes. “Think about all the ways that you can recognize savings because of this.”

If you’re still not sure about purchasing a VR system, consider trying one out for a while. Starting in early summer, United Rentals will be renting and leasing VR simulators with programs available for forklift, counterbalance forklift and some dirt moving equipment. “We do believe that VR simulation is a great way to augment any training class,” said Foley. 


Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.

Image Credit: Ross Helen

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