Editor’s note: As we celebrate Infrastructure Week 2022, May 16-20, Siemens also celebrates the many technical roles that are crucial to updating and maintaining infrastructure, including electricians. Our virtual-reality (VR) software has become a teaching tool for electricians, something that we hope can expand across multiple educational channels to help train the workforce of the future. Also, please join us for a Siemens-sponsored Washington Post Live event on Thursday, May 19 for a series of conversations with top industry leaders about creating a skilled infrastructure workforce.
Keith Glenn, a professional electrician and electrical technology instructor at Northeast Tech in Afton, Oklahoma, was on the lookout for a new teaching tool. Visiting a local supplier one day in the late summer of 2021, he saw a video of Siemens virtual reality (VR) software playing on the shop television.
“I took one look at that VR technology and said, ‘How do I get that?’” Glenn said.
He soon made a connection with Sarah Glaser, a Siemens Distributor Sales Engineer, who supplied him with two VR units programmed with instructional software for beginner electricians. When he took them to his electrical-technology class, the students were thrilled.
“I can’t go buy $13,000 piece of switch gear for my students to tear apart and reassemble, and I can’t buy protective suits for every student for them to learn how to wear PPE properly,” Glenn said. “The VR gives them a look at things we don’t have in the classroom—giving us so many learning opportunities we didn’t have before. Some of my students were assembling low-voltage pieces in the VR without my help at all.”
The first VR program that Glenn’s student used offered instruction in how to decipher labels and tags on electrical panels to understand the voltage of a breaker box. Then, in the simulation, the students put on PPE for working with high voltage, and then start working on the actual panel. If they do it right, the program congratulates them.
Generally, most of my students want to be electricians, and a lot want to open their own business, so they have goals. I’m trying to get them to think ahead, career wise, because the average age of an electrician these days is 52, and that’s not someone who’s going to know how to run VR on a worksite. My kids will—they’ll be teaching the veterans.
Another VR program involved the installation of arc-fault breakers and power-surge units; the program takes the students through the crucial wiring steps.
Glenn’s electrician’s course at NE Tech generally attracts high-school juniors and seniors from the towns surrounding Afton (NE Tech has four campuses), and he says he teaches students from a variety of communities and demographics.
“Generally, most of my students want to be electricians, and a lot want to open their own business, so they have goals,” Glenn said. “I’m trying to get them to think ahead, career wise, because the average age of an electrician these days is 52, and that’s not someone who’s going to know how to run VR on a worksite. My kids will—they’ll be teaching the veterans.”
One add-on effect of using VR as a teaching tool is that Glenn’s students would take the initiative to work as a group, with two students using the VR headsets and using their visuals in the program to guide the other students through a task.
“They started teaching each other on their own,” he said. “How cool is that? There are so many instructional layers to using VR in a vocational education environment.”
Glenn also showed the VR program on a television while two students are using the headsets and coached both of them and the rest of the class through a simulation.
“That’s a major advantage for teaching safety procedures,” he said, “because safety calls for working together on a job, and the kids are learning how to work together now using the VR.”
Glenn and his students are already planning how to create instruction around forthcoming Siemens VR content that will simulate complex power-distribution equipment and e-mobility systems.
Published: May 16, 2022