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Soft skills are increasingly gaining importance in the contemporary workplace, and virtual reality can help employees improve their soft skills by placing them in lifelike simulations where they practice those skills.
As companies' upskilling needs grow, soft skills training can be particularly challenging. Virtual reality can help close this gap. VR headsets can immerse employees in a simulated environment, where avatars act out challenging situations. The VR environment enables employees to practice soft skills learning in a safe, life-like simulation. Simulation can also be more cost-effective than risking a trainee losing an account or mishandling a situation.
Here are five soft skills where companies are using VR training.
1. Emotional intelligence training
Farmers Insurance is using virtual technology to train its claims adjusters on identifying and assessing claims. But the simulations also help novice adjusters learn emotional intelligence skills, such as active listening, empathy and keeping their cool when customers get angry. All of these feed into the umbrella soft skill of emotional intelligence.
The company's VR program initially focused on teaching employees how to conduct insurance assessments on damaged residential properties but now emphasizes improving their soft skills during claims conversations in which customers may be overwhelmed or angry.
"Active listening [and] empathy skills are vital to being able to deliver that positive customer experience we're looking for," said Jessica DeCanio, head of claims training at Farmers Insurance, an insurance provider and financial services firm located in Woodland Hills, Calif.
A particularly helpful aspect of the VR training is that employees can learn at their own pace, DeCanio said.
2. Public speaking practice
Many people must deliver presentations for work, but improving public speaking skills requires practice.
VR simulations can provide an immersive public speaking experience in which speakers deliver their speech in front of a large crowd, a sparsely populated lecture room, or a more intimate office or conference room setting. The VR headset gathers data during the practice, then grades the speaker's presentation and shares tips on how they can improve.
Some platforms can integrate with the speaker's presentation materials, such as a slideshow or other visuals.
3. Leadership training development
VR can also help participants develop their leadership skills.
Leaders and leaders-in-training can participate in VR simulations of difficult one-on-one discussions or group interactions, such as meetings. Simulations include employees with varying degrees of enthusiasm, emotional intelligence and performance levels, and the trainees must respond to them in the most effective way possible.
For example, Walmart uses VR for its managers' diversity and inclusion training. Managers meet with a subordinate who has made offensive remarks and must discuss why the behavior is a problem and how the employee can improve. Doing so improves managers' soft skills, since they are practicing leading a difficult conversation.
4. Employee skill level testing
VR can help supervisors measure employees' skill levels before giving them new responsibilities.
For example, new sales employees at HPE Financial Services interact with a customer simulation and managers evaluate their performance. The managers then assign employees to different levels of training based on the employees' VR results. If a new employee performed particularly well during the simulation, they may receive permission to skip a few levels of training.
5. Job candidate soft skill evaluation
VR can also help hiring managers screen job candidates. During the interview process, a recruiter can ask job applicants to participate in VR simulations so the recruiter can evaluate the candidates' soft skills.
For example, if the candidate is applying for a managerial position, the recruiter could ask the candidate to participate in a simulation that recreates a difficult one-on-one conversation with a direct report. The recruiter can then decide if the candidate is skilled enough to take on the position.