Building Operator Confidence Through Simulation-Based Training

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Albert Einstein once observed that: “Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.” And learning to operate heavy equipment is no different. Vocational schools and construction companies have long recognized that the most effective form of training includes a hefty dose of hands-on instruction. Too often, however, students find themselves at the controls without sufficient seat time under their belt making the jump from the classroom to the cab both intimidating and dangerous. Such an approach can cause students to become frustrated, discouraged, and drop out, which is counterproductive, as it reduces the number of potential operators.
To help close this skills gap, a growing number of vocational schools, training centers, equipment OEMs, and construction companies are incorporating simulators into their training curriculum. Simulation-based instruction allows students to make a smooth transition to equipment training in a virtual, interactive, and controlled environment. Supplementing classroom instruction with simulation builds a foundation for students before being exposed to the complexity and stress of the job site. What’s more, simulators are shown to accelerate learning, advance the student’s success rate, and improve safety – all while lowering training costs.

Accelerated Learning

In her 2017 paper “Learning from Errors” psychologist Janet Metcalfe draws a close correlation between mistakes and learning. Based on her research, Metcalf argues that students benefit significantly more from making and correcting mistakes than from avoiding them. Training simulators allow operators in training to experience limits without consequences. In the field, mistakes often prove catastrophic – on the simulator they are valuable lessons learned.
CM Labs Vortex training simulators are shown to increase subject matter retention while reducing learning time. Because students on simulators repeat exercises more quickly than their counterparts in the field, they learn faster. Many industry veterans who have implemented simulation-based training in their curriculum have stated that the difference is more than significant. In reference to training concrete pump operators on the remote box, former American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA) President and Board Member, Dennis Andrews concluded, “Mastering the remote box could take up to two months in the field; but takes just two weeks on the simulator.”
Simulation-based training easily adapts to the needs of each student. As trainees become increasingly comfortable and proficient, instructors can introduce a variety of challenging scenarios, distractions, and conditions such as loose soil, high winds, rain, snow, and so on. Additionally, simulators offer the flexibility to represent numerous equipment types including construction, maritime, material handling, and more.
Through this virtual experience, trainees enter field, or on-the-job, training well ahead of the curve.

The Cost of Inexperience

It’s no secret that heavy equipment field training comes with a hefty price tag. This includes everything from fuel consumption and maintenance to equipment rental, instructor fees, and more.
While such expenses are known variables and easily calculated, costs related to productivity, injury, and turnover are often harder to quantify. However, such expenses are very real and all too common. Research shows that:

  • Nearly half of workers comp claims come from workers with less than a year of experience
  • About 30% of these claims are from workers on the job for less than 6 months
  • 24% of construction workers are injured in their first year on the job
Comprehensive training is key to eliminating much of the cost associated with inexperienced operators. Similarly, the Construction Industry Institute (CII) states that investing in training yields a very tangible return on investment. According to CII, each dollar invested in training can generate up to a 200% return through increased productivity, and decreased turnover, absenteeism, and rework.

Safety, Stress & The Labor Crunch

Imagine the anxiety of trying to control an unstable load of logs on a crowded forestry worksite; or a novice crane operator at a busy port or, within tight urban confines. Such baptism-under-fire learning conditions can be dangerous and traumatic. A Director at a local vocational school recently expressed to me that he sees one student quit in the midst of field training each semester due to stress. This experience is contributing towards an industry-wide shortage of next-generation skilled operators.
Repeating stressful scenarios on a heavy equipment simulator mitigates risks while allowing operators to safely experience the consequences of the job. “Simulators bring the classroom to life,” explained Crane Industry Services, CEO, Debbie Dickinson. “They provide inexperienced operators with a sense of ‘OK, I’ve seen this before’ familiarity when sitting behind the controls of the actual equipment.”
Familiarity breeds success, and experience gained through simulation-based training not only improves safety and performance – but also provides the confidence to learn and perform under high-pressure situations.

A Rising Workforce

Generation Z, the next demographic of workers, appears to be rolling up their sleeves and ready for work. This generation seems to have a set of priorities that the construction industry can answer to.
Just a short time ago it appeared this demographic would be the beneficiaries of one of the healthiest economies in history – only to have the economic rug pulled out from under them. Gen Z was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. In a 2020 PEW Research Center survey, half of those ages 18-23 reported that they or someone in their household had lost a job or experienced a wage cut following the outbreak. By contrast, 40% of Millennials, 36% of Generation Xers, and 25% of Baby Boomers reported the same.
It is said that Gen Z workers will value job security and growth opportunities more than their predecessors. This tech-savvy generation has grown up with technology, they interact with it daily, and expect to use it in their work and in preparing for that career. These and other factors suggest that a new breed of equipment operators is emerging, and training will be instrumental in their recruitment, development, and success.

It's All About Experience

Today’s sophisticated machinery requires a significant amount of training. By closely replicating equipment and field conditions, CM Labs Vortex simulators allow training organizations to increase training seat time, shorten the learning curve, and lower training costs. These simulators are providing both new and veteran equipment operators with the working knowledge that comes only through experience.

Success with Simulator Training

How are leaders in the construction sector using simulators today?

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