It’s no secret that the construction industry has felt the pinch of lack of skilled labor both since the Great Recession and the beginning retirement of the Baby Boomers. In an era where unemployment numbers have been at historic lows, construction companies have had a difficult time filling positions.
In an article in the New York Times, Ben Eakes of Eutaw Construction Company states: “We’ve gone through the grandfathers and the fathers, and now we are at the generation of the sons, and a lot of the sons aren’t wanting to do this type of work.”
Seventy five percent of construction companies reported that they’re having a hard time filling skilled labor positions, and a recent study showed that it was the number one concern of 30% of those companies. So the companies are trying a new tactic to get the generation that grew up playing video games to get interested in construction: simulators.
A trend in simulation games has been rising in recent years, especially in mobile gaming, where titles like Construction Simulator, Farming Simulator, and American Truck Simulator have been turning work into entertainment. But new portable simulators, installed at community colleges, job fairs, and other recruitment events, have been taking the simulation to a whole new level—imagine the cockpit of a flight simulator, but for an excavator or a bulldozer, and you’ll get the idea.
The simulators, which cost around $80,000, are used to train and excite new talent. They operate just like a real machine would: a trainee must turn a key, increase the throttle speed, engage the hydraulic lock and buckle their seatbelt. The simulators use physics and collision engines to make the experience even more real.
“I was on the excavator and digging a trench, and I got stuck a little bit, and it jerks you like you’re stuck,” one student told the New York Times. “You actually feel the chair moving when you pull the dirt.”
That student, after using the simulator which has 360-degree Oculus Rift virtual reality, has said that after spending just seven hours “playing,” he has decided to pursue a career in heavy machinery.
This year Kraemer Trucking and Excavating, along with Ziegler Cat, took a trailer of simulators to a local high school as a recruiting tool, and has hired some of the students who have tried out their excavator, bulldozer, and road grader. The fact that the median income for heavy equipment operators is $46,000 without an advanced degree isn’t lost on these teens, either.
Drew Caruthers of director of training solutions at DM Labs, said that it took time for technology to advance to the point where these simulators were cost effective for construction companies, but they now provide a substantial return on investment.