Economy

VR For HR: Virtual Reality As A Tangible Tool For Human Resources

Latin American firms are joining others around the world testing Virtual and Augmented Reality solutions in personnel recruitment and training.

A man wearing a virtual reality headset from Argentinian company Covrel.
A man wearing a virtual reality headset from Argentinian company Covrel.
Gabriela Samela

BUENOS AIRES — The image of someone wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset immediately makes you think they're playing games. Yet immersive simulation is now being used to recreate a work environment where present or future employees can learn, practice and train for work.

While simulation technology is used more frequently for operations or the security sector, in Argentina some firms are using it to manage human resources: in selection processes and in staff inductions and training.

VR is part of an "experimental learning methodology," says Tomás Malio, CEO of Covrel, a firm that develops VR solutions. It "lets people retain much more information than grabbing and reading a document," he says.

The reason why learning this way is more effective is because it is about "perceiving, feeling and doing," says Malio. He calls it "active learning that allows you to retain between 90 and 95% of the information, because you can actively experience it."

A key characteristic of VR is its ability to simulate "situations at a highly realistic level while the user is interacting in a safe space and receiving constant feedback," says Gabriel Pereyra, CEO of Modo Beta, a management consultancy. It is ideal for situations where insufficient training could prove highly dangerous to the employee, for example where they handle heavy machinery, repair high-voltage equipment or work in potentially toxic environments. Pereyra calls this a "new paradigm in learning, immersive learning."

Some VR developments are also focusing on recruitment or as Malio says, as part of "assessment methodology."

Assessment is used in group interviews that include role-playing and other methods to see how candidates react to situations. All this can be done in a simulated environment. VR can also be used to introduce a new employee to a firm's culture. Beermakers Cervecería y Maltería Quilmes have developed, with Malio's Covrel, a VR experience where recruits "tour" their premises and get a sense of how it feels to work in its emblematic brewery in Quilmes in the capital.

The experience was created in 2019 and the firm wanted a headset per workcenter. But the pandemic changed that, says María Guadalupe Narvaja, head of the firm's Culture and People Experience, and "we opted for cardboard goggles that let you circulate with a phone application."

virtual_reality_headset

VR can also be used to introduce a new employee to a firm's culture. — Photo: Fauxels

The virtual tour of the firm became "our ally," she said, when people had to work from home. Narvaja says "it's impressive how well virtual reality and the experience are connected. Those who have done it not only know the firm like they had toured it, but also get to know the brewing process and history of Quilmes."

These tools cost money, but Narvaja says "their returns are high at all levels: in terms of learning, because when you do something you really grasp it, but also to democratize opportunities in firms with considerable geographical expansion."

She says Quilmes could use the technology into other areas, "like learning to make beer. I don't know how the new normal will be but I think we're going toward multi-platform experiences because we don't all learn the same way."

The postal firm DHL has in past years accelerated use of multiple technologies to its processes, including using augmented reality (AR) glasses in warehouse management and VR in staff training.

It can change the nature of virtual meetings.

In South America, DHL uses VR for inductions. With tours and games, new workers are immersed in an interactive platform on the firm and its operations. The firm says this boosts their interest and work efficiency.

AR is used to show staff the difference between urgent and standard deliveries, the right import and export documents, agents' functions and responsibilities and procedures for following up, receiving and charging for packages.

Alberto Oltra, head of DHL Global Forwarding for Spanish-speaking Latin America, calls VR training "a more collaborative, innovative and efficient experience." And he says the technology is increasingly important not just for training but also to present products or empower customers.

Globant, a digital solutions firm, has created VR prototypes in the pandemic "for internal use, to measure the state of the art and see how it would work," for example for virtual group meetings, says its Technology chief Gonzalo Ordeix. He says VR is presently used in sectors like aeronautics or to train factory staff, which are areas where training itself is risky, "or to travel to places that are inaccessible personally."

Ordeix says VR is in its early stages in Latin America, but "has begun and will keep evolving," particularly in hardware. "Current headsets are fairly uncomfortable and we're also limited by the bandwidth. We're not ready yet for the 360 degrees video streaming."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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