Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale Aviation Technology program, Man-Tra-Con and a developer of virtual reality education systems are teaming up to help train future aircraft mechanics and help attract individuals to the field.
Part of a $ 1.2 million grant from the US Department of Labor’s Delta Regional Authority is used to develop virtual reality simulations based on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Aircraft Maintenance Training Program .
“What we’re doing is developing a whole library of virtual reality simulations that students in our program can use to help train the practical skills required for an aircraft maintenance technician,” explained Karen Johnson, Associate Professor at the SIU. Aviation Technology Department.
Johnson said the simulations, being developed by virtual reality start-up TRANSFR, are also a recruiting tool.
“All secondary schools in the region that have a vocational and technical education program can also use these simulations in their curricula. It might be like an introductory tool to the profession, but it’s also a good recruiting tool for SIU to show these students some of the career paths and introduce them to how to maintain aircraft. Children can see it rather than hearing someone talking about it, ”she said.
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Her role in development is similar to that of a subject matter expert, focusing on content delivered through an Oculus virtual reality headset and manual controllers.
“While these are by no means meant to replace hands-on real-world experience, they are a stepping stone or bridge between what you will learn in the classroom and your entry into the hangar,” Johnson said.
Johnson called VR training a “safe” area where skills can be practiced without danger of injury or even embarrassment.
“For a student who has never been exposed to these kinds of skills and content, it can be intimidating to try this in front of their peers,” she explained. “With VR it’s one-on-one, by themselves and if they’re wrong, they’re not really wrong.”
She said the system, which is being used on a trial basis at several high schools in the area, also gives students access they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“This is a great practice for students who don’t have an airplane, so they can have experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.
Kathy Lively, CEO of the region’s workforce development organization Man-Tra-Con, said the system gives students exposure to new technologies as well as possible career paths.
“One of the things we hope is that high school students across the region will see aspects of SIU and careers that they didn’t even know existed. If we can increase their learning with it, we can get them excited about the program, ”she said.
Lively and Johnson said that in addition to better training current aviation students and helping recruit new students to the program, the simulations are designed to help strengthen the workforce and the economy of the region.
“There is a growing demand from the industry, even here at the southern Illinois airport,” she said.
“Our goal is that these can help a person be ready to go to work with some of the employers who come in. We hope that some of these students will stay tuned after graduation and that we can help tackle the “brain drain” for our region. It will give them the opportunity to stay here, ”said Lively.