Polaris MEP mini grant to fund VR pilot for student exploration of manufacturing careers

PROVIDENCE – Polaris MEP has announced that it is one of seven manufacturing extension partnership centers in the U.S. to win an America Works mini grant.

The money will fund a virtual reality pilot program to encourage exploration of manufacturing careers, said Lindsey Brickle, senior workforce programs manager for Polaris MEP, in a statement.

As part of the program, VR headsets will be used to give students a career exploration experience that can include simulations of jobs in robotics, assembly, quality assurance and other roles.

“The exciting thing about this initiative is the way we’re partnering with Rhode Island’s leading career and technical education programs,” Brickle said. “We’ll bring VR headsets to the CTE, and their students can immerse themselves in today’s high-tech, high-skilled manufacturing jobs without ever leaving the classroom.”

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The VR headsets are provided by and linked to Career Success services from TRANSFR VR. TRANSFR partners with industry and education to address the growing skills gap. One module lets students try on-the-job tasks linked to manufacturing careers. If a student gets excited about a specific job, other VR modules immerse them in training simulations that develop skills valued by future employers, according to Polaris MEP.

Higher skill retention has been linked with immersive training, as opposed to other training methods, Polaris MEP said, such as slide presentations.

The mini grant supports one of several Polaris MEP efforts to develop a pipeline of talent for jobs going unfilled in Rhode Island, while reducing cost and risk for employers in the state. Polaris MEP is an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

National Initiative America Works coordinates the manufacturing industry’s efforts to generate a more capable, skilled and diverse workforce.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.