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Changemakers: ExxonMobil’s Innovative Approach to Training Employees for Today and Tomorrow

Learning and development leaders push the boundaries of technology to save time, money — and lives.

The pressure to find better, more efficient ways to train employees is nothing new. High-quality training experiences enable employees, and companies overall, to be more ambitious, innovative, and resilient. Those are important capabilities during boom times and economic downturns alike.

Fortunately, immersive learning tools are unlocking innovative ways to deliver training. These technologies have distinct advantages over traditional corporate training options. Among other things, they’re more cost-effective and they’re easier to scale — making them especially appealing to companies that need to train large numbers of frontline and entry-level workers.

ExxonMobils Athicha Dhanormchitphong and Kyle Daughtry understand the value of immersive learning better than most. Both Athicha, who goes by M, and Kyle were fundamental to the creation of the Immersive Technology Studio and played a pivotal role in exposing the Digital Garage operations at ExxonMobil’s headquarters in Houston. Due to their unique and complementary skill sets, interests, and responsibilities, Kyle and M continue to play integral roles in creating a vision for the Studio, setting strategy, and making product development plans.

In 2018, M, an immersive technology architect at ExxonMobil, was focused on finding ways to use immersive learning technology to better train the company’s employees. Specifically, he was interested in custom-building a simulation that could help engineers in training learn how to inspect the company’s vessels without having to travel to a location in the field for on-site training. In addition to saving time and money by cutting down on the need for travel, the simulation was groundbreaking because it allowed for engineers to learn how to do potentially high consequence tasks in a safe and controlled environment, and it provided the trainees with a true sense of the size and scale of the vessels they would one day be working on. The project’s success contributed to the company’s decision to launch the Immersive Technology Studios unit, an internal ExxonMobil IT organization that manages business demand for immersive technology.

A first-of-its-kind initiative, Immersive Technology Studios is focused on using virtual reality, mixed reality, and hyperreality technologies to help ExxonMobil save time, money, and ultimately lives. The team has primarily focused on training thus far, because ExxonMobil has many employees who work in the field doing dangerous jobs that require a lot of practice. The products coming out of the Studio allow employees to use immersive technologies to perform realistic simulations of potentially dangerous tasks without putting themselves or the equipment at risk. With that type of training, they know exactly how to do things as safely as possible once they’re out on the job.

When M and Kyle first met, before ExxonMobil had created Immersive Technology Studios, they found that they had a shared passion for using immersive technologies for good. M was focused on expanding the use cases for augmented reality, whereas Kyle was focused on the value of virtual reality beyond entertainment. The two formed a valuable partnership based on their mutual understanding of the immersive technology landscape and their recognition of the technology’s potential.

Kyle works as a solutions architect on the team and is responsible for identifying the short-term road maps and strategies for implementations of existing technologies. In contrast, M focuses on the future of IT and the incubation of new ideas.

“If there is a capability that already exists within the service, then [Kyle’s] team will handle the demand,” M explained. “If there is a business demand with a capability that does not exist, then that’s where I come in to prove out the concept. Consider Kyle as the present and I am the future…. Within this emerging field, the present and future can coexist.”

Over the past few years, the Immersive Technology Studios team has grown to include a group of talented and passionate people focused on the fine line between research and product implementation. Both M and Kyle jointly collaborate on research and product development. They’re able to successfully create and deploy effective solutions because their shared vision and passion creates a synergy that enables them to communicate and collaborate with ease.

In light of the success of the training tools the team at the studio has created, Kyle and M began to think about other ways to use immersive systems and they realized that the technology could facilitate collaboration across a global company.

As Kyle explained “We have heard some stories within the industry that led us to the mission of harnessing the power of immersive technology for good. Along the way, we realized there is value in visualizing assets, data, and connections with people beyond the training scenarios. We really see these sets of tools taking you through the life cycle of designing, creating, maintaining, and supporting all projects. It is the cross-section of real and digital that enables the biggest long-term potential.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re both working from home these days, but they haven’t slowed down.

“COVID hasn’t changed our strategy and, if anything, it has increased the need for better ways to train and collaborate” Kyle said.

M expanded on that idea. “It hasn’t changed our strategy for providing better tools to train our field operators — safety is as critical as ever,” he said. “This unusual time has also allowed us to expand into areas beyond training where immersive technology shines as much, if not more. Model reviews, remote assistance, and collaboration have been important topics right now, where our business is driving demand and seeing value.”

Wherever the Immersive Technology Studios team goes next and whatever they develop, M and Kyle will be at the center, considering how immersive technology can best benefit employees and the business through training, collaboration, and capabilities not yet imagined.

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JFF (Jobs for the Future) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States.

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