VCC student, Ahmed Mohsin holding the virtual reality headset he used to practice his job interview skills.
Participating in job interviews can be stressful. For Ahmed Mohsin, who is currently enrolled in Vancouver Community College's (VCC) Automotive Collision and Refinishing program, learning the skills to do the job was one thing. Impressing a potential employer in a job interview was another. He was eager to practice the communications skills that would help him land a job as an auto body technician once he graduates.
He signed up to participate in VCC’s innovative virtual reality (VR) pilot project that uses a blend of artificial intelligence (AI) and VR as a way to practice job interview skills and to help students transition into the job market.
“[It] allowed us to gain experience in giving job interviews without having the pressure of a real job on the line,” says Ahmed.
The project was launched last fall after VCC and local software company Virtro received the exciting news from Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL) that they were the successful recipients of $335,000 in program development funding. The funding enabled the college to provide 200 students, like Ahmed, with an Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset pre-installed with two VR programs developed by Virtro: BeConfident and LincLingo. The programs generate thousands of different scenarios for students to master discipline-specific interview skills, practice communication skills, and ultimately, bridge the gap between classroom and the workplace.
“CEWIL Canada is pleased to support innovative WIL experiences for students at Vancouver Community College where students have been able to receive financial support and recognition for their WIL experience,” says Charlene Marion, Director WIL at CEWIL Canada. “Funds such as these aim to eliminate barriers to WIL and increase access for all post-secondary students.”
The results of the pilot project were encouraging. The vast majority of students found the tool beneficial for working on interview skills and more than two-thirds of participants reported feeling less anxious about job interviews. Seventy-eight percent of participants expressed interest in having access to the tool before going to a real interview.
Adds Ahmed, “I was faced with questions that I hadn’t come across before. [I]f it wasn’t for the [virtual reality] headset, I would not be able to answer the questions comfortably in a real-world situation. I was able to do all of this just from the comfort of my own home, which was super helpful.”
According to the 2022 BC Labour Market Outlook, there will be one million job openings in the province during the next 10 years. The top two skills employers are looking for is active listening and speaking. This collaborative project focusses on building skills which enables students to feel more confident in their ability to communicate and listen. As a result, students will be able to transition into the labour market much faster.
“Knowing what to expect and being able to practice interview skills in a realistic and immersive environment is a huge confidence builder for students,” says Brett Griffiths, VCC’s Dean, School of Trades, Technology, and Design. “It also gives VCC and Virtro the opportunity to make improvements for future students and users. It’s a winning scenario for everyone involved and we’re grateful for our partnership with Virtro and support from CEWIL Canada that made this possible for VCC students.”
VCC boasts a diverse student population with more than 50 languages other than English spoken at home. Many of these students are also Canadian newcomers: 41% of students have lived in Canada for five years or less. The 2022 Labour Market Outlook also indicated that 38% of the high-demand jobs are expected to be filled by immigrants. Many newcomers look to VCC to pursue post-secondary education, as the college offers English language pathway programs as stand alone programs or as part of professional/trades training. This project is another step in VCC’s commitment to developing initiatives that are reflective of its diverse student population and its ongoing work of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“We pride ourselves in being the first choice for innovative, experiential post-secondary learning,” says Ajay Patel, VCC’s president and CEO. “By using virtual reality methods like BeConfident and LincLingo, we are able to create a realistic simulation for our learners so they can practice responding to a virtual human and receive immediate feedback to develop tangible skills employers are seeking. We are also committed to ensuring that everyone in VCC’s community is future ready, whether they just arrived in Canada or have lived here their entire life.”
“Transitioning from school to work can be challenging, particularly for young people from under-represented groups, such as newcomers,” adds Marci Ien, Canadian Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth. "Through CEWIL, more meaningful and inclusive learning opportunities can be created by leveraging technology. Investments such as these will lead students, across many fields of study and from a diversity of backgrounds, to rewarding careers and a brighter future."
This same commitment to diversity and inclusion also resonates with Virtro. The female-founded company’s workforce includes more than 50% of individuals who are newcomers to Canada and 50% of its developers are female.
“This is such an exciting project. International students are often disadvantaged in the job market,” adds Jordan Brighton, Virtro Technology’s CEO and CTO. “This pilot program aims to fast-track spoken language skills and job readiness preparation by delivering personalised experiential training and practice sessions for each student.”
This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work Integrated Learning program and CEWIL Canada’s iHUB.
About CEWIL Canada
Since 1973, CEWIL Canada members from post-secondary institutions across the country have worked in partnership to develop resources to promote the highest quality of post-secondary work-integrated learning programs. This is achieved through a national forum of professional WIL practitioners by establishing national standards and promoting the value of post-secondary work-integrated learning and by delivering opportunities for learning and sharing of best practices.
CEWIL Canada's mission is to build the capacity to develop future-ready students and graduates through quality work-integrated learning. Visit cewilcanada.ca.
About Virtro Technology Inc.
Virtro develops competency-based immersive training simulations for Virtual Reality and browser-based platforms. Virtro’s learning applications foster unparalleled levels of engagement through open dialogue with Virtual Humans (AI characters) powered by their proprietary conversation engine. This delivers measurably faster and more focused learning experience with higher retention rates of information and replicable skills. The ability to actually converse with Virtual Humans takes the learning experience to a whole new level.
Incorporating an Evidence-based Evaluation Framework to provide detailed metrics and analytics to demonstrate competency delivers quality training that is results-focused and proves compliance. Virtro is a female-led, socially conscious, diverse and inclusive technology company. Visit virtro.ca.
About Vancouver Community College
Vancouver Community College (VCC) has been inspiring students to reach their career and educational goals for over 55 years, offering post-secondary training in over 140 programs including bachelor's degrees, diplomas, certificates, and apprenticeships. With two campuses located Downtown and in East Vancouver, students receive hands-on instruction in culinary arts, business, design, health sciences, hospitality management, transportation trades, music, and more. Visit vcc.ca.
About the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Intergraded Learning Initiative
The Innovative Work-Integrated Learning (I-WIL) Initiative is part of the Student Work Placement Program. I-WIL, unlike traditional WIL opportunities, broadens the scope by providing new types of learning and short-term experiences to allow students to apply their skills to a work-related problem, without necessarily being in a physical work location.
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