How virtual reality is changing UPS employee training

Learn how UPS drivers and in-house workers are benefiting from training through virtual reality.

How virtual reality is changing UPS employee training
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In part four of our five-part series about UPS, TechRepublic's Karen Roby talked with John Bowers, director of learning technology at UPS, and Rob Papetti, of Network Planning Tools at UPS, to discuss the company's use of virtual reality (VR). The following is an edited transcript of their conversation, which was conducted in December 2019.

Download the entire series: Inside UPS: The logistics company's digital transformation is never-ending (free PDF) 

Karen Roby: Virtual reality allows for real-world experiences without danger to employees and the general public. This type of training is especially helpful for logistics companies like UPS, where workers are in fast-paced settings inside the hub and out on the road, behind the wheel.
The brown trucks seen crisscrossing neighborhoods throughout the country are the most visible, well-known members of the UPS fleet. While drivers are taught safety measures on the road, a good bit of their training is now taking place inside a headset.

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AR and VR tests employees' skills before putting them behind the wheel.

Image: Derek Poore/TechRepublic


John Bowers: So, now he's at a stoplight. This is one where you can do left clear, right clear, left clear. Left clear. Wait until your light turns green. There you go.

We always want our drivers to look left, right, left, at every intersection. You can see we validated that with the checkboxes as well.

Karen Roby: John Bowers' team implemented the UPS-built VR training program in 2017. It's now been rolled out to all 10 domestic and two international UPS integrated sites.

John Bowers: I think what virtual reality brings to training is a very engaging experience. It's interesting for most people, as it is newer technology, and it also enables us to put people in a variety of scenarios and have them learn in those scenarios. Now, I do want to point out that we still value people driving behind the wheel--that's the way we validate that people can actually handle a vehicle safely.

Karen Roby: VR isn't just helpful on the road... it's now being used to train the people who work inside UPS. The UPS sorting facilities cover millions of square miles. The conveyor belts inside resemble a mind-boggling maze, and with more than 400,000 packages flowing through per hour, mistakes just can't happen.

Rob Papetti: Cameras are reading from every side and catching each package. You saw it at the beginning where we were spacing the packages, then we were simulating the packages. Now, we're reading the label, and getting the dimensions and the weight of each piece that moves through.

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Jon Bowers, director of learning technology for UPS, explains what drivers see through a VR headset. 

Image: Derek Poore

Karen Roby: Because packages of varying size and weight are moving through at top speed, handlers have to be trained on how to properly identify problems before they happen.

John Bowers: [A training worker is] going to demonstrate some of those as things come down the lines. There are certain packages that need to be pulled off because they don't sort as well--for example, the round tubing, so we make sure we pull those off, so they can sort the correct way. He's also going to look for any packages that might be open, so we have an opportunity to correct that upstream, packages that don't belong, particularly if the labels are flipped. So, he's going to flip the labels up, so that the automatic sorter can be successful as well. If you can see here, he is using his hands along with the hand controllers and his headset. And then again, just like in our others, he's given a score. It's telling him a little bit about how many different objects came down that he should have handled and how properly he handled them.

Karen Roby: I even took a shot at sorting the packages. The atmosphere inside the headset is incredibly clear and lifelike. And it's not as easy as it may seem. Bowers says the team plans to roll out more VR training programs to other parts of the business in the near future.

John Bowers: It allows us to create a very consistent, repeatable training product. We can create that training and develop it, or deploy it across all of our operations, and we ensure that all of our employees are getting the same opportunity. Our trainers now are not as burdened with being consistent, and can focus more on specifics of their operations. It also allows us, again, to train people before they're actually in jobs. We're going to continue to do on-the-job training, as we always have, but this gives us one more opportunity to teach some of those valuable lessons before we put people into our operations.

Read our entire UPS series

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