“Virtual” is now a TVET training reality in North Macedonia

When mishandling equipment can cause damages or even fatal accidents, investment into quality training is indispensable. This holds especially true for electrotechnical professions. In North Macedonia, the ILO and partners introduced for the first time a virtual reality training for 300 future electrotechnicians in five vocational schools across the country.

Complex and potentially dangerous operations, such as handling a high-voltage electric panel, require precise knowledge and skilled practice. Virtual reality (VR) offers a risk-free training environment. But how can VR be effectively integrated into the operation of TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) schools?

The ILO project developed a VR application for electro-technic and electronic occupations that allow for innovative and immersive learning. In the virtual environment, work processes can be precisely simulated. The application transfers TVET students into a digital factory floor or construction site and helps them practice protection at work, moving in settings with high voltage levels, work with tools and instruments, identify simulated defects and remove them. This new form of training offers two key advantages. Young graduates will be sooner able to work independently. Employers will have to invest less time and money for onsite instructions.

The project called Virtual Reality Skills Lab was piloted in 2021 in five secondary vocational schools in the towns of Skopje, Ohrid, Kumanovo, Veles and Strumica. Implementing partner was the Center for Social Innovation BLINK 42/21, a renown Macedonian NGO working on innovations in public services including education. A crucial element of the pilot was a skills needs analysis conducted with companies in the electrical industries. The Organization of Employers of Macedonia and the TVET schools that train for these companies also contributed to the design of the VR. This allowed to identify critical work processes in areas where students need better skills and more practical training.

Once the applications were designed, schools were equipped with VR headsets and computers. The first ones to step into virtual reality were the teachers. Understanding a new technology is critical for effectively integrating it into the teaching process. This also proved to be a welcome opportunity for the teaching staff to upgrade their skills. “Information technology is our reality. If we want to move forward, we must use it properly and productively. Only by stressing the positive aspects of digitalization, technology and IT devices, they can be utilized for good causes”, say Milan Tancheski and Zorica Velkovska, co-founders of the Center for Social Innovation BLINK 42 /21.

With the help of the VR modules TVET students get a clearer, visual perspective of what they are learning in theory. Involving multimedia materials and interactive methods in the training process makes teaching more experiential – and also more fun for both students and teachers. This is more appealing for the “digital native” generations and contributes to making vocational schools a more attractive option. The 15 teachers and their 300 students were enthusiastic and advocated for extending the VR technology into all secondary vocational education streams.

The Virtual Reality Skills Lab is a project designed by the Center for Social Innovation BLINK 42/21, which in 2020 was selected as a finalist in Europe in the ILO Global Skills Challenge  featuring 473 projects from 100 countries.