Updated: May 26
The NIHE is the strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland. A main aim of the NIHE is that ‘everyone has access to decent, affordable housing.’ NIHE employ approximately 3000 staff and are committed to continuous staff training and development. As experienced staff retire or move on, there is a need for knowledge transfer to ensure that staff are equipped to deliver and maintain a high level of services. All services, including training, need to be delivered on a value for money basis, and to be constantly reviewed and updated.
The NIHE currently are responsible for approximately 86 500 dwellings. The main functions of the NIHE include regular examination of housing conditions and housing requirements, and to effect the improvement of the condition of the housing stock. This remit falls in Landlord Services Division.
Historically, routine inspections are carried out manually, with forms and reports filled in by maintenance officers on site visits to properties. These reports are passed on to third party subcontractors who will complete any necessary repairs. The NIHE are required to implement staff training procedures to ensure that staff are equipped to deliver an optimal level of services. One such training requirement is a software tool to train maintenance officers to assess repair requirements in properties. The NIHE needed a software training tool to standardise inspection procedures at properties. This training tool needed to provide realistic housing conditions in order to prepare staff before they visit actual properties. Staff need to have the opportunity to learn about common repairs in a variety of house types. They need to be able to practice identifying defects and deciding whether or not they warrant a repair before recording these requirements.
To meet NIHE’s goals, Sentireal proposed the development of a software platform which would deliver immersive learning. This involved liaison with NIHE staff regarding the definition of the desired learning outcomes and the provision of content/media for the learning tool.
Virtual reality content and experiences were developed to take trainees through common repair scenarios encountered by maintenance officers during inspections. This involved initial capture of 360 camera footage at selected locations throughout Northern Ireland, along with the creation of a software platform which included this content and delivered the immersive learning. Additionally, the application included the ability to record repair requirements. The immersive learning was delivered via Samsung VR headgear. Learners use the application to identify and label faults in virtual settings in a variety of properties, and their progress is monitored and reported back at the end of the session.
Phase I of the project demonstrated that the development of the software platform would greatly assist training provision, offering the opportunity to introduce new immersive learning experiences via virtual reality technology. Immersive training is already widely used in areas as diverse as healthcare, military, warehouse training, and sports development.
Benefits identified from the initial phase of the project included the ability to train maintenance officers in virtual settings, rather than having to use actual vacant properties. Due to long waiting lists, as soon as properties are vacated, NIHE endeavour to turn them around quickly and rehouse tenants, rather than having properties out of action. Additionally, the project provides cost saving measures for training as the training is less time consuming, and trainee progress can be continually monitored and visualised to the training manager.
Staff identified the opportunity to proceed to Phase II of the project, to extend the learning scenarios. NIHE intend to develop a dedicated VR suite for training maintenance officers, using high specification hardware to deliver the application.
TESTIMONIAL FROM MARK STOKER
‘Having worked in conjunction with Sentireal over the past few months developing the VR training platform for NIHE staff - throughout this period I have found them to be very helpful, supportive, keen to assist and willing to go that extra mile to find a solution. I would highly recommend this company.’