Updated: Sep 7
DATE OF PROJECT: August 2020 – April 2021
The award winning SiteIT project involved collaboration between Sentireal, Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) https://www.niacro.co.uk/ and the Construction
Industry Training Board NI (CITB NI) https://www.citbni.org.uk/
alongside the Northern Ireland Prison Service. The project involved the development a software platform, containing mobile and web applications to provide vocational training in the form of construction-related Virtual Reality learning experiences to prisoners.
NIACRO aim to educate and rehabilitate offenders, and the ability to gain meaningful employment is key to rehabilitation and to the prevention of re-offending. NIACRO currently support approximately 500 people annually to build employability skills through the Working Well Programme, delivered at HMP Maghaberry.
NIACRO are aware of prisoners’ low-level essential skills - 34% of NI prisoners have literacy abilities and 51% numeracy abilities equated with nine-year-olds, 70% were not in employment before entering custody, and 49% stated they had no qualifications. Despite these statistics, there is ambition to work in construction, with prisoners keen to undertake training to obtain a Construction Skills Register (CSR) Card, which is a prerequisite for accessing construction sites in Northern Ireland.
Current CSR training is limited to class room based learning and many of the prisoners have low levels of academic attainments. With no access to technology in this Category A prison, NIACRO required a fresh, engaged learning approach combining technology with work experience in order to engage with and motivate prisoners.
Our solution involved the development of a software platform – SiteIT, to deliver immersive learning experiences and capture performance data in the absence of an internet connection, making it particularly suitable for prison-use. HMP Maghaberry is a Class A Security prison, and the portability of the Oculus Quest enables seamless transportation into a secure prison environment. Virtual Reality was chosen due to the high level of engagement, and the ability to captivate and motivate a young, male audience.
The Virtual Reality environments deliver immersive training for Level 1 Health & Safety in a construction environment, via the Oculus Quest headset. The application focuses on key areas of health and safety, including knowing the principles of risk assessment for maintain and improving H&S at work, knowing the importance of safe manual handling in the workplace, and knowing the importance of working safely at heights in the workplace. Prisoners are able to learn and test their knowledge in a stimulating and realistic immersive environment and gain virtual experience of work on a construction site.
Under the guidance of staff from CITB NI, the virtual environments were created and verified. This was assisted by actual visits to construction sites for inspiration. The learning journey starts in a ‘hub’ which resembles a foreman’s hut. Here the trainees prepare for going onto the construction site, with induction training including PPE equipment. The trainees then access each of the three zones to experience the ‘virtual building site’ and to build on their knowledge and skills relating to health and safety. Successful completion of the variety of tasks in each zone leads to a reward for the trainee at the end of the experience.
After training sessions, performance data can be extracted from the headset, and analysed by a cloud based web application. The web application visualises and presents assessments on learner performance and progress back to authorised trainers. This assists in monitoring and evaluation of individual learner journeys.
SiteIT provides an engaging tool, creating ‘real’ experience for those people in prison who lack opportunities to undertake actual work experience. The immersive environments and realistic content serve to stimulate and motivate prisoners, and encourage them towards achieving a recognised qualification in the construction industry. The benefit to learners is interactive ‘learning by doing’ not centred on literacy/numeracy skills. Statistics show that approximately 19% of prisoners re-offend within one year of release. This figure decreases in relation to those who go on to engage in meaningful employment. Employers benefit by improved work-readiness of potential employees for an industry struggling to find and retain skilled workers.
VR provides the perfect medium to engage with prisoners, and motivate them to increase their employability skills. Site It has the potential to transform vocational learning through the provision of immersive construction site experiences, with learners’ progress measured and assessed so that their skills and competence levels can be validated against industry standards.
The project, which was made possible with funding from UFI Charitable Trust, was developed in Northern Ireland prisons, and has future potential to expand into other prisons and a range of community training settings within Northern Ireland, across the UK and beyond. The opportunity exists to extend the training to include additional construction training, and other vocational programmes.
‘The project benefited from excellent working relationships and high levels of skill, commitment and professionalism from NIACRO’s partners, Sentireal and CITB NI, evidenced in our outcomes, despite the year’s limitations. The project team met monthly, and often more frequently, with in-depth discussions on application design, so expertly managed by Sentireal. Sentireal’s development team kept in regular communication, joining project meetings to seek advice and provide updates. There was no time slippage, and the product received excellent feedback from the wide range of stakeholders involved in testing it.’
Ruth Walker, Business Development Manager / Quality Assurance Manager, Working Well, NIACRO.
‘The Construction Industry Training Board Northern Ireland (CITB NI) is a statutory organisation established by an Act of Parliament in 1964, with the principal aim of encouraging the adequate training of those employed in or intending to be employed in the Northern Ireland Construction Industry.
Site IT is a wonderful example of three organisations with different skills sets combining to develop a training and assessment tool that will have far reaching benefits to its target and other audiences. NIACRO identified the need to make released prisoners more employable by local construction businesses. CITB NI brought an understanding of the NVQ and what evidence would be required as proof of competence, and Sentireal Ltd brought their experience and technical ability in the development of immersive training.
The project’s concept of providing those in prison with an opportunity to obtain the majority of a recognised National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Construction Health and Safety was welcomed enthusiastically by the CITB NI Board. They identified that this immersive software would produce trained and assessed individuals that upon their release could enter the industry and be able to operate safely without being a danger to themselves and others on site.
CITB NI have welcomed the opportunity to be part of this innovative approach to training and development and have benefited greatly working along Sentireal Ltd and their excellent developers. We have great expectations for this project and can see the format being used by a vast range of sectors and industries to provide qualifications, awareness raising, competence assessment and careers promotion.’
David Cooper MCMI, Director, CITB NI.