This Virtual Reality Company Is Changing How North Dakota Is Developing Its Workforce

Written by: Brady Drake

Anyone who has ever job shadowed or taken an in-person tour of a bustling place of work can tell you about the value of those experiences. Following an employee through a day of their professional life or even catching a snippet of crucial work being done can open up a young person to explore a career path they might not have previously. For high demand jobs, tours and shadowing experiences are crucial to filling open positions. However, they are not always feasible for prospective employees. Be More Colorful, a local virtual reality company is working to change that by changing the world of workforce recruitment.

Having previously made 360-degree tours for real estate and tourism. Be More Colorful’s foray into workforce recruitment began when CEO Matt Chaussee presented to the North Dakota Work Development Council in June of 2019. After the presentation, Chaussee was approached by council members Don Shilling, the Chairman of General Equipment & Supplies (GES), and Jason Ehlert, the president of the North Dakota Building Trades Union (NDBTU), about partnerships to improve career awareness and recruitment in their specific fields.

The Partnership With General Equipment and Supplies

The partnership with General Equipment and Supplies’ arose out of a  desire to address a number of high-demand jobs they were attempting to fill. So far, Be More Colorful and GES have completed two recruiting videos, one for Diesel Technicians and the other for Aggregate Equipment Service Technicians. They’re also working on a third video for Parts Persons.

Matt Chaussee (left) and Don Shilling (right) developed a partnership after a North Dakota Workforce Development Council meeting.
Matt Chaussee (left) and Don Shilling (right) developed a partnership after a North Dakota Workforce Development Council meeting.

All of the videos allow the viewer a 360-degree view of professionals working in the field. The videos highlight key points in an employees’ day while providing voice-overs that explain the tasks that are being completed by the employee.

“For a period of time, a student that puts on the virtual reality goggles is in our industry,” said Shilling. “They can see what’s going on and what a day in the life of a technician might look like if they decide to pursue that kind of career.”

Because of Shilling’s role with the Workforce Development Council, which outlined 36 things that needed to be improved to address the state’s workforce challenges in a report released in October of 2018, GES gets the larger importance of not just recruiting to fill positions now, but improving career awareness.

“One of the number one things we highlighted in that report was a need for better career exploration in kids K-12,” said Shilling.

The career awareness piece is huge for GES. They aren’t just trying to fill jobs right now by recruiting people who are already diesel technicians or aggregate equipment technicians, they’re demonstrating the interesting challenges of these jobs and how they might translate into an interesting long term careers in an industry the viewer may have never considered before. They hope to accomplish this by showing the recruitment videos at local schools and job fairs. Ann Pollert, the company’s Director of Workforce Development, is responsible for representing GES at these functions around the state and she says the VR videos have made a huge difference

A student watches the virtual reality video.
A student watches the virtual reality video.

Before working with Be More Colorful, GES used the same tactics at career fairs and schools as every other company. They relied on brochures, pamphlets and banners to try and grab the attention of adults and children that walk around with supercomputers in their pockets.

“It’s relatively new and not a lot of companies have virtual reality goggles at career fairs so it makes kids want to come to me. Whereas before, it was hard to engage kids,” said Pollert. “In the past, it was all about who had the best giveaway.”

With such a need for better career exploration at the K-12 level, both GES and Be More Colorful believe that private companies have to start getting involved for there to be a permanent and substantial change in the workforce.

Pollert presents to a class before showing General Equipment and Supplies’ 360-degree videos to the students.
Pollert presents to a class before showing General Equipment and Supplies’ 360-degree videos to the students.

“Collaborations like this have to happen if things are going to change,” said Chaussee. “We can’t just talk about change and do the same thing.”

The career fairs and schools that GES attended prior to using the virtual reality goggles,  highlighted a gap in the relay of information between the company and the people that they spoke with. When Pollert explained to them that their diesel technicians work on bulldozers, wheel loaders and excavators, the prospective employees couldn’t quite see what that experience looked like. Now, with Be More Colorful virtual reality videos, they can. GES hopes that the ability to see will get the people they talk to excited about a career in diesel.

When you’re speaking to a student about a career in diesel, it’s hard to know what they visualize,” said Pollert. “Are they thinking of a mechanic shop? I don’t know. Now, I can ask them if they want to see it and show it to them.”

The Process of Bringing VR to Life

Chaussee, worked directly with the team at GES to develop each of the three videos. The storyboarding process for each of the videos started by finding answers to each of the following questions:

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve? Who are your audiences?
  2. Could you walk me through the common types of tasks an individual in this career regularly performs?
  3. What challenges and misconceptions do you encounter when visiting with people who have not had an opportunity to directly observe this career?

After identifying these things with GES, Chaussee got to work creating a script with the team before shooting a video with his specialized camera. 

“After filming is complete, the multiple video feeds captured by the camera need to be stitched together into a single spherical video,” said Chaussee. “There are several specialized VR software applications utilized in this process, but post processing also occurs in standard video editing software such as Adobe Premier Pro and After Effects. Drafts are approved and revised through a client feedback and review process that ensures the desired experience is conveyed in a manner that authentically represents the career.”

One of the strong points of the job shadowing opportunity that the VR experience provides is its ability to dispel misconceptions that the viewer might have about the job going into the viewing. For example, the diesel mechanic recruitment video starts with the diesel mechanic seated at his computer.

“We very purposefully start off at the computer because there’s this misconception that a diesel mechanic is going to be up to their elbows in grease all day long and actually the first thing you do is check telemetry that is coming off of satellites for machines that you’re supporting all the way around the world,” said Chaussee.

The videos don’t just break down misconceptions, they also provide awareness about careers that people might not have even known about.

“There are students across the state that might have a great skill set for  and a genuine interest in diesel but they haven’t been introduced to the career, don’t know it exists or what it might look like,” said Pollert.

The Partnership with the North Dakota Building Trades Union

Chaussee and Jason Ehlert shot video from atop the Block 9 construction site in downtown Fargo.
Chaussee and Jason Ehlert shot video from atop the Block 9 construction site in downtown Fargo.

Chausee’s second partnership that was developed at the Workforce Development Council meeting was with Jason Ehlert, the president of the North Dakota Building Trades Union (NDBTU).

“The problem I’ve always had is showing a student what an Ironworker is. They think ‘well, an Ironworker works with iron,” said Ehlert. “Well, no, they’re the ones that build the guts to a skyscraper. They’re responsible for everything that holds a building up. We need to figure out how to show that.”

Ehlert is now working with Be More Colorful to show it. In fact, Chausee is in the midst of developing an application for the NDBTU that will host 15 one minute videos, one for each of 15 trade unions under the NDBTU umbrella.

Ehlert believes that the previous use of pamphlets and videos for career awareness in the trades wasn’t getting it done. 

“When Matt spoke at the council meeting, I realized that this is exactly what we’ve been missing. It has been good to get to show kids what they really get to do in the trades,” said Ehlert. “We build roads, bridges, skyscrapers, power plants, refineries, and nuclear power plants. All these kinds of things are hard to show through traditional videos and pamphlets.”

Like GES, Ehlert believes that the virtual reality videos offer a way to reach a much larger audience.

“If you have 15 virtual reality goggles set up for kids to look, one for each of the trades, you’re going to get so many more eyes in front of your professions as opposed to if we were able to just offer jobsite tours,” said Ehlert. “I also don’t want to pigeonhole it and only reach out to kids that are taking their shop classes. This lets us do that.”

The main goal of using VR is to get to show students an active construction site in a safer more efficient manner than they were able to previously. When students are able to see a 360-degree video from 15 stories up on the Block 9 tower, Ehlert believes the message will come across.

“We need to shake that perception that people in the trades are just big dumb construction workers,” said Ehlert. “What we do is amazing. Building a square building truly is an amazing accomplishment.”

Ehlert knows that perception isn’t reality. He took the traditional four-year college route, graduating from Concordia College in 2001. After graduating and spending a year teaching, he decided to enter the apprenticeship program for brick-laying and was challenged every day with his newfound career.

“When I made the switch into construction and into the trades union, I saw that the pay was better, the retirement was better, everything was better,” said Ehlert. “I kind of just realized that if a person is willing to change their perception of what construction is, they can find a great career.”

The video might change the perception and draw more students in to talk with them, however, Ehlert still believes that face-to-face interaction and traditional pamphlets are necessary for finishing the recruiting process by highlighting the major advantages of apprenticeships:

  • Apprentices get paid to work in the trade they’ve chosen while going to school.
  • Unlike college, apprenticeships offer a low-cost or no-cost education so there is no massive college debt to pay off for decades.
  • Since you already have a job at the start of the apprenticeship, there is no “where do I look for a job” panic upon completion of your apprenticeship.

LIke GES, the NDBTU knows the value and opportunity their lines of work can offer people, they just need to get the message out in an easy digestible way. Be More Colorful is helping them do that.

Be More Colorful has recently been accepted into North Dakota’s InnovateND program. Their focus is to create a career awareness pilot project that would showcase North Dakota employers’ virtual reality job shadowing experiences to students and career seekers throughout the state. Be More Colorful is actively seeking employer partners who would be willing to discuss current recruitment strategies and are interested to learn more about this opportunity.

To learn more, contact [email protected]

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.