Experience and skill might be lacking among new workers in construction, but virtual reality could help fill that knowledge gap, Purdue University professor Anthony Sparkling says. VR has potential to add the tacit knowledge of experienced workers to the explicit instruction from classrooms, Sparkling says.



With construction spending on the rise and skyrocketing demand for sustainable energy and other new technologies in building projects, jobs are plentiful in the construction industry. However, the existing workforce is aging, open positions remain unfilled, and new workers who replace retirees are sometimes perceived by experienced professionals as lacking the necessary experience and skill.

“It’s about building a better workforce,” said Anthony Sparkling, assistant professor of construction management technology. “With newer processes, practices and systems, we hope to help companies develop their people more efficiently.”

Before earning a master’s degree in construction management and a PhD in planning, design and construction at Michigan State University, Sparkling spent over 20 years working in industry, first as an electrician apprentice and later as a project foreman, superintendent and other positions in management. Sparkling’s long experience helped him recognize challenges the construction industry faces in creating the workforce it will need for the next several decades

Explicit vs. tacit

Sparkling said the industry struggles between successfully imparting two kinds of knowledge to new workers. People who want to work in the industry’s various skilled trades often receive classroom training from an instructor, learning from explicit knowledge — techniques and skills that are codified, written down and/or recorded in books, videos or other media. Subsequent (or simultaneous) hands-on training at construction sites, under the guidance of mentors, helps develop each person’s skills.