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As Manufacturing Jobs Pour into South Carolina, How is Virtual Reality Shaping Workforce Training?

On a sunny day, Larry Nipper, a utility worker with Aiken Electric Cooperative, stands tall in the white bucket of a work truck.

Carefully going through a safety maneuver intended to keep him and other linemen from accidentally interacting with live wire, he works to address a downed power line.

But Nipper is nowhere near an actual downed line.

He’s standing in a classroom in a small building in rural Lexington County. A pair of white virtual reality goggles are strapped over his eyes. The safety procedure he’s walking through, known among linemen as lockout-tagout, is aided by the headset and a pair of handheld controllers.

“It’s a new way of training in a new world,” the safety class instructor, Travis Renwick, told the handful of linemen attending the training.

It was Renwick’s third time showing off the VR headset to a class of utility workers in what’s become a growing trend of using virtual and augmented reality to train mostly blue-collar workers across South Carolina. Companies and colleges across the state have started focusing on the virtual aspect of workforce development — a system that many said is safer, cheaper and just as effective at preparing workers.

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