Carlos Escobar is on his knees on a 90-degree June day trying to fix a heating and cooling system that is not working, but he isn’t even breaking a sweat.
The Northark (North Arkansas) College Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) student is in the comfort and safety of the College’s newest high-tech training tool – a virtual reality (VR) lab.
VR is often associated with gaming, but it is not just for entertainment. The technology is vastly improving training for skilled trades.
Northark HVAC instructor Jeff Smith said VR for HVAC systems was developed a few years ago to help contractors maintain and improve their skills, but now the systems have been adapted for educational purposes and training.
The VR systems utilize scenes and scripts that walk students through different scenarios so they can identify problems. The HVAC components and tools look real and the systems even allow students to work in life-like home or outdoor environments.
“The students love it,” Smith said. “VR is a great addition to the program, and I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Smith said students start out the three-semester HVAC technical certificate program or the one-semester certificate of proficiency program with hands-on labs and lectures before using the VR system, which is tied to the curriculum. In addition to classroom and field work, students have VR assignments that they must complete.
“The VR gives students an additional means of training and support to build upon what they have already learned in lecture and lab,” he said.
Northark’s program has three VR systems and is hoping to acquire three more in the coming months.
Escobar said at first it was a little difficult to use VR but with some practice, he was able get the hang of it.
“It’s interesting because you can safely get to know about HVAC,” he said. “We can practice with the VR.”
Fellow student Jay Lamb agrees and said VR is a great tool for learning new skills.
“You are getting to do something hands on but not actually at a job site,” he said.
Smith said students should have no problem finding jobs with the skills they learn in Northark’s HVAC program. He said there is always a demand for HVAC technicians in any area of the country, and HVAC technicians in the Harrison area can earn on average $30,000 to $40,000 per year.
Escobar said the need for technicians is what drew him to the HVAC field.
“There is a lot of opportunity,” he said. “You can find a job like this anywhere. It might be hot sometimes, but it’s a good job.”
Enrollment is currently open for the fall semester. Classes begin Aug. 16. Call 870-391-3505 for more information.