WorkPlaysVR – Background to the WorkPlays VR (20Square) Initiative

The 20 Squared, a Workforce Plus Initiative

20 Squared, a Workforce Plus initiative, was funded by the Department of Jobs and Small Business Empowering Youth Initiative Round 1 to develop and trial a virtual reality (VR) work experience game for the disability services sector. The aim is to “provide young people with an insight into and the confidence to engage with work through playing the game prior to entering real work experience”. 

Some testimonials from our past students

“I had lots of fun and I did learn you need to have a lot of patience to work in the disability sector, I think technology is very cool”

15 year old school student

I absolutely loved the game it was well made and made perfect sense. It gave me an idea of what its like to work with disabled people

19-year old Transition to Work

Interactive, really enjoyed it as everything was simple and easy to understand. It made working with people with disabilities not as hard as I first thought”

23-year old

A great way to get people’s confidence on what to expect when working with people that have a disability

21 year old indigenous participant in Transitions to Work

Cool way to learn. Game is simple, teaching you things and giving you information that you might ignore in other learning environments

20 year old

93% of the 20 Squared Work Pl>ys VR Trial Participants felt that the VR Game met their expectations

72.2% of Phase 3 Trial Participants moved into work experience, employment, education/training & volunteering

The 20 Squared, a Workforce Plus Initiative

20 Squared, a Workforce Plus initiative, was funded by the Department of Jobs and Small Business Empowering Youth Initiative Round 1 to develop and trial a virtual reality (VR) work experience game for the disability services sector. The aim is to “provide young people with an insight into and the confidence to engage with work through playing the game prior to entering real work experience”. 

The project plan for 20 Squared involved four phases:

Phase 1 & 2, the development phases, included:

  1. Intensive work with 40 very vulnerable young people in Broadmeadows (northern Melbourne) and Colac (South West Victoria) in a co-design and development model. The young people engaged with pre-vocational training and real work experience (vocational placement) over two x 6 month periods and during that time provided 20 Squared with input into and information to inform the script and messaging for the VR and the game scenarios. 
  2. Successful development of the VR work experience game prototype, now known as Work Pl>ys VR. This included scripting, filming, editing and coding to produce a prototype ready for trialling or market testing.

Phase 3, the trial phase, involved trialling the VR game with 526 young people, gaining their feedback and tracking their progress into work experience, work and/or education.

Phase 4, the evaluation phase, involved establishing an evaluation framework to ensure key data was collected throughout the project and used for formative and summative evaluation purposes. The summative evaluation includes analysis of quantitative and qualitative data relating to each of the phases and draws conclusions in relation to the effectiveness of the project methodology in delivering the desired outcomes. It also looks at the veracity of the proposed VR work experience solution in moving young people closer to readiness for work experience and the outcomes achieved for Phase 1 & 2 and Phase 3 participants (noting that the experience for participants in Phase 3 was vastly different from that of Phase 1 & 2).

The 20 Squared Project Advisory Committee consists of representatives from key partners, disability service employers and sector representatives. The Advisory Committee met regularly and provided input into the project including information and perspectives on the workforce development challenges facing the sector, connections to key people and strategic advice on future directions. 

Workforce Plus underpinned the project with strong partnerships and a range of collaborations from traditional employment service sector providers and employers as well as non-traditional providers from the creative industries and community sectors.

 As a result of this project Workforce Plus has been able to:

  • Develop and market test a virtual reality work experience game that, after a strong proof of concept process, is confirmed as being effective in influencing young people to take up work experience in the disability services sector.
  • Assist 72.5% of Phase 1 & 2 participants into work experience, employment, education/training & volunteering.
  • Influence 72.2% (or 380) of Phase 3 trial testers to move into work experience, employment, education/training & volunteering.

AB was referred by the mum, as AB did not have connections to the service system. AB presented with extreme shyness and Asperger’s like characteristics (undiagnosed at the commencement of 20 Squared) and was not convinced about 20 Squared but agreed to give it a two-week trial. The Job Coach focussed on connecting AB to fellow Participants in the group and in a short space of time AB developed trust with the group and the Job Coach. During the program AB developed strong friendships with the other Participants and, with their support and close monitoring and encouragement from the Job Coach, actively participated in team activities. The Job Coach adopted a range of strategies to encourage AB to participate in discussions and group work. These included utilising AB’s skills and interest as a way to encourage group work, particularly as AB had career aspirations in this area of expertise.  AB’s work placements were chosen to leverage off AB’s skills and interests.

At the phase 1 graduation, AB’s family emphasised they were very pleased with AB’s progress and the difference participation in 20 Squared had made to AB’s confidence.

A number of post program strategies were adopted to ensure that AB continued on a work readiness pathway. These included keeping AB connected with the work placement organisation and identify relevant training and employment opportunities. Unfortunately, for one of the programs, AB was ineligible due to AB already having an existing Certificate III 

Since Phase 1 completed in December 2016, AB has kept involved in relevant volunteer work. In addition, the family has been connected to an NDIS provider and different opportunities continued to be investigated, including Specialised Supported Employment as a future option.  The NDIS provider is also assisting AB’s Mum with a broader NDIS application for other individualised funded supports should AB want to live and work independently in the future. Keeping AB engaged has been critical to ensuring AB does not get lost in the service system. This has now led to a successful registration of AB in a program that is providing hands-on pre-employment training program with placement opportunities to hopefully help AB transition into paid employment.

XY was referred to 20 Squared by a program that worked with disengaged/at risk young people identified by local schools and/or families. XY was 15 years of age and wasn’t involved in school or training. XY did not have a job and most days were spent playing video games for a minimum of 8 hours a day.

XY presented as having very low self-esteem and no clear vocational pathway. While having a lack of self-esteem and self-perception issues, XY appeared as a very capable person. While presenting as shy and solitary and reluctant to engage in group discussions. Overtime, XY, with encouragement, would increasingly make positive input to projects and group work.  

During the project XY developed significant confidence and belief in what XY could achieve. XY developed a strong bond with a fellow participant. This participant provided a great peer mentor role and helped ensure that XY was valued in all the program activities. XY successfully completed a full Certificate of General Education for Adults, a Certificate of Completion for the NDS Disability Induction Program and participated in the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) Workshops and work experience placements. The ACMI experience and its impact early in XY’s engagement in 20 Squared was significant. Along with a fellow participant, XY also undertook a special project that formed part of XY’s work experience. 

XY developed strong trust in the Job Coach and chose on one of the training days to disclose his personal issues that XY had to confront as a child and teenager.

Overall, XY showed a marked increase in self-esteem and became a strong contributor in classroom discussions and project work. XY developed the confidence to consider next steps and worked towards achieving those. XY became keen on a career pathway and an additional work experience placement was organised with an employer that could provide work experience that would give XY an opportunity to explore this career pathway. 

In a post program student survey, XY provided a 100% rating for what was learnt in the 20 Squared program “helped find and keep a job”. In this survey, XY also stated that “I feel like I have matured mentally and am able to get and maintain a job”.

After 20 Squared, XY pursued this career pathway and secured an apprenticeship.

As part of a 6-week pre-accredited ‘kick start’ disability course in Morwell and Sale, Workforce Plus provided the students with a virtual reality work experience in the first week of the course (April 2018). This course provided pre-accredited training and a 12-hour work placement to engage 24 local residents to consider a career in the disability sector. This case study focuses on two of the students who participated in this course, Paige (PH) and Rhianna (RS) who are both 19-year-old female residents of Sale.

RS is on youth allowance and has been with her provider, Mission Australia, since March 2018. Her motivation to participate on this course was to secure employment in the disability sector. RS has a moderate understanding of, and had a high interest in gaining employment in, the disability sector. She had no expectations of the Virtual Reality Game and chose to participate to ‘have fun’. After the trial she rated the game as meeting her expectations as it was “interactive as I imagined it would be”. Her interests after the trial also resulted in a slight increase in her level of interest, from a high rating of 7 out of 10 to 8 out of 10. Her main feedback was “really fun interesting”. She felt it helped her prepare for her work experience, commenting that the VR was like “A heads-up into what to expect as a disability support worker”

RS went on to complete her work experience with a disability organisation and on reflection she felt the Game was moderately helpful to prepare her for her placement. She indicated that in fact she had “a task that was similar to what happened in the virtual reality work experience and it answered some questions she had”.

PH has been on youth allowance for 2-years and her highest level of education is year 10 and has no previous work experience. Her main expectation of the trial was to learn about the disability sector. She indicted not knowing much about the sector but was very interested (10 out of 10) in gaining employment in the disability sector. After the trial she highly rated the game and was still highly interested in gaining employment in the disability sector.

PH completed her work experience with a disability organisation and rated the Game very highly as preparing for her work experience and was very positive overall about her work experience where she gained lots of different skills, as well as providing her a good insight to the world of work and her future career plans. The information available to Workforce Plus confirms that RS and PH are actively seeking employment in the Disability Services Sector.

Workforce Plus has worked extensively with FGM Consultants to provide Youth PaTH program participants with a virtual reality work experience in helping the participants to prepare for their work experience placements. In early May 2018, Workforce Plus provided 4 participants with a virtual reality work experience in Morwell.

PXH a 21-year-old male who lives in the Latrobe Valley, was one of the four participants interested in exploring career opportunities in the disability sector. He is on Newstart and has been with Max Employment for 12 months. His highest level of education is year 12 and previously worked in the hotel industry (2014-16).

His pre-trial results indicated that he knew little about the disability sector and was moderately interested (4 out of 10) in gaining employment in the disability sector. After the trial he indicated that the game ‘far exceeded’ his expectations. He highly rated both the game’s user friendliness (9 out of 10) and level of engagement (7 out of 10), but importantly he rated his level of interest in gaining employment in the disability sector at 6 out of 10, a 50% increase in his level of interest before the game.

As part of the Youth PaTH program, PXH was placed at Mawarra Centre in Warragul. His placement involved assisting with the provision of the support services to people with intellectual disability. 

As a result of participating in PaTH and the virtual reality work experience PXH said that he was well prepared for his work experience placement at Mawarra.

Follow up the Youth PaTH program coordinator post work experience shows that PXH is pursuing employment opportunities and is connected with his employment services provider, Max Employment.

EC and MR attended community services training delivered by a local RTO to students from a school cluster in the Ballarat region.

EC and MR are 15-year-old female students from Ballarat High School. The main expectation of both EC and MR in playing the Virtual Reality Game was to learn about the disability sector. They both felt that the Game met these expectations, with MR stating that “it felt real, as I expected it”. Before the game, they both also had a good understanding of the disability sector as well as an interest in gaining employment in this sector.

After completing the virtual reality work experience they both highly rated their interest in gaining employment in the disability, as well as rating the game highly for its use friendliness and engagement. MR stated that “it was super fun and felt real!!” EC stated that “we got to see how the young lady with down syndrome work in the kitchen and see how I could help her”.

Both students also attended a work experience placement at the Ballarat Special School. EC rated the virtual reality game 7 out of 10 in terms of its helpfulness in preparing for her work experience and MR rated it extremely helpful giving it 10 out of 10. As a result of their total experiences, they felt the work experience gave them a really good insight into the world of work, as well as helped inform their future career plans.