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Construction Training Simulators Are the Textbooks of the 21st Century

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Photo by Rebecca McKnight
The author test drives a paint simulator at CII's meeting in Chicago.
Video by Tudor Van Hampton
ENR checks out the latest construction simulators at the Construction Industry Institute's 2011 annual meeting in Chicago.
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Training programs across the construction industry are adapting to the way today's youth learns.

Books and videos are no longer enough to get young craft professionals—welders, equipment operators, painters, and other workers—up to speed fast enough to meet skill demands.

Now, video games are seen as essential training tools as the Guitar Hero generation is entering the workforce.

"Simulators are the books of the 21st century," says Matthew Wallace, CEO and president of VRSim Inc.

The East Hartford, Conn.-based technology company, which is well-known for its welding simulators—its proprietary logic powers a $46,500 welding simulator that Lincoln Electric offers to clients, schools and trainers—is branching out into other skilled trades.

VRSim's latest venture is SimSpray, a paint simulator that helps train workers on applying coatings. The company released automotive-type sprayer simulator last month and plans to roll out an industrial spray simulator at the end of the third quarter.

In 2008, when we took a weeklong tower crane operator course to prepare for a certification exam, we used a simulator to supplement our real-life seat time. While other students were practicing on a real crane, we jumped into the seat of a virtual crane.

ENR's exclusive report on crane training and testing found that the simulator, a desktop unit made by Simlog, was extremely effective in upgrading our skills. It was safe, easy and fun.

Since then, simulators for high-risk construction equipment, such as cranes and earthmoving machines, have reached wider industry acceptance.

"Simulation is here, and it's here to stay," said Joe Crispell, executive vice president of North American Crane Bureau. The Lake Mary, Fla.-based training company brought a mobile crane simulator to the Construction Industry Institute's annual conference, held July 25-27 in Chicago.

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