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Incremental Learning Will Be Key to Building a Skilled XR Workforce

August 2, 2023

At a Glance

Incremental learning pathways will benefit both workers and employers as the growth of the XR market creates new categories of jobs and generates demand for new skills.

Meena Naik Director
Ray Barbosa Senior Analyst  
Practices & Centers

As extended reality (XR) technology continues to gain traction across industries, employers and other workforce and education leaders must develop new approaches to training to ensure that workers have the skills that are in demand in this rapidly growing field. With the XR market projected to grow from just over $100 billion today to more than $470 billon by 2028, incremental learning pathways may be the best way to ensure that the workforce is prepared for roles that are created or transformed by the emergence of technologies that fall under the XR umbrella, including immersive learning.

A recent report from JFFLabs, made possible with support from Meta, reveals that the proliferation of XR technology is creating tremendous new career and economic advancement opportunities for workers because employers that develop or use XR technologies will increasingly be looking to hire and develop talent that meets their evolving needs. And as that report details, the development of XR and immersive learning products and services will lead to the creation of a wide range of jobs, not just IT roles.

Incremental learning pathways will benefit both workers and employers as the growth of the XR market creates new categories of jobs and generates demand for new skills. An approach to talent development in which workers regularly engage in short-term learning experiences to continually improve existing skills and acquire new ones throughout their careers, the incremental learning model goes hand in hand with skills-first hiring, which—as a previous JFFLabs blog illustrates—may be the best way for employers to fill XR jobs.

Here are some of the ways incremental learning can play an important role in the XR talent marketplace:

  • Incremental learning pathways will be key to ensuring that workers are able to transition into and advance in the careers of the future by building on the expertise they already have as they pursue ongoing opportunities to develop the specialized skills that will be in demand in the rapidly evolving XR and immersive learning talent marketplace.
  • An approach built on incremental learning pathways will also open up a variety of on-ramps to XR jobs for workers from a broad spectrum of experiences and perspectives, just as a stackable credentials program in Colorado opened up new pathways to careers in health care.
  • This approach will also allow workers from populations that have long been excluded from many technology roles, often due to degree requirements, to land quality jobs, earn better wages, and forge their own career pathways. Removing degree requirements would expand access to career opportunities for the roughly 70% of Black workers, 80% of Latinx workers, and 80% of rural workers who are precluded from applying for jobs that require bachelor’s degrees.
  • Finally, incremental learning models will make it easier for employers to meet growing demand for XR and immersive learning workers by naturally expanding and diversifying the pool of workers with the skills they’re seeking.

Incremental Training Augments Skills-Based Hiring

While hiring strategies that identify qualified workers based on their existing skills are critical to ensuring that there are multiple entry points to XR careers for as many workers as possible, training will also be needed to ensure that people have opportunities to improve their current skills and acquire new ones. In order to be accessible to as many people as possible, training programs should be short-term, stackable experiences that serve as building blocks for more advanced training in the future. To maintain the quality of such programs, training providers and employers can develop partnerships and work together to regularly update the coursework and ensure that it’s aligned with current labor market trends.

Flexible Training Models Enable Workers to Meet Rapidly Shifting XR Workforce Needs

Work-based learning, short-term credentialing, and short-term training programs are examples of flexible learning models that allow workers to pick up new skills as needed and as their schedules allow without having to make big investments of time and money—or drop out of the workforce to attend a longer-term program. These types of programs could help people advance in XR careers by building or improving their skills in areas such as 3D modelling or design thinking or facilitation, or by studying programming languages like C#, C++, or Python.

Here’s a look at the advantages of each:

  • Work-based learning allows people to learn new skills and gain real-world work experience while earning an income. A standard approach to training in the skilled trades for decades, work-based learning models such as apprenticeship have recently begun to make inroads in other fields, including IT, where programs are available for cybersecurity professionals, software developers, and other roles. Such programs could be adapted to XR-specific contexts.
  • Short-term credential programs offer workers a cost-efficient way to gain skills rapidly, and employers often look for candidates who hold industry-recognized credentials and certificates when making hiring and advancement decisions. Individuals who want to advance in XR-related careers might consider blending XR-related training with certifications they can earn online, like Business in the Metaverse Economy or Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Professional.
  • Short-term training can be especially effective when employers and staffing organizations partner with community colleges to identify courses in which learners can acquire the most in-demand XR and immersive learning skills. Such partnerships benefit both employers and workers by ensuring that employers gain access to a talent pool with the skills they need and creating pathways to employment for workers who complete the courses.

Inherent in incremental learning models is the concept of ongoing training. Ongoing training is of paramount importance in a field like XR, since the technology and its applications and possibilities are evolving rapidly and both workers and employers will need to keep pace to remain competitive.

Additionally, employers can reap a number of benefits when they offer ongoing training directly to their employees. Such programs not only help companies maintain a competitive edge by ensuring that their employees have the most up-to-date skills but also lead to improvements in employee job satisfaction and retention rates.

Building Infrastructure to Support Incremental Learning

Here are a few key steps that employers, educational institutions, training providers and policymakers can take to build an infrastructure that sustains incremental learning pathways for XR jobs:

  • Employers should partner with educational institutions and training providers to develop and regularly update short-term XR training programs that are aligned with the needs of the labor market. These programs should include work-based learning experiences and lead to industry-recognized credentials.
  • Policymakers can advance measures that provide employers with funding, resources, and other incentives to develop XR-related work-based training opportunities that lead to full-time jobs.
  • Policymakers can support the creation of data systems that allow leaders throughout the learn and work ecosystem to measure the efficacy of XR training programs and determine whether XR-related careers offer quality jobs that lead to opportunities for economic advancement.
  • Educational institutions and training providers must regularly review their XR offerings to ensure that they lead to positive outcomes for learners, with a specific focus on whether programs prepare participants for quality jobs and long-term career advancement.
  • Employers should offer employees incentives for pursuing ongoing XR training and development opportunities. The goal should not only be to maintain their competitiveness as a company but also to enable their workers to advance in their careers and position themselves for lifelong success in a rapidly evolving field.

The incremental learning model can yield benefits for both employers and workers in XR and immersive learning markets. It supports the development of a diverse pool of talent filled with workers who have the most up-to-date skills, and it enables employers to identify people who have the skills they actually need, rather than basing hiring decisions on degrees alone. And because it emphasizes short-term training programs that are accessible to people of all backgrounds, incremental learning also empowers workers to forge their own paths in XR and creates equitable opportunities for advancement in this emerging industry.


What is incremental learning?

The term incremental learning and related terms such as lifelong learning and incremental credentialing refer to education and training models where people acquire skills, knowledge, and credentials in short-term training programs and then incrementally build on those accomplishments throughout their careers by regularly pursuing additional training and development experiences where they acquire more advanced skills and earn higher-level credentials. This model enables workers to build unique learning pathways and advance through tailored career trajectories that reflect their skills and interests while keeping pace with the changing needs of the labor market. Incremental learning can allow workers to fill gaps in their knowledge or skills without making large investments of time and money that traditional four-year programs often require.

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