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Skills-First Hiring Is the Way to Meet Demand for XR Talent

June 5, 2023

At a Glance

Insights into the business case for skills-based hiring, what this approach looks like applied to training for XR jobs, and action recommendations for education and workforce leaders.

Meena Naik Director
Ray Barbosa Senior Analyst  
Alex Swartsel Managing Director
Practices & Centers

The market for extended reality (XR) technologies is growing rapidly. The potential of XR to revolutionize work and learning is driving increased adoption, especially in the health care, supply chain, and automobile industries—which means demand for workers with XR skills will be on the rise, too, and skills-first hiring will be the best way to meet that demand.

As demand for workers to develop and support this market growth and the many products and services that will use XR technologies increases, it’s all the more important to ensure that those job opportunities—and the preparation and training pathways to enter into them—are equitably accessible to workers from all backgrounds.

What is XR?

The term “extended reality” is used broadly to describe technologies that blend the physical and digital worlds, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). While many people might associate XR with media and gaming, it’s used in a range of industries, from manufacturing and health care to training and education, with immersive learning used not only in schools but also workplace training programs.


A new report from JFFLabs, made possible with support from Meta, reveals that the skills needed to build the emerging metaverse aren’t limited to coding and programming; employers will need workers from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of capabilities. Since XR jobs often require specialized technical skills related to emerging technologies, workers will be more likely to develop the necessary expertise on the job or through other lived experiences, not in traditional college pathways.

For example, JFFLabs identified the emerging job category of “XR/IL technology enablers,” which includes roles like program managers, XR sales representatives, and learning experience designers. The category requires high-value human-centered skills—like customer service, communication, and adaptability, which can be developed in previous work experience—paired with specialized skills, like sales, metrics setting, benchmarking, and human-centered design. This creates a tremendous opportunity to build and scale new ways to train and hire workers for the XR jobs of the future, including embracing short-term training opportunities grounded in work-based learning and skills-based hiring approaches that center workers’ experience—not their degrees.

In this article, we’ll share insights into the business case for skills-based hiring, what this approach looks like applied to training for XR jobs, and action recommendations for education and workforce leaders to help unlock more of the opportunities created by skills-based hiring for jobs in XR and immersive learning.

The Case for Skills-First XR Hiring

Employers who embrace skills-first hiring are moving away from college degrees as proxies for capabilities and focusing on people’s skills—what they can do, not the academic credentials they’ve earned. By removing arbitrary educational requirements, skills-first hiring can open new opportunities for the XR jobs of the future for workers from populations that have long been underrepresented in traditional tech roles, including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous workers and women of all backgrounds. It can also enable XR to proliferate unhindered by talent shortages. Plus, workers who see new opportunities on skills-first career pathways may develop a stronger attachment to the work they do, and that can lead to improvements in performance, job satisfaction, and retention rates.

Employers are recognizing the limitations of degree-driven hiring. In surveys conducted for a 2022 report by American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future (JFF), 81% of employers polled said organizations should hire people based on skills rather than degrees. And that mindset seems to be gaining ground. In March 2022, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky reported that 40% of hirers on the business networking site were using skills data to find talent—representing a 20% increase from the previous year. Moreover, he said, those hirers “are 60% more likely to find a successful hire than those not relying on skills as part of their hiring process.” Skills-first hiring is increasingly important as we prepare to fill the jobs that will come with the proliferation of XR technology and immersive learning.

XR Training Requires Short, Nimble Pathways

A broad labor market pivot to skills-first hiring should be accompanied by a move to skills-first training and education practices, along with intentional efforts to develop incremental learning models. As with any rapidly evolving discipline, XR training requires shorter, nimbler pathways that provide a broad understanding of the subject while also addressing niche specializations needed for specific roles. Workers can fill gaps in their technical skills by pursuing targeted, incremental training, and they can point to previous work experience to demonstrate that they’ve built professional skills that are valuable in any workplace. And people’s existing skills can open doors in XR. For example, experienced user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers can find opportunities in immersive learning and XR development.

And instead of spending four years in college, learners entering the workforce can turn to short-term training programs, including those available through online platforms like Unity, to earn certificates that show they have the skills needed for quality entry-level jobs.

Act Now to Create a Skills-First Approach Tomorrow

Here are a few key steps employers, policymakers, education and training providers, and workforce development leaders can take to advance skills-first practices for the XR jobs of the future:

  • Employers and educational institutions must develop partnerships to ensure that training for the XR jobs of the future is aligned with evolving labor market needs. Skills-first practices can only gain traction if trusted education and training providers line up to offer incremental learning models that enable workers to get on-demand training in skills needed for XR jobs so they can continually keep their skills up to date.
  • Employers must design XR career pathways grounded in skills. This includes developing hiring profiles and internal job progression models that emphasize the skills people build over time and the experience they gain on the job; this will set workers up for success in XR jobs of the future and create pathways for entry into XR careers from other jobs that involve related skills.
  • Education and training providers and workforce development experts must identify bundles of skills and knowledge that support individual success in XR jobs. And once they’ve done that, they should develop skills-first training modules for these XR jobs that can be deployed across the learn and work ecosystem, similar to existing approaches in career and technical education.
  • Policymakers must enact policies that support skills-first hiring, especially for XR jobs. They should push regulatory and legislative measures that give employers incentives for adopting hiring and recruiting practices that emphasize on-the-job experience that’s relevant for XR jobs rather than academic achievements. They should also increase funding and support for short-term training experiences and nondegree programs, especially those involving the tools, hardware, and software specific to XR technology. This will allow a wide swath of the workforce to improve their skills and become familiar with the technology, complementing transferrable skills workers can bring to XR jobs.

By focusing on skills-first approaches to hiring and reducing their reliance on degree requirements, employers seeking XR talent can drive equitable economic advancement by expanding career pathways for individuals from populations that have long been underrepresented in tech careers.

What is Immersive Learning?

Immersive learning is a form of experiential training powered by XR technology to simulate real-world scenarios and allow for skill-building for all in a safe and engaging environment.

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