Virtual reality helps veterans prepare for new jobs

September 27, 2017, U.S. Army Research Laboratory
The Virtual Training Agent for Veterans, or VITA4VETS, is a virtual simulation practice system designed to build job interviewing competence and confidence, while reducing anxiety. Juan Gutierrez, a 33-year-old Navy veteran with experience in aviation electronics tries out the new system. Credit: USC ICT

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory and its partners recently developed a new way for veterans to seek employment.

The Virtual Training Agent for Veterans, or VITA4VETS, is a virtual simulation practice system designed to build job interviewing competence and confidence, while reducing anxiety. Although Army researchers and developers at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, and the Dan Marino Foundation originally developed the training system to help those with autism prepare for job interviews, they soon realized its potential to help veterans.

While several companies advertise they hire vets, transitioning from military service life to a civilian workplace can be challenging. One day they are a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine - then the next day, they are back to being "just a citizen." The prevalence of militarisms in speech and thought override the ways of conceptualizing the civilian world.

The researchers and developers said they understand returning home can be arduous in itself, but preparing to find employment can be even more taxing.

That's where they believe VITA4VETS can help improve one's interviewing skills and instill a sense of discipline.

Juan Gutierrez, a 33-year-old Navy with experience in aviation electronics was satisfied with the new style of interview.

"Answering questions with a virtual human rather than a real human helped me feel less nervous, and I could practice different responses and there were no repercussions with the avatar," Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said he had more confidence and the experience was as much an interview for a potential employer as it was for him.

The Virtual Training Agent for Veterans, or VITA4VETS, is a virtual simulation practice system designed to build job interviewing competence and confidence, while reducing anxiety. Virtual humans conduct the interviews in a variety of locations to provide comfort to the user. Credit: USC ICT
"I learned I could ask questions too. Instead of feeling nervous—like I am being tested, it was a way for me to be honest and learn if it (the job) is something I'd like to do. Overall, VITA helped me feel confident with my interview," said Gutierrez.

In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 20.9 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about nine percent of the civilian non-institutional population age 18 and over. Of those 20.9 million, more than 450,000 were unemployed.

The military provides transition training, but when one considers the unemployment statistics and challenges servicemembers face, it underscores the urgency for creating methods to better prepare veterans for civilian employment.

"Although many veterans have the necessary talent and temperament for vocational achievement, they may find it challenging to express the ways in which their skills and experience are able to translate to the private sector," said Matthew Trimmer, project director for VITA4VETS at USC ICT.

Currently available through U.S. VETS in Los Angeles, VITA4VETS leverages virtual humans that can support a wide-range of interpersonal skill training activities. It uses six characters that span different genders, ages and ethnic backgrounds. Each character is capable of three behavioral dispositions or interview styles and can be placed in a variety of interchangeable background job contexts, all controllable from an interface menu.

According to Trimmer, offering a variety of possible job roleplay interactions supports practice across a range of challenge levels and allows for customizable training geared to the needs of the user. Trimmer also said the approach has been known to produce positive results, indicating increased confidence with practice and high job acquisition rates.

"If focusing on one portion of said issue can provide any support to those that have served us, then it is one step closer to better assisting the overall transition process," Trimmer said.

According to the U.S. Vets in Los Angeles, 93-percent of veterans have obtained employment using the VITA4VETS application.

Explore further: From battle to business: Researchers help veterans return to work

Related Stories

From battle to business: Researchers help veterans return to work

August 3, 2017
As many as 360,000 men and women leave the military each year—good news for employers in need of the wealth of experience and skills veterans bring to the workforce.

Virtual training helps vets with PTSD, mentally ill nab more jobs

July 1, 2015
Finding a job is difficult for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and individuals with severe mental illness, who have high unemployment rates even though many want to work.

More work needed to improve employment of military veterans, study finds

November 10, 2014
Businesses report that U.S. military veterans make excellent employees, but companies still experience challenges locating and hiring them, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Suicide among veterans highest in western US, rural areas (Update)

September 15, 2017
Suicide among military veterans is especially high in the western U.S. and rural areas, according to new government data that show wide state-by-state disparities and suggest social isolation, gun ownership and access to ...

Recommended for you

College students choose smartphones over food

November 16, 2018
University at Buffalo researchers have found that college students prefer food deprivation over smartphone deprivation, according to results from a paper in Addictive Behaviors.

Study finds mindfulness apps can improve mental health

November 15, 2018
A University of Otago study has found that using mindfulness meditation applications (apps) on phones is associated with improvements in people's mental health.

Social media is affecting the way we view our bodies—and not in a good way

November 15, 2018
Young women who actively engage with social media images of friends who they think are more attractive than themselves report feeling worse about their own appearance afterward, a York University study shows.

New research has revealed we are actually better at remembering names than faces

November 14, 2018
With the Christmas party season fast approaching, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-live the familiar, and excruciatingly-awkward, social situation of not being able to remember an acquaintance's name.

Older adults' abstract reasoning ability predicts depressive symptoms over time

November 14, 2018
Age-related declines in abstract reasoning ability predict increasing depressive symptoms in subsequent years, according to data from a longitudinal study of older adults in Scotland. The research is published in Psychological ...

The illusion of multitasking boosts performance

November 13, 2018
Our ability to do things well suffers when we try to complete several tasks at once, but a series of experiments suggests that merely believing that we're multitasking may boost our performance by making us more engaged in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.