Interview with Michel Gelders, Global Head of Adecco’s Workforce Academy

This year Forklift Simulator (FL-S) has nominated Michel Gelders, Global Head of the Workforce Academy at Adecco, one of the largest temporary employment group in the world, to be the recipient of the Second Annual Golden (VR) Goggles Award. Michel had the vision and passion to bring Forklift-Simulator and VR into the training curriculum of Adecco’s Workforce Academy.  It was his relentless energy that convinced Adecco to try something different. But even more impressive is his commitment to keep his boots on the ground and stay in the middle of the action.

Recently, we sat down with Michel to discuss his innovative mobile training center which integrates Forklift Simulator into high efficiency, high volume training programs.

FL-S: Hi, Michel, I’m Joseph, and today we’re talking about the golden goggles. We did it last year and had some fun, so we wanted to bring it back and see who is earning the title of biggest advocate for Forklift Simulator this year, and it turns out that you’ve been nominated. 

Michel Gelders: Okay. Thank you, Joseph. My name is Michel Gelders, and I’m the global head of the Workforce Academy and I’m part of the Adecco global training team.

And what are your responsibilities on that team for training?

Michel: Well, my responsibilities are to roll out this workforce Academy program. It’s my main responsibility and I do support the Adecco global team to to help and to assist the countries to improve and to expand training activities for customers and candidates in their specific markets.

And so when you say the Workforce Academy, could you tell me about that?

Michel: Well, the Workforce Academy is a global initiative whereby we try to upskill highly-skilled people that have a certain distance from the labor market or people that have indicated that they want to to upskill in a certain position. And we do that today for two types of activities. And the first is the forklift academy. And we upskill, reskill, forklift drivers. And the second one is a training program for operators in the industry, logistics and LEP environments.

FL-S: So let’s talk about forklift training. I heard recently that you developed a pilot project for forklift operators to help meet the needs of limited prospects in the field. Could you tell me about that project?

Michel: Exactly. So within the Workforce Academy, we developed one program which is the Forklift Academy, and the idea there is that we assess and train people to become capacitated forklift drivers. What we actually do is we go to customers, we go to schools, we go to one other, quote, ecosystem, and we try to get people with the right attitude and for becoming forklift drivers and part of the program or within the program. We have used the forklift simulator simulators in order to improve the efficiency of the training program.

And why did you decide to go with Forklift-Simulator specifically? And then more broadly, why did you decide that VR training was the right way to go in general?

Michel: Maybe I should just answer the second question first, because that was the main objective. So when you look at traditional learning methodologies that are used to train a skillful driver, then you see that as a reality there’s a lack of quality. And we saw that in practice. We went to visit many, training organizations.

And if you look at the traditional learning methodology, you see that people are trained to become a forklift [driver], but there is no guarantee that their capacity and their capabilities are meeting the standards that are required in the market.

And so we wanted to do something different. And we understand that the use of virtual or augmented reality can help to enhance certain specific skills, very technical skills or behavioral skills. And at a certain moment in time, I was introduced to Forklift Simulator. And they demonstrated the capacity of the development. And I have to say I already saw a lot of different programs and their program really stood out.

What stood out about their program for the simulator?

Michel: Well, there are a few aspects. So first of all, it’s the look and feel. In order to convince people to become a forklift driver, you need to make sure that they are very motivated and enthusiastic to become forklift drivers. In order to do that, you need to confront them with the real equipment. And what is very interesting in the system that they developed with the look and feel of their product is very similar to a standard forklift. So that for us was a first step to say, well, listen, it seems to be a very attractive piece of equipment. Secondly, if you start working with the simulators, then you see that the quality of the graphics, the quality of the exercises, the quality of the environment that is created, the quality of the interaction that you have with the equipment, with other people that are walking around, that quality is a very high standard. And I think that there is nothing like that in the market that has the same standard that they have. And now last but definitely not least is that they already developed a huge amount of exercises that are really helping us to build the competencies that these people need. So if you look at the three things that for us are the basis of a good system, they met the requirements that we wanted and they really stand out in the market.

So I’m thinking now about this thing that I heard you’re calling the mobile training center. Is that mostly oriented around the VR systems with forklift simulator? What is the mobile training center?

Michel: Exactly. So our total project is mobile. So we strongly believe that nowadays in a market, people are not going to relocate in order to get trained. People expect to be trained at the location where they’re going to work. So when we decided to build a program, we said we will not build centralized locations, but we will offer training. What we will do is bring the training to the location, where we will train the people. We will put people to work or at work. So the first thing that we decided was that we would build a mobile training facility and therefore the equipment that they developed within it added a lot of value to us because it is mobile and it helps us to make it very attractive, not only in Belgium but in our global perspective. That is very interesting. So we can bring equipment to a nearby country very fast in order to meet the service requirements. This morning I was in Holland with a customer and I would have to be able to do training today. So it’s very easy if you look at the equipment and if we look at the global geography of the organization, Belgium is a very small and centralized country where it’s very easy to to bring equipment from one side to the other. But if we look at companies, countries like the US, Canada, France, and even Germany, we see that having a mobile solution enables us to meet the requirements in different markets. So that was an interesting added value.

You said in a previous statement that one of the hardest things that you face is convincing people in the industry to buy into the idea of virtual reality training. What do you tell people? How do you get them on board?

Michel: Well, it’s a good question. The best way to get people on board is to demonstrate it and to let them feel, look and let them get a taste of the future. What we see is that they often have these dogmas where they say, well, listen, it’s impossible to train a person in a virtual world with something that is very complex to operate. And so the first idea that people have is that when we talk about virtual reality, that the training is only about virtual reality. And we said, no, it’s not only about virtual reality, it’s a combination of traditional learning methodologies, but the use of virtual reality is an asset to improve the quality of the training. And so we asked people to come, ask the safety supervisors, safety managers, operational managers, but as well, forklift drivers and the trainers to come by and to have a look and feel on the simulator. And that’s the best possible way to convince them that that the product is very good and that it really enhances the skills of the person in training. So the best way to convince them is to demonstrate the equipment. So therefore we organize demonstration events at our site or at customer sites in order to convince them. There is still, especially in Europe, I think, there’s a resistance against new technologies, that people are a little bit afraid of the impact of these new technologies and they see only the negative sides and they don’t see the benefits. So we are still, I think, advocating and it’s even more than advocating it’s evangelizing the potential of virtual reality and augmented reality as part of the technology that will help people, that will help bring people closer to the labor market.

FL-S: Right. I think that what you’re doing over there at Adecco is remarkable. It’s been good talking to you and I hope we meet again.

Michel: Sure. Thank you very much for your time and good luck to you. Bye bye.