Trying on the Trades in Northern Manitoba

Bit Space Development and the Manitoba Construction Sector Council recently traveled to northern Manitoba to promote work in the trades and the immersive technology used for training in that industry.

Kevin Carbotte round

By Kevin Carbotte

In the second week of April, part of the Bit Space Development team took a trip to northern Manitoba to share our learning experiences with kids who live in communities that don’t often get access to technology that we use daily here in the office.

On an early Tuesday morning in March, four people from Bit Space and one from the Manitoba Construction Sector Council piled into a minivan with a staggering amount of technology. We brought 22 Apple iPads, 27 Pico Goblin standalone VR headsets, 2 Acer Windows Mixed Reality headsets with laptops to power them, and a whole bunch of extra equipment just in case, which included two HTC Vive setups and extra laptops.  

Honestly, it was a small miracle that everything fit with enough space left for five people in the van.

First Stop: Norway House

Day One of our trip was spent entirely in the van. Our first destination was Norway House, which is a reserve community north of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. According to Google, the drive from Winnipeg to Norway House takes 9-hours. After making the drive ourselves, we can confirm that trek took longer than a typical work day.

The following day, we made our way to the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, where we took over the gymnasium for most of the day. Here we played host to several groups of kids ranging from Grade 5 through Grade 9. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre is a large school with nearly 1300 students, and we met roughly one-third of the students throughout the day.

The technology experience demonstration featured three stations for the kids to cycle through. The first station offered iPad tablets running our Trades Town board game that teaches kids about the different trades in Manitoba. This was a favourite station, and the kids got engaged with the game.

The second station offered the kids a chance to see what it’s like to work in the trades. We shared our Try on The Trades video series, which features 15 immersive 360-degree videos of different construction industry and manufacturing sites.

Trying on the Trades

With 27 Pico Goblins to go around, we were able to share the Try on The Trades experiences with every student who showed up to try. Many of these kids had never been outside of their small community, so they were fascinated with seeing sites from Winnipeg and other locations.

The Try on The Trades experiences was a big hit, but our third station with the room scale VR simulation was by far the most engaging experience. We had two Windows Mixed Reality systems running our Power Tools VR simulator. With our simulation software, the students were able to learn how to use one of eight different power tools such as two different drills, a variety of saws, a grinder, and nail gun.

Many students expressed a desire to try again. However, the time constraints of the event prevented the students from having a second turn.

Second Stop: Wabowden

One the second leg of our journey, Bit Space and MCSC rolled into a small community called Wabowden and set up shop at Mel Johnson School (the only one in town) for the day. Wabowden is a small town with very few people and to make the career fair a worthwhile endeavour, the school division bussed in kids from Grand Rapids—a community 3-hours away.

With such a small group, the second day was much easier on our team. But more importantly, the kids were able to get much more out of the experience. Instead of a select few kids getting to try one tool in our Power Tools game, everyone got to try the game, and most people attempted to use more than one tool. We even had one carpentry student who was so impressed with the simulator that he got back in line to try all eight options.

Day Three: Cranberry Portage

Following our stop at Wabowden, the five of us piled back into the van and drove to The Pas for some food and some sleep. The next stop on our tour would be at the Frontier Collegiate Institute in a town close to Flin Flon called Cranberry Portage.

The event in Cranberry Portage was a little bit bigger than the one in Wabowden, but it was still on the smaller side, which allowed the students to spend a significant amount of time with our technology. We didn’t have anyone who got to try all eight tools, but everyone interested in trying more than one had to opportunity to try another tool.

The Pico Goblins with the Try on The Trades videos weren’t as popular at this stop, but the iPad games were a big hit with the kids.

Over four days, we spend nearly 24 hours driving across Manitoba, we stopped at three schools, and we spent an hour on our feet running tech demonstrations. But the feedback that we received from the Frontier School Division made the whole trip worth our time.

The Feedback Made It All Worth While

We spoke with the organizers of the trip a week after we returned, and they told us that the teachers and the kids had nothing but great things to say about our presence. They all appreciated the chance to try our training experiences, to learn more about the trades in Manitoba, and to get a taste of what we do in the Interactive Digital Media industry. 

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