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From HR to VR – George builds an opportunity from the ashes of COVID

Published 15/06/2022 by Janice Findlay 4 min read

Michalis Antonas and Leon Irvine (VR Hive team at Fuze Management Services)

Janice Findlay, innovation programme manager with HIE’s Co-Innovate programme, finds out how a company turned the pandemic challenge into an opportunity to offer virtual reality training

During and since the chaos caused by the pandemic, we have seen many companies using innovation ­- initially to survive but then also to grow.

Fuze Management Services based in Arisaig, Lochaber, is a great example. The company has been providing celebrant services for weddings and funerals since 2012, and also runs an accredited celebrant training programme.

When COVID-19 hit and business activities shutdown, Fuze quickly turned the situation into an opportunity – they would develop a training solution using virtual reality (VR).

The Co-innovate Programme awarded the company a grant to employ a project manager to develop VR environments, translating real world experiences into online training for ‘soft skill’ development.

George Maclean joined the business in April 2021 bringing extensive knowledge and experience gained through his career in human resource management and training and development.

When I asked George what interested him about his role in Fuze, it was his passion for education and training that shone through.

“When covid forced us into lockdown and learning moved to online, learners were suffering from screen fatigue and attention spans were diminished,” he says.

“This role brought the opportunity to help education from the ashes of COVID and the chance to be part of a new venture for Fuze. I relished the prospect.  

“The innovative side of VR really interested me particularly because it was aimed at the learning sector. Coupling this with my previous training background it was a natural fit and an exciting opportunity.”

Anne Widdop, founding director of Fuze Management Services explains more.

“The pandemic made us think about how we continue to work and learn remotely. We knew we had to diversify our services and expand our offering.

“The first lockdown gave us the space to explore the merits of virtual reality and how it could be used in a learning environment and not just for gaming.

“Whilst the team had a wide range of skills and experience, we recognised there were gaps.

“The support provided through Co-innovate in the form of an experienced project manager with additional academic expert support was just what we needed to put our ideas into practice.” 

The academic expert support Anne refers to was accessed through Co-Innovate in the form of academic partner, Mark Cullen at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Co. Donegal, recently renamed Atlantic Technological University.  

Mark, with his expertise in 3D modelling and animation; film and video production as well as emerging technologies was invaluable to the project.

As Anne explains:

“Mark has provided vital mentoring support to the development team who have grown from graduates into a professional team that has been a real asset to the project and the business going forward.”

The project has supported the launch of the VR Hive, an innovative soft skills training platform that uses virtual reality to deliver training using digital simulation of lifelike scenarios. 

The VR Hive offers learners the opportunity to practice for real life events, such as preparing for difficult conversations, teamwork, and leadership development.  

With the 12-month project now complete, what’s next?

The VR Hive has several collaborative projects ongoing that will see them develop and strengthen their business model beyond this 12-month research and development phase.  

Projects include a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the University of West Scotland. This will develop their VR platform as well extending their learning content creation with University of the Highlands and Islands, Lakes College and Yeovil College.

George will continue to work with the business and has moved to a new role as marketing and brand ambassador with Fuze Ceremonies.

“As a humanist celebrant this is a perfect synergy for me and draws on my interpersonal and communication skills to strengthen relationships further with our celebrant team, our venues and fellow suppliers,” he says.

Join me for my next blog where I meet a business who has developed a technology to help Scotland meet its net zero targets.     

Co-Innovate supports small or medium sized businesses based in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and Lochalsh, Lochaber and Argyll and the Islands. While applications for the business and academia projects are now closed, business advisers can still provide advice, signpost to relevant support and help connect to networks to those looking to develop a new product, service or process.

Co-Innovate is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It is delivered in the Highlands and Islands by HIE.

www.co-innovateprogramme.eu

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