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Massachusetts VR Initiative Works to ‘Gamify’ Job Skills

Project (VR)², launched by Viability and supported by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, is using virtual reality technology in its vocational rehabilitation program to gamify workforce readiness training.

A woman using a virtual reality headset.
The Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) is supporting a pilot program with several technology partners that will bring virtual reality into vocational rehabilitation training for people with disabilities or who are otherwise disadvantaged.

The undertaking, dubbed Project (VR)², will pair the expertise of Viability Inc., Bodyswaps, Link To VR and Cleanbox Technology to provide a safe way to virtually improve job interview skills.

The use of virtual reality for training has gained traction in the emergency medical services space, with its potential being further tested for specialized trainings. Its value in supporting people with disabilities is also becoming more apparent. For example, researchers have started to explore VR’s impacts on children with ADHD.

The project, announced this past spring, was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kristin Rotas, program director for Viability. The shift to virtual learning and increased use of video conferencing platforms, like Zoom, have been taking a toll on the overall program engagement, she explained.

When MRC offered funding for additional technology, Rotas thought virtual reality would be an innovative method of reigniting that engagement. The funds were used to purchase four Oculus Quest 2 headsets to enhance job readiness training, in addition to 30 iPads to create an alternative option.


To start, the focus for the pilot will be on younger individuals between the ages of 14 and 22, but older adults will be able to participate as well. The experience begins with a virtual reality demo to familiarize participants with the technology. After that, the participants sit across from an avatar in a virtual space, during which they will interact and answer the sorts of questions a job seeker might encounter during an interview.

The computer will note if specific keywords were used in the participant’s responses; then, participants can complete the training again to try to include the additional keywords.

Progress is assessed in a number of ways. Participants complete an assessment before and after the module, in which they answer questions about their comfort level, Rotas explained. A facilitator is also able to see on a TV what the participant is seeing in the headset, which Rotas added is a useful tool if guidance or support is needed.


MRC’s involvement in the partnership was solidified after Viability shared their vision for virtual reality’s potential and the agency agreed that it was an initiative worth funding, said Joan Phillips, assistant commissioner for vocational rehabilitation and workforce development.

Bodyswaps, a company that had been developing software and modules to help people learn employment skills, partnered on the effort to help design and develop the modules people would use. Link To VR was brought on to act as consultants to support deployment. The final collaborator was Cleanbox Technology, who ensured that the equipment could be used safely with COVID-19 protocols.

“Vocational rehabilitation assists individuals with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment,” said Phillips. “So, [with] the funding that we provide to any organization, the focus has to be on this population and assisting them to access the workforce.”


Technology is one tool that can help individuals with disabilities in being able to live and work independently, Phillips said. She added that virtual reality can increase engagement for young people because “this generation was born with technology embedded in their DNA.”

She explained that the individuals participating in this program may have anxiety around being interviewed because they are not yet familiar with it.

“By participating in this virtual reality, it’s an opportunity for these individuals to go through an interview process, get feedback regarding that process, and get help to address some of the issues that are identified in a way that gamifies it,” Phillips stated. “It takes away the anxiety by making it much more fun.”

Phillips explained that this technology can help individuals with autism, for example, who may struggle to make consistent eye contact. With the VR module, she said, participants can practice repeatedly while receiving valuable feedback to increase confidence and familiarity with the interview process.

Rotas noted that Bodyswaps is looking to create additional avatars with differently abled bodies in the future to offer more representation for the individuals who will participate in this program.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.