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Sales of consumer VR headsets have been significantly lower than expected.
That’s the usual explanation for the nascent VR/AR/XR industry not quite living up to analyst expectations over the past couple of years. Most people don’t seem to want to buy a headset for their home – even if they love the technology.
But Toby Allen, London-based founder of JobsInXR.com, the largest job board for immersive tech, offers a different explanation. He argues that a lack of talent that is holding back innovation in immersive technology.
“There simply aren’t enough qualified applicants for 85% of the jobs we list” according to Allen. “There are hundreds of well-funded XR businesses across every major tech hub, but there are literally not enough talented people to spend that money on. We need more skilled people globally.”
Could a lack of skilled workers be holding back the industry as whole? Potentially. After all, a killer app for VR will only ever emerge if there are a group of talented developers who are out there building it.
So this begs the question – what skills are in short supply? Allen rhymes off a shopping list of specialists: “engineering, UI/UX experts, shader experts, computer vision specialists, Unity developers, developers for other more obscure 3D engines…”
It’s not just tech talent. “We need specialist producers to lead these projects. Product managers with XR experience are few and far between.”
It sounds like the situation is about to get more challenging – not better.
Some of the most interesting concepts in XR fuse immersive technologies with other high growth specialisms, such as artificial intelligence. This calls for people to have deep interdisciplinary skill sets, further exacerbating the talent drought.
Happen to be looking for a Unity developer with deep AI expertise? Allen laughs: “That’s like trying to find a unicorn inside a unicorn.”
So where are recruiters finding this talent? One industry’s gain is always another’s loss.
“To sustain demand in XR, employers are poaching talent from gaming and movies. Those industries are now being plucked thin. They’re possibly even more at risk than XR, given relatively lower margins and less investment activity.
“Within the XR space, most demand is coming from the enterprise market. Automotive, Engineering, Manufacturing and Aerospace are experiencing a renaissance in skills and tooling. AR, VR and Mixed Reality play a big role in the digital transformation of these industries and their operational efficiencies. Once major industries have helped to iron out the kinks in XR, the hardware and software will be much more affordable to mass market consumers. The moment the consumer market hits and demand increases, this is when the industry will really start to struggle.”
If you’re keen to take advantage of this skills shortage and find your next role in this sector, there are a few courses you could explore. Coding schools with XR specialisms are out there, but the campuses are still few and far between – particularly outside the United States. “Few people really understand immersive tech, so there are even fewer people who can teach it.”
This side of the Atlantic, universities are starting to invest in this space. Any institutions to look out for? “At the University of Leeds, the Centre for Immersive Technologies is starting to provide the next generation of talent, but it will take time for those graduates to make their way into the workforce.”
Assuming you don’t have three years to spend on a degree course, what’s the one skill that Toby recommends people learn in order to score job in XR?
“The ability to prototype rapidly. Develop comfort with prototyping. The entire field is so exploratory, you need to have that comfort if you’re ever going to create the next immersive experience. Equally, learn to show off your skills so that you can find the right role for you.”
At this stage of the conversation, I’m starting to feel like there are almost no skilled people in XR, and even fewer places to learn these skills, so I’m starting to question my choice of favoured tech industry… is there any hope?
“Absolutely – the ecosystem is vibrant. London is a great place to be located for XR. There are other hubs, most notably in California, which have larger immersive tech workforces. But the creative and technology scenes collide in this city like no other, creating an XR community that is simply world class.”
February 12, 2019 at 07:32AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs