Mass. needs more health care workers — can virtual reality help train them?

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While new jobs data released Friday put the Massachusetts unemployment rate at an ultra-low 3%, the demand for workers in health care is surging to incredibly high levels.

The health care sector had 49,030 job openings as of January 2024, according to the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Office, with demand for nursing especially strong — 17,627 job postings were recorded for registered nurses at the end of 2023.

No sector is in more urgent need of workers in Massachusetts than health care; no single job needs more qualified applicants than registered nurses.



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To address the nursing shortage, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration is taking a cross-agency approach, but it may not be robust enough to solve the problem in the short term.

According to a spokesperson at the Office of Health and Human Services, the administration is directing more money into nursing schools to increase capacity, beefing up scholarship opportunities for nursing students and has allocated money in the next budget to get more nurses certified as teachers. Retention bonuses or pay bumps for existing nurses are also discussions point.

Transfr, a virtual reality workforce training company, can’t use its technology to shape someone into a registered nurse. However, it can help train people to enter the health care workforce at the entry level by simply using a VR headset.

The company has been sharing its approach with Massachusetts lawmakers, pitching VR as a workforce solution.

“We created these fundamental skill packages because we understood that all of these entry level positions have certain patient care fundamentals that everybody must know,” said Kate Kimmer, a director at Transfr. “We could actually empower folks to gain those skills, train more quickly and get into the roles that they want to be in.”

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