Penna puts VR at the heart of immersive assessment


Penna is using virtual reality (VR) as part of a revolutionary immersive assessment centre experience for a public sector client.

The client had been using a traditional paper-based assessment centre strategy as the first stage in its candidate selection for more than a decade. While it has successfully processed thousands of candidates through the first stage, the experience had been described as mechanical and uninspiring.

The client asked Penna to apply conceptual thinking to completely overhaul its old-school process. In response, Penna’s Assessment Design, Creative and Digital teams came together to brainstorm a futuristic solution set to disrupt the future of assessment centres.

At the centre of the solution is a bespoke virtual reality exercise based around a realistic scenario set in a business park. One candidate wears the headset while their partner has to guide them through the virtual environment using information on a tablet, as they jointly work out where they are and what has happened.

Jo Taylor, delivery director, managed recruitment and assessment at Penna, said: “While VR games have been widely used in recruitment and assessment, this is not a game. It’s designed to test collaboration and communication skills entirely in a single room, while an assessor scores their performance on a tablet

“Unlike the familiar horror story or roller coaster type VR scenarios, this is very placid. We’re not looking to scare or excite the candidates, but instead looking to enhance their opportunity to perform well.”

While the scenario doesn’t directly depict the roles being recruited for, it identifies qualities needed for the job — in this case collaboration, communication and observation — and gives candidates a more realistic preview of what they could expect if they joined.

The headset wearer moves around the virtual environment using gaze control, looking at a location for a couple of seconds to move there. There is no need to physically move around the room with the headset on, which can lead to disorientation and even injury.

Danny Rothon, Penna senior client partner, explained: “The safety of candidates is paramount. VR can, in some situations, induce nausea, discomfort for glasses wearers, difficulty for people with colour blindness and even cause people to fall over but this is only when used for excessive periods or for thrill seeking experiences. We brought in a VR expert to reassure our clients that none of these issues are relevant when using VR is an assessment environment. 

“We’ve even looked at practicalities, such as the headset sturdiness and battery life, and health and welfare, right down to the provision of anti- bacterial wipes.”

The collaborative virtual reality exercise forms part of a whole day of tech-led assessment exercises that will test candidates’ skillsets without requiring role-specific experience. These include hyper-real video content to test skills such as conflict resolution and spotting discrepancies in statements.

The tech doesn’t stop with the candidate experience. Assessors score candidates on tablets using Penna-designed software over local Wi-Fi, meaning pen-and-paper note-taking is history for candidates.

Despite the high-tech nature of the technology and the small groups or pairs working together on each exercise, this is a volume piece – the client, with support from Penna will be managing up to 48 candidates a day through this ground-breaking assessment centre experience.


Monday, 3 April 2017

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Anonymous Date: Apr 7, 2017

Not being able to walk around or use your hands seems like a big drawback here. Having experienced VR extensively myself, nausea is much more likely to come from seated experiences where the movement doesn't match what your body feels. When I've used VR where you can actually walk around, and that is fully immersive, I've never experienced any nausea or motion sickness. It's only on seated experiences where I've felt the vomit rising, because of that disconnect between what I think I should be feeling, and what I am actually feeling. I also find that being able to walk around and use my hands as I would in real life is way more immersive and lends itself more to bringing out natural behaviours.

Anonymous Date: Apr 11, 2017

Nice and inclusive for those that are visually impaired.

Tristan Moakes Date: Apr 12, 2017

Absolutely, there are plenty of examples of VR experiences where that sort of unmatched movement can induce nausea. As someone who has also used VR extensively, I know the feeling all too well. However, as mentioned in the article we're avoiding it by using gaze control to step between scenes (take a look at the game Land's End to see this sort of mechanic in action), so that risk has been greatly reduced. Walking around and using your hands is of course very immersive and great fun, however, in this case that isn't what is being assessed in the exercise. In fact by eliminating that aspect we're actually better able to create a level playing field and a consistent experience for candidates. We're looking at their communication and collaboration, so it's important that they aren't hampered by factors that aren't being assessed. It's exciting that the technology is getting better every year, so from this starting point I can't wait to see how much more sophisticated it will become in the next few years.

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Penna puts VR at the heart of immersive assessment
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