Forklifts might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “innovation.”
We usually look to bring change through disruption in tech, finance, retail industries…None of these fields are strangers to rapid change. However, there’s an elephant in the room that moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to a complete overhaul and that’s the blue-collar workforce.
The blue-collar employee is the oft-ignored, underappreciated worker. These are team members that are barely onboarded, offered little to no training, sometimes compensated poorly…I can think of so many ways when it comes to how disenfranchised the blue-collar worker is when compared to the rest of corporate America.
This is where Really-Virtual enters the story.
In 2017, Really-Virtual co-founders Mike Morgan and Peter Chronopoulus came up with an idea to modernize forklift training through a hands-on, simulated experience. In 2018, they launched the Real-Forklift Premium, an affordable forklift simulator that offers what they describe as a learning and retention environment comparable to actual real-world equipment operation.
“Our tagline has been to onboard, train and maintain the new collar workforce,” he says. “We started that with a Real-Forklift virtual reality simulator that will improve the performance and safety of new forklift operators in the workforce.”
The simulator paired with their Real-Forklift Basic Training software allows both trainees and potential hires to operate a forklift in a completely customized virtual environment. The software can score an operator’s performance and progress providing companies and educators with the data.
In 2022, Morgan and Chronopoulus relocated Really-Virtual’s headquarters to the Savannah region. They believe the peach state is the best place to be for business right now. There are over 600 open forklift positions in the Savannah area right now, and more than 5,000 across Georgia.
“When it comes to supply chain, I think there’s a large opportunity here,” says Morgan. “We believe firmly that Savannah has the potential to become the logistics supply chain tech capital of the United States.”
But what really drives the Really-Virtual co-founders goes beyond training. They see a pathway to success for those who may not always be presented with the right opportunities for higher-paying jobs.
“What we realized over time, is that it wasn’t about targeting companies to solve their training problems,” says Morgan. “We realized there’s a real opportunity to address some of the disenfranchised people in the workforce right now…By working with schools, workforce rehabilitation centers, prisons and some of the nonprofits, it’s getting attention to this workforce that thinks they don’t have opportunities,” he says. “Yet this type of job can provide substantial income over food or retail employment.”
Morgan recalls those early COVID memories of when employees were praised as “workforce heroes.” He says the reality was much different than often portrayed.
“They were forced to do more with less,” he explains. “They were forced to work longer, harder, with less thanks…they had no professional development opportunities.”
He continues, saying “We get back to normalcy and all of a sudden the whole talk of heroes goes away. [The workers] are still being treated the same and now there’s [a question of] why people aren’t entering the workforce. So they push wages up, thinking that will solve the problem. And I’m like no, no, no. You solve the problem by giving value to people.”
This all leads to the hopeful development of the Really-Virtual brainchild, BlueWorks.
“Our goal is to focus on skilled labor,” says Morgan. “Forklift simulators are not the solution. It was a node in a network that we’re working on. And the network is a way to expose people to a lot of different types of skilled labor opportunities.”
Morgan sees endless opportunities for blue-collar workers to find a future in what they’re good at.
“With the right push, we could begin to offer CDL certifications, training on cranes, excavators, and more,” he says. “All at zero cost to the job seeker. The people that make money off of you, they need to pay for that training. They need to invest in their blue-collar workforce.”
Morgan says their ultimate goal is to create purpose.
“Maybe [we] can actually be a part of changing some lives. And if we can do that, in any measurable way…that’s success,” he says.