A version of this post was originally published on August 23rd 2017, in Training Magazine.
Millennials have taken the workplace by storm. Wherever you turn, there are more and more young employees. Millennials are already not only the largest living generation in America, but also of the workforce. And there are plenty of them — and their followers — who still wait to join the employee's lifestyle.
Just like any other young generation moving away from school desks into the workplace, Millennials often get the cold shoulder from their more seasoned colleagues and managers. Generation Xers or Baby Boomers didn’t have a smooth transition to the working world either when they were young. But stereotyping and pointing out to Millennials’ not always best decisions in life and at work will not solve companies’ problems.
Apart from the bad examples (which, let's face it, every generation has) Millennials are hard working, are never satisfied with the status quo, are hunger for continual learning, and they need to connect work with a greater purpose. They aren’t just special snowflakes wanting to be treated differently. Like it or not, they are the future. Organizations of all types and sizes need to keep up with this new generation of employees because they are the ones who need to keep up with the only constant in today's technology-abundant business world: change.
The other big generation of the workforce, the Baby Boomers, are irreversibly approaching retirement. With not enough Generation Xers to fill all the managers' shoes after they had retired, Millennials will have their fare share of managerial positions to fill on their own. So it's in all companies best interest that younger employees learn from the most experienced ones and use that learning together with new technologies to create business value. This inevitably involves some sort of training.
But training Millennials in the traditional way is like herding cats. You can't expect great training results by shoving a bunch of them in the same conference room at the same time and giving them tons of new information in an outdated visual way. Traditional HR policies cannot satisfy this new generation's needs unless they become more digitized.
Do Millennials need special training?
On first glance, you’d think they do. But give it a little thought. Do they really? I don’t think so.
Millennials are eager to work and are eager to learn new things at work. In fact, they value continuous learning opportunities in the workplace more that they value a free lunch or being able to work in a cool office.
Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends survey states that Millennials want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society. At the same time, the study puts an emphasis on the gap between their demand for learning and development programs and companies' readiness to provide these.
What exactly do Millennials want from training?
Well, they want a personalized learning experience, from the very first hour in the induction program, and a learning path that constantly adapts to their learning needs even after they’ll have become seasoned employees themselves. They know that as long as technology will continue to advance, workplace learning will continue to be the base of organizational success.
They don’t need as much hand-holding as you’d think. But they want to know what tasks they should ace in the first three months in a new job, in the first year, in the next five years, and so on. They need to see clear expectations from their work and they want training to always be relevant to what they have to achieve professionally.
They want to collaborate with others so as to find better solutions to all sorts of problems, and they require instant feedback, so that they can steer away from problems before these become too much to deal with. They will work harder when they know in which direction their work is going.
They don’t want to fall asleep in front of heavy-text, small-font-sized, bullet-listed grey slides. They want colors and movement in all training materials, and prefer ten bite-sized chunks of information over one huge one. They want to access workplace training on any device, no matter where they are, just when they need it. This puts more control into their hands in terms of how, when, and how much they learn.
So do they really need special training?
I’m a Millennial myself, so I can’t speak in the name of those older than me. However, I do have older colleagues and managers, and I have crossed paths with even more throughout my rather short career. I haven’t met anyone, no matter their age — and I doubt there are too many people — that would want something different from workplace training than what Millennials want.
The problem is not that Millennials have expectations from their workplace and training programs. The problem is the continued use of outdated training methods and materials even though technology forces businesses to advance at a much faster pace.
The solution is not to create special training for Millennials, but to update all training programs to meet today’s learning needs of all employees.
The entire L&D industry needs to keep up with Millennials. Some organizations speak the language of these younger employees, create a great culture surrounding work and workplace learning, and reap the benefits. But not two organizations are exactly the same, and many still need to figure out how to get the most out of Millennials’ potential.
Workplace learning is critical for increasing skills, improving the leadership pipeline, and enhancing employee engagement. As Millennials transform the workplace we have known for the past decades, it is essential for companies to realize they must create the skills they need, not just look for these skills in the marketplace, to assess their current learning environment and strive to build a learning experience that is customized for every employee.