Millennials or Generation-Y — the generation that was born between 1980 and 2000, or came into adulthood at the turn of the millennium — are now in work and make up around a third of today’s workforce. There are many socio-economic factors that differentiate millennials from the rest of us, but as the most populous generation since baby-boomers they are forecasted to make up almost half of the workforce by 2020, so their demands cannot be ignored.
Marketers, retailers, and technologists have gone to great lengths to analyse and cater for the requirements of millennial consumers, but educators and industry alike have struggled to prepare this generation effectively for the world of work. This preparedness-gap is starting to have an impact on business and expose an ever widening skills gap that employers cannot easily fill.
A recent study by Bentley University found that 59% of business decision makers give recent college graduates a C grade or lower for preparedness for their first jobs. The same study also showed that 68% of corporate recruiters say it is difficult for their organisations to manage millennials. Workplace training is becoming increasingly the most appropriate solution to ensure that new entrants to the workforce have attained a sufficient level of competency for positions requiring skilled manpower.
As latest employment statistics back up the perception that millennials are job-hoppers, there is additional pressure to ensure that this training is particularly cost-effective. How must training curricula differ from what came before to meet the demands and expectations of millennial learners? To answer that question we must first understand what makes millennials so different from the generations that preceded them.
Training a Generation of Digital Natives
Perhaps the most striking difference between millennials and any other generation is that they are the first generation of digital natives. Young people leaving school or college today don’t know a world without Google or Facebook. They have grown up with technology. They understand it and consume it in ways which are unfathomable to older generations.
This doesn’t mean that simply rehashing training content to work on the latest devices or using the latest multi-media techniques is a recipe for success. Millennials expect their technology to be simple, absorbing, social and engaging.
Consumer technology aimed at millennials goes to great lengths to optimise experience design. Millennials are exposed to a seemingly endless depth of information which is intuitive and accessible. Instructional content for millennials needs to share these same properties. Moments of value for millennials can be achieved when they are allowed to interact with their content in order to co-create and extend their instructional experiences through participation.
One practical example of this might be “dual screening”. Television in recent years has become more immersive through the use of concurrent online events where viewers are able to access bonus content and interact with the program makers and the rest of the audience via social networks and official online gatherings.
The same concept may be facilitated with instructional events. Imagine a training event where an aesthetically appealing educational presentation is augmented by online content to support the training session. This may include “bonus content” like discussion forums, data resources, and online rich media materials that encourage curiosity and exploration. This shifts the emphasis away from the simple consumption of training content to participation with training experiences. Instead of simply telling millennials what they need to know, there is greater value in giving them what they need to figure it out for themselves and add their own thoughts contributing to the whole experience.
The way that millennials interact with each other and their peers requires some consideration. Generally millennials work well in teams, and they are less limited by social barriers such as team roles and hierarchies. It is important, therefore, to consider the generational mix of a cohort of learners and to ensure that junior team members are not lumbered with a minor role and have a chance to collaborate as well as to share their thoughts and experiences.
Millennials have a much broader concept of communication than their predecessors. The idea of “inboxing” an instructor or colleague goes beyond the constraints of email these days. Social networking techniques can be applied to provide feedback and follow up to a formal training event to ensure continuous engagement and allow newly attained skills and knowledge to be accurately applied in the work place.
Millennials rely heavily on their own networks for guidance compared to their instructors or employers, and this concept should be embraced. By encouraging trainees to share ideas with their colleagues and peers promotes applied learning, which is vital to ensure understanding and knowledge retention.
Finally, there are other techniques that we can take from the world of social networking and consumer technologies that promote self-service learning. Making training content mobile friendly is the first step, but as previously mentioned, just re-platforming tired and outdated content isn’t going to guarantee success. Adding gamification techniques to a training curriculum helps to engage millennials with the training process, encourages self-paced learning, and challenges employees to extend their learning into additional areas.
Using technology to push contextual training content to the user in line with their career plans and career interests in the same way as online advertisers do promotes the idea that the user is able to take ownership of their own learning and ultimately their own career path. This concept not only allows workers to be more competent and therefore more productive, but it also contributes positively to employee retention.
Participation in training has been shown to be a critical factor that positively affects knowledge retention for all workers, so these suggested improvements to training techniques can be beneficial not only to millennials, but to all generations.