As Generation Y enters the workforce, how should you approach their learning and development?
An increasing proportion of the workforce is comprised of Gen Y staff: people born between 1980 and 2000. And understanding how to deliver more engaging training for this growing cohort of workers should be front and centre in your planning. That being said, let me begin with a caveat: I believe that categorisation methods – like grouping people into different ‘generations’ – are crude and only sometimes helpful.
I recently met leading HR expert Sal Giambanco in San Francisco. Sal was one of the early execs at PayPal, and previously worked in recruitment at firms including KPMG and Ernst & Young. He now heads up human capital for the Omidyar Network, an investment firm focused on both commercial and social impact.
Over lunch, we discussed lessons learned in the human capital space. A recurring bugbear of Sal’s was the frequent complaints managers bring to him about Gen Y. However on closer inspection most of these issues had little to do with the person’s age, their talent, or their level of motivation. It almost always had everything to do with the lack of training they had received.
Gen Y: specialised training needs?
Training is important for everyone. And all corporate training needs to be substantive, interesting, and genuine. But there’s an additional element that led to manager’s complaints about Gen Y. While there’s certainly a need to train younger staff who lack experience, it’s also important to consider how the form of training could (or should) be adapted to suit them better.
Let’s look at some broad generalisations on how different training factors may impact different generations.
1. Meaningful training content
The adage that content is king is undoubtable true when it comes to training: training without meaningful and important content is a waste of time. Following on this line of thinking, The delivery and form of training may need to be more succinct to better engage younger generations. Instead of conveying lessons through a War and Peace-like tome of content, we need to think of training’s favoured form as a twitter post: a 140 character nugget of information.
However, succinctness cannot come at the expense of substance. And this is a key challenge when developing material to cover all necessary bases. As philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so wrote a long one instead.” Brevity and clarity require time, thought and investment. Gen Y in particular will appreciate the investment.
2. Making training interesting
The second factor I believe is important is that training is interesting. In the early 1900s, psychologist and development expert Jean Piaget theorised on the dual aspects of learning: assimilation and accommodation. We assimilate knowledge when a new fact can be mapped onto our existing world view. And in order to accommodate new learnings, we must re-think current, established perspectives.
The most interesting lessons – and therefore the most effective forms of training – invoke the second aspect of learning. Telling someone that the sky is blue is unlikely to engage – and yet mundane self-truths abound everywhere in corporate training.
If we can instead focus on scenarios which may surprise; unpack and dig deeper into why things should be done a certain way, then our content is likely to both be more engaging and more memorable.
3. The thirst for authenticity
Finally, content should be honest and authentic. Gamification practices, which are currently an on-trend way to engage a younger workforce, often grate with me as they are rarely genuine. Instead they can be patronising, rewarding effort with meaningless badges and talking down to their subject. (That said, gamification can be highly effective when done well).
So what marks the difference between patronising badges and meaningful reward? Well, it’s a fine line; they are both social constructs after all.
Therefore, what defines genuine content has a lot to do with how your people feel about what they are engaging with. It needs to have that sensitivity to the internal culture of an organisation and group. As such, creating training resources that are pitched with the right tone for their audience is critical.
For myself personally, I think there’s much yet to learn in this space. Developing the potential of the teams we work with is perhaps one of the most exciting and challenging pursuits for the future of successful workforces.
It is possible to engage Gen Y – or indeed any other audience with L&D material for. But to do so, you must first appreciate the context of that audience and develop material that’s going to be substantive, interesting and genuine for them.