How to Train Millennials in the Workplace

Electronic tools and other tech advancements have drastically changed the workplace training landscape.

We’ve all gotten used to the presence of smartphones, tablets, and apps in our lives. We’ve seen how easy they make it to create and watch videos, and to communicate with others quickly and easily from anywhere.

The Millennial generation, which now makes up the largest percentage of the workforce in the United States, is especially comfortable with these tools, having used them through their formative years.

For that reason, this generation may be especially likely to balk at lecture-based training methods and thick paper manuals.

In some ways, they are justified in that reaction. Failing to leverage new tools and modern methods can make your organization seem out of touch. But at the same time, certain elements of traditional training are arguably more important than ever.

Here’s how to begin adapting your training to Millennials.

Emphasize the Need for Human Interaction

As ELI founder Stephen Paskoff wrote back in 2012, that when it comes to training Millennials in the workplace many companies have moved toward tech-heavy guidance particularly because Millennials have reported that they want it.

However, sometimes what people want and what actually works well don’t exactly match. Civility in your workplace and creating a welcoming culture is a critical business initiative, and assuming that your employees will “get it” after a few online training sessions is just not realistic.

In fact, it can send the message that the topic you’re training on doesn’t deserve serious attention.

Consider your reaction for the following examples, as Stephen listed in his column:

  • I want to be a surgeon but I don’t want to spend years watching others before I start handling operations on my own. I’d get bored. Let me view some procedures online, practice a few and then turn me loose. This is how I’ve always done my best work.
  • I don’t have patience for reading or problem solving. Games work best for me. Let me go through as many online simulations as you have and then I’ll be ready to fly for the airline.
  • I have a short attention span and I want to learn when I want to learn and when I need to learn. Give me some basic stuff, put me in the nuclear operator’s position and I’ll figure the rest out as I go along.

The fact is that certain procedures deserve and require personal attention and interactive training. Attention and interaction improve the odds that the content will be remembered. They also encourage participants to mine the personal experience of an expert who can provide answers to their specific questions.

Many video-only programs fail to give employees a chance to practice what they’ve learned in a supervised setting. That means that when they’re presented with a real life scenario, they’ll still be winging it.

Learn more about how the newest generation is affecting the way we work: 3 Positive Changes Millennials are Bringing to the Workplace

Although your employees may not be operating nuclear reactors or piloting aircraft, workplace training is similar in that even a single first-time mistake can do serious damage. Lives may not be at stake, but the stakes are high for your organization’s success. Ineffective training wastes time and invites lawsuits. Perhaps most importantly, it fails to stop culture-corrupting bad behavior.

Leverage the Power of Microlearning

You shouldn’t sacrifice the element of interactivity in your workplace training, but that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the power of the technology that millennial “digital natives” have come to expect.

Video learning definitely has benefits; it’s affordable and it’s really convenient for workers, who can watch on their own time and from any location.

Video learning can be especially useful when it’s used to reinforce lessons that were originally delivered with in-person, interactive training.

If our collective attention spans have indeed been shortened due to the internet, shorter and more concentrated lessons delivered directly to employees via smartphone will naturally be more effective.

Corporate civility training for millennials

Plus, when these lessons are delivered at the right intervals, they give learners a chance to ask questions and better absorb the information. That’s why evidence shows that shorter bursts of information delivered over a longer period may lead to better retention over time.

In the training industry, this technique is called “microlearning,” or “spaced learning.” We wrote an entire column about this trend and its benefits here.

In addition to better lesson retention, the technique may reduce the total time spent training. That’s because trainers are forced to think clearly about the messages they want to reinforce, then make each supporting lesson as impactful as possible to fit into increments of just a few minutes each.

Compared to longer training sessions, shorter lessons delivered on a regular schedule also leave more room for flexibility and real-life tie-ins. Employees may be able to quickly review relevant lessons on the spot more easily when needed.

Microlearning doesn’t have to be video-only. It can also be visual messages, one-page PDFs, or even short presentations, discussions or reminders in regular meetings.

Resist Stereotyping by Age

As we noted in our article on how to keep your workplace training fresh, adapting your training to the different learning styles and schedules of the intended audience is a great way to make it more relevant.

Although creating programs just for “Millennials” might seem like a good way to do that, any actions based on broad generalizations about diverse groups can backfire.

Within the generally-agreed-upon definition of Millennials — people born from 1980 to 2000 — there will still be a vast variety of learning styles, interests, and comfort levels with various devices and apps.

Many of the older members of the Millennial generation were using flip phones well into their 20s. And many employees of earlier generations will take to digital initiatives and learning tools just as easily as their youngest Millennial peers.

Get the bonus content: 3 Positive Changes Millennials are Bringing to the Workplace

As this Financial Times Column aptly notes, many generational characteristics can be attributed to cultural changes that affect all generations. It’s just that each generation has a different “starting point.” And while generations may have “big experiences in common,” individuals react to those big events in very different ways.

As The Financial Times sums up:

“What is left of the millennial generation, once the empty stereotypes are stripped away? Little more than a large group of young, or at least youngish, adults. By virtue of their stage in life, they have particular hopes, worries, challenges and opportunities — all worthy of concern and study.”

Yes, you’ll need to adapt your training for the newest generations entering the workforce. But it should already be part of your job to keep up with the latest technology and training techniques.

Workplace training should start with individuals, not demographics. Click To Tweet
So start with the individuals, not the demographics. Try to give everyone the option to learn in a way that makes sure they remember what they learned, whether they’re fresh out of university or close to retirement.

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