Understanding generational differences can increase the impact of organizational training efforts. In the workforce today, we have four generations working side by side. The youngest workers are Gen Z and represent new challenges for managers, trainers, and HR leaders.
Generations are basically cohorts of people identified as being born in certain date ranges and sharing general cultural experiences. Researchers, educators, and human resource professionals alike use these generational labels to reference very broad characteristics among these cohorts. Briefly here are highlights of the first three cohorts of today’s workers:
- Boomers (1944 – 1960) – After delaying retirement due to the recession of 2008, Boomers are beginning to retire at an alarming pace. Some even refer to this as the Silver Tsunami.
- Gen X (1961 – 1981 – The smallest generational group, Gen X accounts for 51% of leadership roles according to a study by DDI.
- Millennials (aka Gen y, 1982 – 1993) – The largest generational group in the labor market today, a lot of criticism and negative stereotypes were attached to them upon entering the workforce. (This may have been in part due to Gen X being a bit intimidated by them!) Millennials are characterized as being entitled and disengaged. In reality, millennials have demonstrated that they can be very engaged, eager and quick to learn, and self-directed.
Following Millennials, we have Gen Z. Like each cohort, Gen Z workers have their own unique characteristics that set them apart. Further, research suggest that just as with the Millennials, some of these differences are not due as much to the association with the Gen Z cohort, but rather the life stage of these younger workers.
Gen Z are truly digital natives. They were born around the same time as the iPod, iPhone, i-everything revolution. As one researcher team stated, Gen Z doesn’t think in terms of technology, they think in terms of interactions. Technology is just a part of the everyday landscape for them. It’s there and they use it, daily without a lot of thought.
As digital natives, they are digitally proficient and adaptable. They were brought up in the age of Google and YouTube. This has resulted in Gen Z being self-directed learners. They can and do learn what they want, when they want, where they want. They learn via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or any number of other readily available internet resources.
Gen Z likes to communicate via text. Some researchers suggest this has resulted in a lack of team-orientation. A study by Randstad US demonstrated that while Gen Z likes to remain connected, the majority indicated the most effective way to communicate with co-workers and managers was in person.
Training with Gen Z in Mind
Just as there are multiple generations in the workforce, you are likely to have multiple generations in training programs. Develop your training programs so that the learning is cumulative. Start with foundational knowledge. Build upon the foundation incrementally allowing students to gain new knowledge and demonstrate mastery before moving to the next concept or principle.
In addition, incorporate the following strategies into your training programs:
- Use multiple modalities to keep the material fresh, fast, and adaptable. If there are elements of live instruction, be sure to also incorporate video or other activities to avoid perceptions of a ‘sage on the stage’. If using on demand or internet training, incorporate multimedia delivery modalities.
- Implement cooperative learning strategies
- Incorporate group processing and interpersonal skills through role/task assignments. Break larger groups into smaller sections for group work. Ensure each person in the smaller group has a task or role that must be performed for the group to successfully learn the course materials.
- Determine cooperative goals. Establish cooperative goals for each small group by linking outcomes to each group member or by distributing resources across the group so that all members must participate for the group to obtain the goal.
- Establish mechanism for individual accountability. Cooperative learning shouldn’t be confused with cooperative assessment. Each individual is responsible for learning the material through the group effort.
- Provide self-directed learning options. Offer a variety of learning options on demand to meet the just in time needs of learners and to accommodate Gen Z’s self-directed learning tendency.
- Prepare your organization for more lateral moves. Gen Z is likely to look for positions or organizations that will allow them to learn and acquire new skills in an ongoing manner. This may result in less desire to move up and more desire to move across the organization.
- According to Deanna Whitacre, Benefits Analyst at American Woodmark, Gen Z is more focused on what Alexander Alonso, Chief Knowledge Officer for SHRM refers to as the Big R’s – Results, Reimagination, Reconnaissance, and Resourcefulness. Make sure your training is linked to at least one of the Big R’s. If it is explicitly clear, be sure to specify how the training relates to a Big R. For example, when training on a new process, procedure, or system explain the business outcomes expected to occur as a result of the change.
Having a diverse workforce includes having a multigenerational workforce. Training focused on identifying generational differences and using that knowledge to improve content and delivery is likely to lead to the best results.
For more information on Gen Z, serving the intergenerational workforce, or effective organizational training, contact Engaged CTC.