Training millennials

Evan Hackel
August 15, 2017
By Evan Hackel
When baby boomers took their first "real" jobs upon entering the workforce, their demands and expectations were ridiculously low by today's standards. On their first day on the job they got an employee handbook that they took home and scanned while eating dinner or watching TV. Company training, if there was any, was minimal.


For the most part, they accepted the idea that it was normal to feel ignorant and unskilled in the first weeks or months on a new job. They expected to "learn the ropes" by making mistakes.

When it came to promotions, most boomers were equally willing to proceed by trial and error. Nobody told them, "Here is just what you need to do to get ahead in our company . . . here is the next position we'll be considering you for." One day in the hazy future, they hoped that their bosses would call them in and say, "We just gave you a promotion . . . you may leave early and take the family to dinner to celebrate."

Was there feedback? Of course, there was. There were quarterly, semiannual, or yearly job reviews that usually followed the script, "Here's what you've been doing wrong, here's where you need to improve—so do it, session over."

In short, many baby boomers were happy to toil away in black boxes, learning jobs and building careers in a loose way that would seem absurd to the members of today's younger millennial workforce.

Different expectations and demands

Boy, have things changed. Today, most millennial workers would object strenuously to the same kind of conditions that baby boomers (and members of the generation that preceded them) thought were normal. If today's millennials start new jobs and discover conditions like those in a new workplace, they are going to start looking for new jobs in a matter of hours.

Ample research documents that millennial attitudes are different. One major study from Gallup, "How Millennials Want to Work and Live," reports these findings:

• 60 per cent of millennials say that the opportunity to learn and grow on the job is extremely important. In contrast, only 40 per cent of baby boomers feel the same way.
• 50 per cent of millennials strongly agree that they plan to remain in their jobs for at least the next year. That might sound like a big percentage, but 60 per cent of members of all other groups plan to stay in place for at least a year. Baby boomers and others are planning on sticking around, while millennials are weighing their options.

Learning and training

Findings like those – and you can easily find more – document that millennials are more likely to be engaged and to stay on their jobs if they have opportunities to plan their career paths and learn.

Here are the trends:

• Millennials like to feel capable and confident in their jobs. Millennials do not like to feel like rookies. Many think of themselves as leaders – or as leaders who are waiting to be discovered. They want to look good, and thrive on being able to confidently contribute from the first day they arrive on the job. The right kind of training—both for new and current millennial employees—makes that happen.
• Millennials are usually skilled students. They like to apply the learning skills they built while they were in school. To them, learning feels as natural as eating three meals a day. As the Gallup study found, they are eager to learn. In contrast, getting baby boomers to believe in training can be a harder sell. They tend to view training as a burden, something they have to endure. Millennials say, "Wow, when can I start?"
• Millennials are tech-friendly. Most of them love to be trained on their mobile phones and tablets, which are the most powerful training options available to many companies today. The result is better knowledge transfer, even to groups of employees who work in multiple or far-flung locations. Baby boomers, in contrast, are more tech-resistant. They are likely to freeze and resist when they hear they are going to be taking company training on their smartphones.

Training builds productivity and retention

A lot of training focuses on teaching needed skills. It should. But training can accomplish a lot more than that, if you use it to establish some of the following things that many millennials are looking for:

Mentoring relationships with their supervisors. Gallup found that 60% of millennials feel that the quality of the people who manage them is extremely important. With that in mind, your training for new employees can set up mentoring, not reporting, relationships between them and their managers. Explain how often check-ins and job reviews with their managers will happen, and what they will cover. And schedule frequent check-in rather than "on the calendar" pro-forma reviews that both managers and the people they manage find boring, or worse.

A sense of belonging on an energized and innovative team. This is a bit of a contradiction, but at the same time millennials think of themselves as individualist entrepreneurs, they also expect to be part of an interesting team. Letting millennials get to know their teammates during training, and fostering a sense of team/group identity, can help convince them that they have joined the right organization.

A well-defined career path. Consider creating a personalized career development plan for all new employees (the exception being seasonal or other short-term workers who will probably not remain with your company for long). Another idea? Enroll new employees in management training programs from their first days on the job. In retail, for example, you can enroll them in training that will enable them to manage their own stores in two years, or after another stated period. Millennials like to know their next steps as they build their careers, and training is a fine place to explain them.

Yes, training is important to millennials. They are the most energized, skilled and capable generation ever to enter the workforce. Train them well and they will become your organization's brightest future.

Evan Hackel is CEO of Tortal Training, a firm that specializes in developing and implementing interactive training solutions for companies in all sectors. Evan created the concept of Ingaged Leadership and is Principal and Founder of Ingage Consulting, a consulting firm headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts. To learn more about Ingage Consulting and Evan's book Ingaging Leadership, visit Ingage.net.

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