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Training Millennials - Are They Really That Different?


There has been a lot written about millennials and how we’re supposed to deal with this new generation. In fact, a quick Google search on training millennials garners over 19 million results. Subjects range from “Things You Should Know About Training Millennials”, and “The Ultimate Tip Sheet on Training Millennials”, to “Why Training Millennials is Difficult and How to Crack It”.  But is all of this dialogue and hand-wringing necessary? Are millennials really so different and difficult?

The short answer is “no”. Despite the incredible amount of content revolving around how to handle millennials, research actually shows that they really aren’t all that different from their predecessors. While we fret about the supposed lack of drive and sense of entitlement of millennials, twenty years ago there were nearly identical articles calling gen X immature and lazy slackers, and the baby boomers were seen as so self-absorbed and spoiled that the 1970s was dubbed the “Me Decade”. In fact, as far back as 2,800 years ago the Greek economist Hesiod referred to the younger generation as “frivolous and work shy”. Realistically, twenty years from now the millennials will be complaining about the generation that comes after them.

So if they really aren’t that different, what does this mean for how you should approach millennials in your training? In this post, we examine three commonly held misconceptions about millennials and how the reality should impact your training program.

Millennials Need to Be Babied

Of course, there can be differences in how a 24-year-old new employee and a 50-year-old middle manager approach their work, career and life in general. However, much of the supposed difference between millennials and older generations can be explained as a function of age and life stage rather than generation. Studies that compare a 24-year-old from today to a 24-year-old from the past, find there are more similarities than differences. Many of the supposed flaws of some millennials are a function of the fact that they are still learning. If they show up late, dress inappropriately, are too casual in an email or act entitled, it is possible that it’s because they are still learning the skills that it takes to be a good worker.

Training implications:

Focus on soft skills. If you want to provide training that will be most beneficial to millennials, provide soft skills training and coaching that will help them more quickly learn the skills and expectations that older workers have had years to develop.

Millennials and Technology

When it comes to learning new skills the push has been towards offering more digital learning – in part to accommodate what is seen as the desires of millennials. While it’s true millennials have grown up consuming content on screens, it’s not necessarily true that these younger workers are plugged in significantly more than other generations. In fact, studies have shown that while those in the 25-34 age group on average spend more hours per month accessing smart phone or tablet apps, Gen X and baby boomers aren’t far behind. Additionally, a recent study of millennials in the workplace found that millennials actually prefer in-person training opportunities. Their top three preferences for learning new skills were attending a conference/event, attending in-person training and working alongside knowledgeable colleagues.

Training Implications:

All of your learners are already spending a lot of their time using technology, but this doesn’t mean that they prefer their training to be virtual. Offer a mix of learning modalities including in-class training. Providing the personal approach of in-person instructor-led training will help break through the technological noise and provide a superior learning environment whether you are training millennials or those in other generations.

Hands-On Learning Activities Can Increase the Success of Training. Read Our Post on the Benefits of Incorporating Hands-On Learning into Your Training

Millennials Want to Make a Difference

One of the big conceptions about millennials is that as a generation, they want more meaning in their work. And by and large… yes, they do. But again, research shows this isn’t necessarily any more true for younger workers than it is for Generation X or baby boomers. We all want to feel like what we do matters. In IBM’s comprehensive survey on millennials in the workplace, they found that nearly the same percentage of millennials, Generation X and baby boomers listed social or environmental impact as important in their careers. A slightly higher percentage of each generation actually listed making a positive impact on their organization as a top career goal (again in almost equal numbers).

Training Implications:

Use the desire to make a difference in your organization to your advantage. Be sure to demonstrate how your training program and what your employees are learning is valuable to the overall business goals. If learners can see how training participation can make an impact, they are more likely to actively take part and retain information.

While millennials may not be as different as we are led to believe, your training program can still benefit from instituting changes that will actually benefit all of your employees.

Want more information on how to ensure that your learners (of all generations) are getting the most out of your training? Read our post, Employee Training: How To Increase Knowledge Retention.

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