Millennials are set to become the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. And, their numbers will grow by 30 percent in the next five years, while baby boomers will decline by 28 percent — creating a generational gap accelerating millennials’ advancement into management and leadership roles.

But, here’s the problem: millennials are just not ready.

According to research by Deloitte, only 36 percent of millennials who are currently in leadership positions felt prepared when they assumed the role. Even after being in the role, 30 percent still did not feel that they were ready.

Therefore, in order to prepare this group to succeed, companies must support them with stretch assignments, mentorship, and investment in learning and development (L&D). The best L&D programs cater to millennials, who are accustomed to having instant access to information, prefer to communicate electronically, while thriving in workplaces that are flat and collaborative.

L&D’s current state

Millennials have high expectations for learning and development that are not being met. According to Accenture’s 2013 College Graduate Employment Survey, 77 percent of 2013 graduates expected formal training from their first employer. However, only 48 percent of 2011 and 2012 graduates reported having received it in their first job.

Additionally, millennials have created two problems for companies that offer formal training:

Millennials’ learning needs are not being addressed. According to a study conducted by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD), the majority of learning professionals agree that millennials need specialized training. And though they are highly-technically proficient, millennials often need to develop soft skills such as, diplomacy, communication and relationship building — something most organizations do not offer.

Old training delivery methods do not resonate with millennials. They engage less with traditional learning formats, such as classroom learning. This has lead to the creation of a variety of new approaches – gamification, e-learning, mobile learning, and social learning. When these approaches are executed well, they can be valuable components of a learning strategy. But when executed poorly, they are viewed as inauthentic – the millennial kiss of death.

L&D adapting to situation

Next generation L&D should address millennials’ skills gap, by preparing them for the changing nature of the business landscape and combining delivery methods in an engaging and informative way.

What the top five next generation L&D characteristics should be:

1. Focusing on soft skills. Hard skills, such as financial modeling or coding, are only half of the equation. Millennials must develop the ability to communicate, make personal connections and lead – regardless of whether they are software developers or financial analysts. At a time where employees can take a Wharton class on Corporate Finance via Coursera, or submit a technical question on Stack Exchange, L&D programs can add enormous value by addressing the soft skills gap.

2. From knowledge transfer to knowledge creation. The availability and rate of change of knowledge are at an all-time high. Going forward, the highest performers may not be the most knowledgeable, but they will be the best at searching, identifying, and synthesizing information. They will also be the best at acquiring new skills (how many of today’s hot careers existed 10 years ago?). Next generation L&D programs will develop these analytical capabilities and convert employees into autodidacts.

3. From one-to-many, to many-to-many. In the traditional L&D model, one expert imparts his or her knowledge to a group. While the expert continues playing a key role in next generation L&D programs, employees also learn from peers and share their own knowledge. These programs mirror modern companies, which are more collaborative, team-oriented and flatter than ever before (by combining traditional instruction with projects and/or simulations that enable employees to apply what they have learned in a realistic business setting).

4. From domain-specific to cross-functional. Traditional L&D programs focus on deepening learners’ understanding of a particular domain. Next generation L&D programs will build upon this foundation by convening cross-functional teams and enabling them to solve problems in innovative ways. In the materials and chemicals industries, for example, leading companies have begun to place a greater emphasis on developing functional solutions instead of discovering new molecules. This strategy requires employees who have the skills to collaborate across functional boundaries. Next generation L&D programs develop these skills and foster inter-company relationships.

5. The new L&D mantra: delivery, delivery, delivery. Next generation L&D programs take delivery to the next level by combining technology (e-learning), classroom instruction, and experience-based projects and simulations to drive high levels of engagement, achieve learning outcomes, and increase the retention of key competencies and knowledge.

L&D as a business strategy

The need to develop millennial leaders and the value that millennials place on learning elevates the role of the L&D function. According to a survey by and Millennial Branding, 33 percent of millennials believe that learning opportunities are a company’s most important asset.

Companies offering leading L&D programs do more than develop future leaders. They increase their ability to attract top talent, boost employee engagement, and increase employee retention. In a business environment where companies’ value is increasingly tied to intangible assets, such as its intellectual property and its people, investing in L&D translates to superior financial performance and a long-term competitive advantage.